Faces of AWNY: Maria Benardis

As a vibrant Greek Australian, Maria Benardis has long been passionate about her heritage and culture. After spending many years in financial services, Maria went back to her first love: cooking. She spent several years studying ancient Greek cuisine and travelling Greece, and honed her skills by working in the kitchen at XO, owned by Neil Perry. After success in Australia, Maria set her sights on expanding to the United States. In 2014, Maria packed up and moved to New York City, where she continues to spread her passion for Greek cooking and its healing wisdoms. While offering live demos of classic and contemporary Greek cuisine, Maria imparts the wisdom of ancient Greek doctors and philosophers, recounts dramatic narratives from Greek mythology, shares personal anecdotes from her life on the Greek islands, and tells the inspirational story of her own transformation.

Where are you from originally? What brought you to NYC?

I am from Sydney, Australia, however I spent some of my childhood years on the island of Psara in Greece. In Australia, I was an accountant and then moved into tax law. My last job was on the Board of Directors of the Tax Practitioners Board, a division of the Australian Taxation Office.

I have been in NYC for a few years, after I was feeling stagnant in Australia. I felt that people were not ready or receptive to hearing the ancient Greek wisdoms on healing, health and happiness. I felt like Jesus who had to leave his town to be heard by people. I heard in my heart and soul that I should move to New York and so I packed my bags and left trusting that God and the universe would have my back.

What do you do for work?

I have my own business Greekalicious. I just released my first book here and in Canada titled My Greek Family Table. I offer private chef services, restaurant consulting, health and wellness coaching, motivational speaking, kitchen and home organizing services, and culinary instructing.

I also dabble in real estate. I love beautiful homes and so I obtained my real estate license so I can view beautiful homes, invest in them and help my business clients and Australians coming to New York find their perfect home, both here or anywhere else in the USA.

Where do you live? Why did you choose that area?

I live in Hells Kitchen. The word kitchen might have had something to do with this given that is where I spend most of my time. I always dreamt of living close to Times Square and the theatre district. I also love the variety of restaurants that inspire my cooking and cook books.

Maria leading a culinary class at CocuSocial.

What do you like or dislike about living in NYC?

I love the variety of cultures and the wonderful variety of things to do whether it’s the arts, Broadway shows, art galleries, and more. The wonderful people I get to meet and the wonderful opportunities offered each day. I love that you can be yourself without been judged. There is an overall quality of life and people are much more open minded than back home. I feel blessed to live here.

It’s been a great test of maintaining one’s peace among the chaos around us. The only thing I dislike is that that I have had to adjust and be constantly on guard with people. I have encountered many dishonest people who are not all that they seem or project to you.

What’s your ‘only in New York’ moment?

There have been many. One was seeing someone walking their miniature pony down 42nd Street. I love the quirkiness of NYC.

Any advice for people moving to NYC?

Be prepared for rejection and to work really hard to achieve your dreams. It’s a bumpy ride with many adventures along the way.

As a professional working in NYC what are the differences to working in Australia?

I find that NYC presents more challenges. You really have to perfect your product and your work. You cannot afford to make mistakes here. You have to be the best at what you do. The creme de la creme so to speak. I recommend people do all their learning and mistakes in Australia before coming here. Recognition of Australian degrees and experience proved challenging and many companies would not accept or acknowledge these here. I also had the challenge of been told I was overqualified for basic accounting jobs because of my previous board position.

What are your top three tips for friends visiting NYC?

Keep to the right and don’t take up the entire sidewalk otherwise you are likely to be bowled over. Pack comfortable shoes; I wish someone had given me this advice before I arrived! Lastly, be present and enjoy NYC as it comes.

Have you had any hard times in NYC and how did you get through them without your usual support network at home?

I have had many. One was that I lived-off my savings when I arrived and I could not find permanent work even though I had two degrees. I also trusted people I should not have that made false promises so I lost lots of money. I was almost homeless at one stage and barely had enough money to feed myself. I had no support here and that was tough. It was God and my faith that got me through it.

Favorite NYC brunch spot?

I have so many. One of them is my home. I love to make brunch anything from eggs benedict, blueberry pancakes, muffins, French toast, or frittata.

Favorite NYC cocktail spot and cocktail of choice?

I have many! I do enjoy a Mai Tai and the Surf Bar in Brooklyn. I also love their honey and salted fries.

What do you like about being part of AWNY?

I am around like-minded women who understand my cultural roots and the struggles of moving to NYC. It’s a great group to meet others and to help one another. I also enjoy sharing stories of back home and catching up on news on what is happening back in Australia.

Who are some Aussie or Kiwi ladies doing awesome things in NYC who are currently on your radar?

I believe that all women from Australia living here are doing awesome things. To up and leave your home country to start a fresh new start in another country is not easy. Any woman from Australis that has had to do this here in NYC is awesome in my books.

Keep in touch with Maria:

Face book: https://www.facebook.com/maria.benardis and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Greekalicious/152303904835757
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MariaBenardis
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/greekalicious_food/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/greekaliciouscooking

Author: Tarley Jordan

Tarley has been an AWNY volunteer since 2012. She is award-winning marketer from Sydney (with stops in Brisbane and Rockhampton), who moved to New York after meeting her husband in a typical New York chance encounter. Find her on Instagram: @tarleyj

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