VIP Profile: Greek Cook Tonia Buxton

Name: Tonia Buxton

Personal Details: 46, (yes, really!), happily married mother of four, Cypriot born but North London based.

Famous For: Cooking. Although she looks like a burlesque performer or vintage era model, there’s more to Tonia than a pretty face and a fabulous figure.

Tonia Buxton is making her way from a passionate amateur foodie to an established telly chef at exactly the right time. Nigella Lawson is good at making creamy, buttery treats, Lorraine Pascale makes nice cakes and Delia will teach us the basics like how to boil an egg but I’m starting to get a bit frustrated by the way female chefs are coming across on TV. While the men get to do the meat and the mains, the ladies tend to get the baking and the hearty dishes. So I’m really excited to get to know Tonia Buxton, the star of The Discovery Channel’s My Greek Kitchen and My Cypriot Kitchen, whose show explains how to make healthy and tasty Greek food.

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I met Tonia (above left) at the Marylebone branch of The Real Greek (click here to see more about The Real Greek) and not knowing anything about the nation’s dishes, I asked her to explain why she decided to make educating the British public about the cuisine her career. ‘I used to be a teacher in Tottenham,’ she told me. Clearly, she knows her stuff when it comes to helping people learn. And if you read her cook books (more of that later) you will see that the way she puts the recipes together and explains it simply, step by step, it’s empowering rather than intimidating. And don’t worry, it doesn’t require any outrageously complicated ingredients either (which you’ll appreciate if you’ve ever tried to read one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbooks).

The transformation from teacher to chef came about because she grew up with a knowledge of Greek cuisine due to her family. Her mother and father are from Cyprus and although she and her siblings were born in the UK, her parents have sinced moved back to Cyprus and she visits regularly. As a child, growing up in the UK, she used to go to Cyprus in June and stay til September and she explains food to Greek people is a way of life, just as tea is to the Brits. ‘You eat when you’re happy, you eat when you’re sad,’ she told me. ‘My Mum was always in the kitchen cooking. At weekends my family always had friends over. It never felt like it was going to be a professional thing for me, it was just a way of life. If you’re Greek and people come to your home, the first thing you do is put food out, I suppose the English equivalent is to put the kettle on.’ I wish I lived in Greece then, as I’d rather eat calamari like what’s below than drink tea…

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It was Tonia’s husband Paul who pushed her into making her passion her career, supporting her as she made the transition from primary school teacher to TV personality. They make one gorgeous couple – her a 1950s pin up with red lips and loose raven curls and him a muscle bound Ironman athlete. Their eldest daughter is almost 18, which you cannot imagine looking at her flawless skin and youthful face. The fact that she has four children – two girls and two boys – boggles the mind.

Her secret, she explains, is partly down to her knowledge of nutrition in which she has a professional qualification. Shortly after her first baby she wrote a book titled Have A Baby and Look Better Than Ever. Over lunch, she kept surprising me with the nutritional properties of various ingredients used often in Greek food. For example, in Santorini there is a small tomato that contains more antioxidants than any other food in the whole world. Greeks use a lot of artichoke in their food, which have more fibre than a cup of prunes. The dill to flavour dishes settles the stomach. The sweet pastries all have cinnamon to regulate blood sugar levels. This is as far away from the ready-meal, convenience style of eating as you can get and it shows by how fabulous she looks compared to a 46 year old that may feed her body with less wholesome food.

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So what is Greek cuisine exactly?  ‘It’s complicated,’ she laughs. ‘There are 1500 islands, some with deep valleys, others with high mountains, some with great pasture land. On the islands the staple diet will be fish but if you go to the mountain of Pelion, where’s there’s very red fertile soil, they eat lots of lamb, fruit and vegetables. Each place has its own speciality.’

Tonia’s personal speciality is to take the traditional Greek ingredients – like halloumi and dolmades – and update them with a modern twist, so you can find new, tasty ways to eat healthy. No wonder, them, that The Real Greek restaurant group contacted her agent and asked her to advise them on the menu.

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She agreed only after meeting the chain’s owners  – a family who take pride in making the restaurant as authentic as possible. Initially she was sceptical having eaten at the restaurant before this family bought it and found the food bland and uninspiring. But she tells me it’s clear the new owners have a passion for food. The menu is updated seasonally and all the ingredients come from Greece. The olive oil on each table is one of the most expensive and best qualities you can buy, which signifies how much importance The Real Greek places on authenticity.

As she left the interview for a family commitment, showing by her actions and not just her words how important family is to her, she pressed a cookbook into my hands. It’s called My Greek Kitchen and it’s your ticket to impressing all those that matter in your life. Cook your way to a lover’s heart, throw a feast for friends or nourish your family with healty, nutritious dishes- the recipe book has it all. Check it out on Amazon and see for yourself.

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I want to see more of Tonia on terrestrial TV soon. As I said earlier, we need some more strong female foodies on the telly. What do you think? Are you up for learning more about Greek cuisine? We’re on Twitter @livelikeavip  and Tonia is @ToniaBuxton

Zoe Griffin

Editor In Chief

Editor In Chief at Live Like A VIP. Author, Journalist & Copywriter. Often found with a glass of Champagne in hand!

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