“I was in Tulum in line to eat at a restaurant called Hartwood and she was there with her boyfriend. They were in front of us and we were a bigger group and they let us go first, Lea just said: “Olive and Gourmando, please go ahead.” She knew exactly who I was and that’s how we first met each other, it was very cute.
Lea, our chief editor, is a big fan of both Foxy (Griffintown) and Olive & Gourmando (Old Montreal), and she supported me big time when I told her I wanted to interview chef Dyan Solomon. We met on a warm summer day at her new restaurant Un Po' Di Più in the Old Port for a nice conversation and the best burrata I’ve had in my life.
Where are you from and where have you been?
I was born in the United States, but I didn’t grow up there. My parents met here in Montreal and then my father got drafter during Vietnam and I was born around that time.
I grew up in Kingston, Ontario and then after I went to cooking school in Vermont. I worked in Boston for a long time, and then came to Montreal and worked at the legendary Toqué, with chef Normand Laprise. A few years later he asked me to be the pastry chef. I met my business partner there and 20 years ago we opened Olive and Gourmando.
What have you learned from the places you’ve visited around the world, and how have they affected your personal style?
I am definitely very influenced by my travels. There’s no doubt. I don’t cook only one type of cuisine. I like to borrow from all cultures so if I learn something new I work to adapt it and twist it into my own style of cooking. I don’t like to have an anchor into only one style of cooking.
In a few words, what’s your approach on food?
My general philosophy? I don’t like food that is very transformed. I like food to be rustic, I like food to be very close to what it was. I don’t twist it too much, I like my dishes to be honest and with the best quality ingredients.
What do you love about Un po’ di più?
It means “a little bit more” in Italian. I love the classic Italian idea of an aperitivo. In Italy, between 5 and 7, people sit down to drink these beautiful drinks that are a little bit bitter and open the appetite. Then they eat small bites of bread with tomatoes, and cheese, and olives and just very simple yet savory to finish the day.
So that’s the concept here. I hope that here, people can feel like they are on vacation somewhere in Italy.
Have you ever worked for a female chef?
Yes, 25 years ago in Boston, she was the chef at the restaurant where I was working.
She was mentioned by Bon Appetite Magazine as one of the young rising stars chefs in the United States. She gave me the courage to pursue my chef career and she was a great source of inspiration for the way I manage the kitchen and the people that work in my kitchen.
What would your last meal be?
Bagels from Fairmount with cream cheese, and lox. Comfort food from my childhood.
If you wouldn’t work in Montreal, where would you like to work?
California. In my dreams, if I had a lot of money, in Los Angeles or San Diego.
Best food is in (NAME A CITY OR A COUNTRY)
Mexico. Big time.
A chef you admire or look up to:
Alice Waters, she has one of the most famous restaurants in the United States.
What did you have for dinner last night?
Omelette with Mexican sauce made with guajillo, onion, cilantro and olive oil.
Place you eat most often in days off?
Right now, I am in love with Loic. Small menu, very surprising delicious food.
And Elena, best pizza.
Margaritas, I am in love with very good Tequila.
Someone you would love to cook for:
I would like to cook for Obama, that would be nice.
What are you most excited about right now?
I am excited about the way my industry is changing and evolving. Kitchens are becoming much more civilized places where people take care of each other. I am proud of that.
When you are not working in the kitchen, what do you like to do?
I enjoy cooking at home, for people who are close to me, and not under a stressful situation. I love it.