By: Markos Papadatos, Senior Editor
Greek-American culinary star Stella Drivas sat down and chatted with HNA’s Markos Papadatos at Neraki Greek Mediterranean Grill in Huntington on Long Island.
American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Stella Drivas is a Greek-American woman, cook, and mother that epitomizes this thought-provoking quotation by the late Emerson.
Drivas is known worldwide for her viral “Hungry Happens” recipes, which are easy-to-make, tasty, and healthy.
She shared how she got started in cooking, and spoke about how it feels to be a content creator in the digital age, at a time when technology and social media are so prevalent.
Drivas shared that her late father owned two Greek diners for over 35 years. “I grew up in an immigrant family. My parents and grandparents came from Greece to New York in the ‘70s with nothing in their pockets. They scraped and saved to build something better for themselves and their family. I grew up very Greek-oriented with all of the Greek traditions and I only spoke Greek at home,” she said.
“My yiayia and mom exposed me to the Greek kitchen from an early age and I fell in love with the cuisine and hospitality. Greeks will welcome everyone with open arms to their table and I think that is an incredibly beautiful gift to pass on.” They also taught me that cooking for someone is an act of love. Through practice, I’ve learned that it is also therapeutic to oneself. Blend the two and you have a winning combination,” she elaborated.
“I attended New York University and earned an economics degree, but the field didn’t resonate with me,” she said. “I went on to get married, became a stay-at-home mom and began to get back in shape. The exercising and change in lifestyle provided me with so much energy and motivation, that I decided to channel it into a food blog.”
She added that after a three-year hiatus, she had no choice but to get a 9 to 5 job, and a year and a half into it, her work environment became toxic so she decided to quit.
“Two weeks later, the pandemic hit, and I was stuck at home, so I eventually decided to re-start my recipe sharing, posting my cooking in video format this time. I started from scratch, with brand new accounts, and within two years exactly, I gained one million followers on Instagram and one million followers on TikTok, it was crazy. Now, Facebook is exploding as well,” she said.
Drivas creates her recipes and videos from scratch herself, and she edits them herself, with some assistance from her daughter.
On her “Love Your Life” motto, she noted that besides preparing meals that bring people satisfaction and pleasure, it is important for one to love their lives (most of the times), so that one’s life can love them back.
From her own recipes, she revealed that some of her favorites are her “spinach and feta brownies,” which are “a play on spanakopita with all of the same flavors, but half the work,” “easy chicken gyros baked in a loaf pan,” as well as the “spicy salmon sushi muffins.”
“The latter was a very popular dish, and a lot of viewers recreated it. Lately, people really resonate with vegetarian dishes and ideas and just healthier eating habits overall,” she acknowledged.
“The key with social media, if you want to grow, you have to know what your audience likes, you have to give it time, and you need to find a clever way to convey yourself, especially if you are doing reels and videos. You have three seconds in the beginning of every video to capture people’s attention otherwise people will scroll by,” she explained.
“If you want to be successful in social media, you have to figure out what works for your niche, and apply it. Always stay true to yourself, be authentic and bring positive energy to your audience,” she added.
Drivas opened up about being a cook and a content creator in the digital age. “I think with the digital era and with videos, it provides you with so many more opportunities to share details about who you are, and connect with your audience. You can contribute value and insights through your content, your recipes, and whatever it is that you are sharing overall. It can be life changing for everyone,” she said.
For young and aspiring cooks that want to pursue Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, she encouraged them to “follow their passion.” “Do what you love to do, it will shine through and pursue it with obsession,” she said.
“In the beginning it will be tough, there will be many hurdles to cross and climb. Don’t let anyone’s negativity stop you. Don’t let failures stop you, I’ve failed many times, yet I view them as learning lessons and motivation to keep going. That’s the way you have to view the mistakes, as valuable lessons and just keep going. Never stop,” she said.
On the title of the current chapter of her life, she said, “Keep Growing, Learning, and Evolving.” “Don’t get stuck in any mindset. Take what you learn and apply it to what you love to do.” she admitted.
Regarding her definition of the word success, Drivas said, “Success means having a purpose in life that brings you fulfillment and hopefully value to others. Being content with your personal relationships and having family around you that wants to spend time with you. Just having an internal voice of being proud of yourself and your actions.”
Drivas expressed her gratitude for her dedicated fans and supporters. “I would like to thank everyone that follows me, comments, shares my posts and sends me messages. Without them I wouldn’t be doing my dream job today,” she said.
“The Greek community especially has shown up in a big way; they are some of the most supportive and passionate people out there. I get so many messages all the time telling me how the recipes I share are just like the ones they made with their loved ones. It is beyond touching and heartfelt. They also encourage me to continue exactly what I am doing right now and thank me for sharing Greek culture with the world,” she concluded.
For more information on Stella Drivas, follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and her official website.