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    The other evening, I was invited to attend a Chef Maria’s Greek Deli Cooking Class. Chef Maria Bell teaches evening classes several times a month to those who are interested in her St. Matthews deli. My husband and I arrived at 6:30pm and were checked in by Chef Maria herself. She pretty much runs the entire show, with the help of her brother who assists her with food preparation and her daughter who helps her with customer service. The small room which serves as her deli and stage for the class was already filling up when we arrived. Chairs of various styles were sporadically lined up; the place had a very inviting, gentle, and small-charm cozy feel to it. We found a seat and chatted with a few of the attendees who were trying to figure out how they were going to pop open their bottles of wine! Chef Maria encourages participants to “BYOB” or wine for that matter. Luckily, a gentleman arrived who had a portable corkscrew with him and the wine was poured.

    Chef Maria began with introductions of herself, and shared a little bit about her start in Louisville. Her restaurant started in a small space on Story Avenue, and eventually she moved to her St. Matthews location on Fairfax Avenue. She cooks all day long in her kitchen, and at night opens up to teach cooking classes to Louisvillians who want to learn more about Greek cooking and cuisine. During our class we laughed a lot, learned a bunch, made conversations and met different people, and overall just enjoyed a date night out doing something different and tasting food that was hands down: delicious, fresh, and full of flavor. The extra virgin olive oil itself was divine.

    The class started out with an egg lemon chicken soup that started by Chef Maria boiling a chicken (which had been done prior to the class) to make the broth. She uses no artificial broths; if she needs beef broth, she boils the beef for it and so on. The soup was absolutely exquisite and tasted honestly like no other soup I have had before. It was a chicken based broth with rice, chicken, lemon, and egg flavoring. The second course was a traditional Greek tomato salad. Chef Maria prepared the salad right there, and explained why in Greece the locals don’t use lettuce in their tomato salad. The basil she added to the salads was picked directly outside on her brick ledge while the rain was trickling down. The final meal she prepared was a tzatziki sauce based Greek chicken gyro. It was served on fresh baked pita bread (that I could have devoured each and every pita there for the 20 or so participants in her audience). It was warm and lovely and with everyone slabbing on the tzatziki sauce I think we all had to cease our conversations for fear of the garlic lingering in the room. The sauce was to die for, the chicken was seasoned just perfectly using the method that Chef Maria’s mother taught her, and the roma tomatoes added just the right touch. Chef Maria takes things one step further and doesn’t keep her tried and true recipes passed down from her mother a secret; she will share each recipe she cooks in her class, all the students must do is provide her with their email address and she will happily send them to you so you can try to recreate them at home.

    Chef Maria’s deli is more than just a grab a gyro kind of place. In fact, she would much rather you order anything but a gyro to get more acquainted with Greek food. Browse her menu here, see about her catering options, she can plan a meal for your dinner party or even your book club or ladies’ gathering, and more. She’s been known to whip up a meal for a customer who walks in the door at 4pm and needs a meal for 5 put together for that evening. She’s a fabulous and funny lady and everyone in Louisville should give her store a peek and taste the absolutely wonderful flavors waiting for you. Talk about shop local and keeping Louisville weird. Her store sits directly adjacent to a White Castle drive-thru; she jokes that she has a huge sign outside of her business with her daughter eating a gyro and the sign exclaims in so many words: “my food is better.” I highly recommend you get out of your car and step indoors to her deli and her terrariums lining the shelves and windowsills in her tiny establishment. You will be greeted by a warm lovely lady who wants to tell you a story and sell you the perfect side dish or dip or accompaniment to whatever you might be craving that day or evening. From her words, “Cooking Greek food is my therapy, my joy. I guess I just want to spread the joy!” Read about Chef Maria being one of the 100 Most Fascinating Women in Louisville as well.

    Chef Maria Bell’s next cooking class, called “You Can Cook It Too” is available for purchase online on Squareup. Her next cooking class is on November 15 at 6:30pm. She will also be offering some private classes on Monday evenings soon after that. Call 502-895-7075 to make a reservation or see Chef Maria’s Greek Deli on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Her email is chefmariabell@gmail.com. Her deli is open Monday-Friday 11am-6pm, Saturday 11am-4pm, closed on Sundays. Located at 102 Fairfax Avenue in St. Matthews.

    Photos by Erin Nevitt

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    About Erin Nevitt

    Longtime Louisvillian, I am a children's librarian at heart and have a passion for children's lit. I am most recently a stay-at-home mom who is always on the move, searching for family fun in Louisville. If it's free, it's preferable!

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