Two of Greek chef Maria Loi’s favorite things sit on her bedside table: a bottle of olive oil and a stack of books. Both are essential lifelines, and both have changed the course of her life. 

Loi, who founded the critically acclaimed Manhattan restaurant, Loi Estiatoriolaunched the second season of The Life with Loi this spring, produced with GBH, with new episodes broadcast on Saturdays in May at noon on GBH 2 and available to stream anytime on the PBS App.

Known as the “Julia Child of Greece,” Loi shares thousands of years of knowledge baked into Mediterranean cuisine as she takes viewers across Greece, serving up the secret to making some of the regions’ most authentic dishes.

 “I come from a very poor family in the small village of Thermo, Greece,” she said. “We were a poor family only because of money — we actually were super rich because my parents and grandparents taught me to read, and they taught me about food.”

In Thermo, food was a way of life, she said.

“Food is good for your body, good for your soul. A Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world. I have seen how it can truly change people’s lives — like it changed mine.” She started cooking when she was six years old, filling in one day when her mother was ill. 

“I made meatballs and sauce with a little bit of cinnamon. My father came in and said, ‘oh it smells so good.’ He took a bite and said they were the best meatballs he’d ever had.” 

Loi never looked back. She never attended cooking school and has always created her own original recipes. 

Before devoting her life to food and health, she had a long, glamorous stint as an international lobbyist and mediator, living a life of galas, jet-setting, and nonstop socializing. 

But one morning about 20 years ago she opened one of her favorite books and read a poem that changed everything. “As Much As You Can” by the renowned Greek poet Constantine Cavafy caught her attention with its cautions against “the daily silliness of social events and parties.”

“I closed the book, removed my jewelry, and decided to return to my village. People thought I was crazy. But I knew I had made the best decision ever.” She started cooking for friends and studying farming and nutrition. 

Every day, whether she is in New York or Greece or somewhere in between, olive oil is on her mind — and on her bedside table. “I have a shot of olive oil every morning first thing. It’s the best medicine in the world. It’s good for everything — your hair, your skin, your gut.” 

How much olive oil should we be eating? “As much as you want!” 

Her message gained traction, she began to publish cookbooks — 36 to date — and Season One of The Life with Loi won Best Chef in a Series Award from the Taste Awards and a Telly Award for Best Food & Beverage Series. 

“People always tell me that I am to olive oil what Julia Child was to butter,” she said. 

Connecting with Julia Child’s homebase at GBH was “destiny,” said Loi. One night several years ago, Sue Kantrowitz, GBH’s now retired general counsel, was dining at Loi’s restaurant. They got to talking and one thing led to another, contact information was shared, and the rest is history.

“I love GBH,” said Loi. “I’ve received many offers over the years, but I always say, ‘when you have the God, why would you go to the saints?’”

 GBH has special qualities, said Loi. “GBH is quality television. GBH doesn’t cut corners, and that’s how I am. It’s not about money, it’s about how many people will benefit.”

“GBH created the genre of cooking programs and we are thrilled to continue the legacy with the incomparable Maria Loi,” says GBH Lifestyles Executive Producer Laurie Donnelly. “Maria is one of a kind and is out to change the world, one healthy bite at a time.”

 In Season Two, viewers can look forward to learning how to make olive oil soap, cook Corfiot Shrimp, wild chicory, and Mediterranean red mullet.

And every day, she embodies her signature sign-off at the end of every program: “Everything in moderation except love, olive oil, and good deeds.”

Watch episodes and learn more about Loi here.