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Celebrity chef Tonia Buxton on The Real Greek's vegan menu and her new book

PUBLISHED: 15:28 25 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:28 25 March 2019

Tonia Buxton (Photo by Maureen McLean)

Tonia Buxton (Photo by Maureen McLean)

Maureen McLean

Sarah Rodi shared a delicious meal with nutritionist, celebrity chef and author Tonia Buxton while hearing all about The Real Greek’s new vegan menu and the launch of Tonia’s new spicy book

Walking into The Real Greek restaurant on River Street in Windsor, the warm, aromatic smell of delicious spices hits you. And the consultant chef for The Real Greek restaurants (plus a nutritionist, cook, writer, TV personality, lifestyle adviser, wife and mother of four − phew!), Tonia Buxton, was there waiting for me with her big, beautiful smile.

A foodie from a young age, Tonia is passionate about Greek, Cypriot and Mediterranean cooking, and over recent years, has become a proud global ambassador for Hellenic cuisine.

“I grew up in North London with strict Greek parents,” she tells me. “Food and cooking was a massive part of my upbringing; it was often my job to cook the family meal, and I learnt to love it. We used to spend three months every summer in Greece or Cyprus island-hopping. If someone was getting married, everyone would be involved in preparing the food. Life was just like what you see in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

At university, Tonia read Classical History and took a special interest in mythology; she now understands the history of different dishes and ingredients, as well as cooking them. “I’d often cook at university. If you became my friend, you didn’t go hungry − you got real, healthy food! It is now common knowledge that the Mediterranean diet is the best for your health,” she says. “It’s a seasonal, colourful, mixed diet, with lots of extra-virgin olive oil. I tend to keep away from ‘white’ foods, and make sure I eat lots of wholegrains and cinnamon.”

Tonia had invited me to Windsor to try The Real Greek’s new vegan menu. “When most people think of Greek food, they think of lamb, but the Greek vegan tradition is centuries old,” Tonia tells me. “The first philosopher to create a lasting vegan diet was Pythagoras around 550 BCE. And in the Greek tradition there is much adherence to a diet free of animal products for long fasting periods. The Greeks pretty much invented veganism and The Real Greek and I have created a vegan menu that celebrates that, with dishes which cater for everyone.”

As we chat, a number of amazing mezes are laid out in front of us, such as jackfruit stifado (which Tonia insisted I must try!); grilled aubergine with garlic tomato sauce; gigandes plaki, which were giant beans, slow-cooked in a rich and herby tomato sauce; vine leaves stuffed with rice, tomato and fresh herbs; halloumi fries; green beans, fennel and tomato, spiced with cinnamon and more.

“What is your favourite recipe or dish at The Real Greek?” I ask her. “Ooh, it changes daily,” she says. “Sometimes I’m dying for octopus, and other days I need saganaki. I love it all.” And as I taste the various dishes, I agree with her. It’s good.

Tonia went on to tell me how after university, she actually became a primary school teacher for a while. But she was always passionate about health, fitness and nutrition. And when she began writing a holistic pregnancy book, Have a Baby and Look Better Than Ever: An Holistic Guide to Health and Fitness, she was asked to go on television to talk about it − and loved the experience.

“I enjoyed working in TV so much, I knew I had to come up with my own show,” she says. “I became presenter of the Discovery Channel’s award-winning series My Greek Kitchen and My Cypriot Kitchen. And after that, I didn’t look back.”

A mixture of the delicious vegan menu and meat mezes (Photo by Maureen McLean)A mixture of the delicious vegan menu and meat mezes (Photo by Maureen McLean)

You have probably seen Tonia as a regular contributor to ITV’s GMB and Lorraine shows, Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen.

She is also the best-selling author of Eat Greek for a Week, the book that can make you feel fitter and healthier in just one week; and she has also published The Real Greek cookbook and Tonia’s Greek Kitchen.

And not one to stand still, Tonia has just launched another book, The Secret of Spice, in which she reveals how to turn simple spices into delicious meals, beauty products and powerful potions that, she says, will help us to live longer and feel better naturally.

With over 50 delicious recipes, the book shows how adding a little spice to everyday dishes can have a huge impact on every area of our lives, including our physical and mental health.

Who knew that adding some cinnamon or turmeric to our food could lose us pounds, or that rosemary can help us to look that bit younger? Fennel and nutmeg help settle our hormones, aniseed will help us get the much-coveted eight hours’ sleep a night and ginger will help us to feel sexier.

Spices have been used for thousands of years to heal people and keep illness at bay, and at 50 years old, Tonia is living proof that using spices can make us look and feel incredible. She says: “Life can be overwhelming: we are all too busy, too tired or too stressed, often wishing we could lose that stubborn half a stone or get that extra hour’s sleep a night.

“We demand so much from our diet: we are desperate for food that is easy and quick to make but tastes delicious and that does more good than the vitamins we are too busy to take. But a pinch of the right spice will alter the way you look and feel for the better,” she adds.

“Spices have always been sought and fought after, not just for their amazing transformative action on the taste of food but also for their wonderful curative and healing qualities. In The Secret of Spice, I want to show people how to make the most delicious food and do themselves some good by eating it too. Adding a little spice to your food means you will be adding a lot of spice to your life.”

I am sold on the food at The Real Greek and I’m getting Tonia’s new book!

There are 15 The Real Greek restaurants, with two in our county of Berkshire; this one in Windsor and one in Reading. Tonia tells me they are all unique and have a different feel, so if you haven’t yet been, I can recommend going!

toniabuxton.co.uk | therealgreek.com/windsor

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