Senza Gluten: An Interview with Chef Jemiko L. Solo
Are you gluten-free? Do you dream about having chicken parmigiana and fresh Italian bread while you enjoy a glass of wine with friends? How about chocolate cake or tiramisu or any of the other myriad of desserts you’d write love letters to if you could? Well, then; I’m pleased to announce that your dream has indeed become a reality! Senza Gluten in NYC is an amazing–and completely gluten-free–Italian restaurant that is bound to delight! I surprised my mother with a trip there two years ago, and we both came away enamored by the cozy atmosphere and excellent food. Since then, it’s become a family favorite–gluten and non-gluten family members alike! By chance and funny coincidence, an old friend was able to connect me with Chef Jemiko, and he was kind enough to grant me an interview. Allow me to introduce you his wonderful restaurant; Senza Gluten.
Tell me about yourself. How did you get into cooking?
My father was an executive chef – kind, dedicated, hard working, professional. He loved hosting parities at home. He would invite close family and friends, greet them with a warm smile, and cook for them with such passion and love. I was his pride. When we made dinner together, I would stand proudly next to him as we received expressions of gratitude and praise. I watched him cook and I wanted to learn from him, wanted to be just like him. It was shocking and unbearably painful when he suddenly past away at the age of 49. I was only 13 years old and all I wanted was to make my dad proud any way I could.
Shortly after, I began my culinary career at Marco Polo resorts Metechi Palace Hotel in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia and worked there for 7 years, starting with peeling vegetables and learning knife skills. There I learned from and cooked alongside some of the greatest chefs in the world. I was so young – they gave me a chef’s hat taller than I was! I kept a journal and recipe book with dozens of recipes I had learned or developed myself, the margins flooded with notes about ingredients and techniques. Even in my young age, I had very clear goals, a passion, and a drive. For many years, I worked as an executive chef in several great restaurants in the city. I moved to the United States with the goal of studying pastry arts professionally. I have a great passion for baking and graduated from the Art Institute of NYC in 2005, specializing in Pastry Art. After completing my studies I worked in various Manhattan restaurants, and my love for Italian cuisine grew. I always dreamed of creating my own Italian restaurant and bakery, and my dream finally became a reality with Senza Gluten.
I am very thankful to all my colleagues and the great chefs who shared their knowledge and passion with me. I worked side by side with professionals who are now my dear friends. I would like to give a special thanks to my first chefs, David Regueiro and Massimo Stecchi, for their professional knowledge and kindness. Without their guidance and support I wouldn’t be the person and chef I am today.
I’d love to know how this whole “gluten free Italian restaurant” idea got started!
I have several friends with celiac disease. They often had difficulties eating out at restaurants because so many places couldn’t accommodate. My friends would tell me about all of the foods they missed the most, and I would surprise them with a homemade gluten free variation. Seeing the spark of joy on their faces was incredibly rewarding, and I knew I had to help bring this food to others. We opened the Senza Gluten restaurant in NYC in 2014 and Senza Gluten Cafe & Bakery in 2018.
What would you consider your food philosophy to be?
Everyone deserves delicious food they can eat without worry. Safety is our number one priority. It’s a wonderful thing to see customers visiting for the first time and realize they can eat everything on the menu.
How is it that you’re able to make such wonderful gluten free Italian food? Or is that top secret? 😉
Gluten free flours have very different properties compared to wheat flour. In order to create a similar taste and texture, we use a specific combination of gluten free flours and incorporate that into our traditional cooking/baking techniques. It’s very much a science. I would say the main ingredient is love.
What is one of your personal favorite dishes to make?
I love every dish on our menu – they are all my favorites! When I have an idea for a new menu item, I work away until it is perfect, until it becomes my favorite. Only then do we add it to the menu officially. Though I am quite proud of our Georgian-style cheese bread at Senza Gluten Cafe & Bakery. It’s a very unique dish with excellent flavor combinations.
Gathering around the dinner table is a tradition that goes back a long time. Do you think this is still important today? If so, why?
I believe this is important on many levels – it develops a sense of community and provides time to truly enjoy food. Everything is so fast paced in today’s society that we sometimes forget to connect with loved ones in person or we’re racing through meals on the go. There is nothing better than enjoying good company and conversation, while also taking the time to appreciate the flavors, textures, and layers of the food we eat.
Tell me some of your favorite customer stories!
We love connecting with our customers. It’s a joy to hear from visitors who come from all around the world just to try our food. Many people tell us they haven’t had a bread basket or tiramisu or lasagna in years, and seeing the happiness on their faces is so rewarding. It makes all of our hard work worth while.
If you’re looking for a wonderful Italian place where the food can be enjoyed by all–or–if you’re gluten-free and visiting the city from out of town, make sure to make a reservation! You’ll have a lovely time!
PS. Don’t forget to order dessert! 😉
Visit the website here: http://senzaglutennyc.com
Helpful Hint Before You Go: the restaurant takes only cash or American Express.