Food memories: Morito’s Marianna Leivaditaki on growing up in Crete (Evening Standard)

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Food, Travel, Writing

The head chef at Morito Hackney shares her happy childhood memories with Victoria Stewart (Image: Andreas Markakis)

Marianna Leivaditaki is the head chef at Morito’s delicious new outpost on Hackney Road. The menu is mostly hooked around gorgeous, uplifting food from Spain and North Africa but eating some of the dishes also transport you to parts of the island of Crete in Greece, where Leivaditaki was born. Here she remembers a happy childhood spent eating unending amounts of fresh fish.

“Well it’s all to do with fish,” laughs Leivaditaki when I ask her what her culinary highlight was as a young girl growing up in north west Crete.

Leivaditaki says her mind is filled with memories of “just being near water, and I love that I had that childhood, and being absolutely free all the time, it’s absolutely amazing. I think my dad being a fisherman meant that we ate fish seven days a week, and we were very privileged because not everyone can do that – even though you’re on an island, it’s still very expensive and not every family has that luxury.”

Sometimes her father would come back in the morning, having been out fishing all night, and together they would cook and eat “all these amazing fish. Because I was really little I’d have to stand on the chair to reach up and help. Sometimes the fish were still alive, but then I would eat them for breakfast with him, or before we went to bed… all the time.”

Leivaditaki’s father would also catch lobsters and bring them home for his family to eat, because, she remembers, “he’d always have this thing – he made this promise to himself – that because he’d fished for the lobsters, he would never sell them. So every time one gets caught, it was for us only.”

Did they have the lobsters straight up?

“Absolutely. We would just indulge in lots of lobster eating, which was amazing. It was always live, then you basically just boil it in a pot, and then pour over good olive oil which was usually from your olives, and then add a bit of lemon and that’s it. You don’t need anything else, we never did. I think that’s the major thing in my experience with fish is that if it’s fresh it’s amazing and you don’t need to do anything to it. And I think I’ve carried that on at Moro and now at Morito. It’s nice to just enjoy the product when it’s so good.”

Sea urchins, for which “we’d put goggles on and go diving,” also featured highly on the menu at home.

“We’d always hurt ourselves and step on them and all these things, but then often we’d just open them up [later]. They are [really] a luxury food and there are people who do it for a living and collect lots and then go home and then the whole family will contribute in cleaning them – because you get them clean in Greece. So they are so special, but actually it’s quite easy to find them, and as kids we were quite adventurous so we’d go for it – not that we’d get loads. But usually there was someone with us that could do it much better and dad had this spear gun and would use that. But there was always enough just to have a snack by the sea.”

For the kitchen at Morito Hackney, Leivaditaki calls on The Wright Brothers for her fish, and gets scallops from Scotland, “which are incredible. I like having a close relatinoship with them so they know what I want.”

She still manages to go back home four or five times a year to see her family in Chania, north west Crete, which she describes as “a beautiful city. It’s quite magic, which you only realise when you’ve left. And then you go back and you go wow, this is actually incredible.”

Morito Hackney Road, 195 Hackney Road, E2 8JL; moritohackneyroad.co.ukFollow Victoria on Twitter @vicstewart and Instagram @vicstewartpics

Article appeared in Evening Standard, July 2016