Maria Simone is the owner of Gianna's Pizzeria Bar & Bistro. Simone was not at all what I expected. Young for a restaurant owner, Maria has many plans for her restaurant. She is enthusiastic, educated, creative and very tiny for an Italian chef. Being female does not set her apart in an industry that employs more female managers than men, nor does it deter her from single-handedly running a successful business.
Maria grew up in Caroga Lake and attended Tufts University, where she received a bachelor's of arts in fine arts. She returned home because she missed her family and friends. Maria joined her boyfriend, Mike, owner of Gianna's on Spring Street, in the hospitality industry. Realizing she liked the restaurant business and feeling she had a flair for it, Maria became business partners with Mike. They leased the current building on Main Street in Gloversville, thereby giving Gianna's a new home and a new dimension.
Maria learned to cook as she went along.
"My father was an amazing cook, but growing up I had no interest," she said.
She clearly got the food "gene" from Carmine Simone. The menu at Gianna's is all homemade. The sauces are made from scratch. The chicken is hand-breaded. Even the salsas are fresh. Maria's food philosophy is whenever possible, nothing comes in a box.
Aware of eating healthy and special diets, Maria explained, "I don't eat a lot of fried foods, so I don't serve my customers frozen items dipped in a lot of fat. We have a lot of gluten-free foods and we are willing to prepare anything for special customer needs."
Maria is now the sole operator of the restaurant, and the future looks good for the business. There are renovations planned for the dining room, and an update of the menu also is planned with the help of her head chef, Cory Dutcher.
"We want to keep all our regulars' favorites but step away a little from just Italian," Maria said.
From my experience visiting last Thursday night, there are a lot of regulars at Gianna's.
When asked about the reason for her success, Maria said she has a lot of support from her family and friends. This is very true. At the Celebrity Chef Dinner on April 10, I stopped in the Holiday Inn kitchen to say hi to Maria as she prepared her taco salad for the dinner guests. Standing right by her side donned with plastic gloves was her mom, Shawn. The salad was unique and quite delicious. You can meet Maria almost any day at 253 N. Main St., Gloversville.
The last, but certainly not least, chef in my meet-the-chef series is Brad Gillen of Hales Mills Country Club. Brad hails from Gloversville, but like so many of his colleagues started his career in Florida. He started his kitchen career behind soapy water.
"I was working as a dishwasher when the entire kitchen quit. I jumped right into the cooking line and have had a passion for cooking ever since," he said.
Brad stayed on in Florida, working the kitchen of the Michigan Gull Seafood Restaurant for seven years.
When he returned to Fulton County, Brad went to Fulton-Montgomery Community College. Majoring in communications, Brad aspired to become a journalist, but that didn't quite happen. His love of food preparation took him back to the kitchen to a job as a chef at the Downtowner, then on to the kitchen at 391 Main. Eventually, he made his way to Hales Mills.
Although Brad is the chef in charge of the kitchen, he insists that all plans are a team effort. Along with his assistant chef, Jeff Mayer, Brad is part of the new team at Hales Mills. The country club is under the new ownership of Roy and Janine Dykeman, and is teeing 2014 off with new banquet facilities, an all-new restaurant and menu.
"I like to make food from scratch. We have a good team and we came up with a great menu," Brad said.
Brad's favorite preparations are soups and sauces. He likes making risottos the best.
"We are very busy with lunches, dinners, Prime Rib Fridays, brunches and special events," he said. "The club is thoroughly booked with events all summer."
Listening to this enthusiastic chef, one wonders how Brad does with four young children and one on the way. He credited "dedication and proper planning." I think it's his easy and positive attitude.
Many of us met Brad at he Celebrity Chef Dinner at the Holiday Inn. You can meet Brad Gillen almost any day at 146 Steele Road.
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