Raised in California, Kristin Sollenne first discovered her love of cooking by creating fresh, wholesome spins on classic Italian dishes to help her parents attain their weight-loss goals while still enabling them to enjoy their favorite foods.
These days, as a rising culinary star and Food Network guest judge, Chef Sollenne oversees the five kitchens of the New York City Restaurant Group’s Bocca Di Bacco locations. A 2013 honoree of Zagat’s Top 30 Under 30, Sollenne’s cooking philosphy focuses on crafting simple, farm-to-table Southern Italian cuisine featuring nutritious ingredients and bold flavors. As the executive chef and culinary director of the expanding Bocca Di Bacco chain, Sollenne workes with each location’s chefs on healthy cooking techniques and manages the training program.
Sollenne and her approachable cooking tips have appeared on WCBS’s Morning News and WLNY’s Live from the Couch, as well as NBC’s Today Show and Fox5’s Good Day New York. In 2014, she was featured on season ten of Food Network Star as a mentor to contestant Luca Della Casa.
When not designing the next healthy, reimagined Italian dish for Bocca Di Bacco, the Upper West Side resident enjoys running, dancing, and traveling for food inspiration. Learn more about Chef Sollenne at www.kristinsollenne.com.
I was drawn to New York because of the culinary diversity and my passion to pursue a career in the Culinary Arts. Growing up in California, I knew I always wanted to move to New York City because it’s one of the most respected cities in the world and known for its exquisite cuisine and emerging chefs. I came to make my footprint in the culinary world and bring a California farm-to-table mindset to traditional Southern Italian cuisine.
When it comes to food and cooking, who are your biggest influences?
My family is definitely one of my biggest influences. I’m a self-taught chef that discovered my interest and talent in creating fresh spins on classic Italian dishes while cooking with my Italian-American family. The seasons also inspire and influence me when creating new dishes. I center most menu items on farm-fresh vegetables and herbs, lean proteins, whole grains, and heart-healthy olive oil.
Before Bocca Di Bacco, you worked as the chef at Vucciria in the Theater District. How did that opportunity come about?
I’ve worked with the New York City Restaurant Group for close to six years now. My first position was at Arte Café on the Upper West Side. Next I was the opening Executive Chef of Vucciria, a farm-to-table inspired restaurant. As Bocca Di Bacco was growing and receiving more recognition, NYCRG re-branded the Theater District location as their second Bocca Di Bacco. In December 2012, I was the Executive Chef that opened Bocca Di Bacco Chelsea, the third location and have continued to grow with the brand ever since. I now am the Culinary Director of Bocca Di Bacco’s four locations, overseeing all kitchen operations and managing on and off-site catering events. It’s been a busy five years, but I’ve always said busy is good!
What skills or traits should every great chef possess?
Passion is first and foremost. Every great chef needs to be passionate about food and cooking. Creativity, attention to detail, being a team player and having a strong business sense are also traits every great chef should posses.
What do you enjoy most about your current role at Bocca Di Bacco?
I love overseeing the expanding chain, and working with each location’s chefs imagining new dishes. I love the opportunity to really be apart of the brand and continue to grow with it. We have some great ideas cooking and I’m looking forward to announcing them in the near future!
What sets Bocca Di Bacco apart from other Italian restaurants in New York?
With enough vino to satiate Bacchus, the Italian god of wine, Bocca Di Bacco features an all-Italian list of over 300 food-friendly selections, many of which are exclusive to the restaurant. From top producers’ renowned offerings, to rare and esoteric varietals, the restaurant offers labels from Piedmonte in the north to Sicily in the south. An Enomatic wine-dispensing system offers more than 40 wines by-the-glass. Guests can also create their own wine flights, with guidance from the staff. We encourage guests to sample and taste to find the pairings they like best with our cuisine. The design and décor is different at each location and is fitting of each different neighborhood. The menu is contemporary and well balanced for everyone’s palette.
Are there any dishes you’ve created recently that you’re especially proud of?
I’ve recently featured “Halibut Al Cartoccio” with seasonal vegetables and “Spaghetti al Cartoccio con Aragosta” with homemade spaghetti, lobster, shrimp, mussels, calamari, fresh tomato sauce and basil. “Cartoccio” is the process of cooking/steaming the ingredients in a parchment paper bag, so the finished dish comes out extremely juicy and flavorful. I’m always proud when I feature a special dish and it sells out every night!
If you could spend a week-long vacation anywhere in the world, where would it be?
One week! I love traveling for food inspiration and Italy is one of my favorites. I’d pick the Almalfi Coast – it’s the perfect spot to be inspired as I continue to write my first cookbook.
You’re invited to a summer barbecue and asked to bring a side dish. What do you show up with?
I’d bring one of my favorite dishes — Grilled Caponata. It features seasonal grilled vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, onions, pine nuts, garlic, capers and kalamata olives marinated in olive oil and red wine vinegar. It’s a Sicilian dish with sweet and sour flavors. Served on a toasted baguette is the perfect way to serve and enjoy – especially at a summer BBQ.
What did you have for dinner last night?
Mexican! The New York City Restaurant Group, which owns Bocca Di Bacco opened El Coco, a Mexican restaurant located next to Bocca Di Bacco 7th Ave. We started with the homemade guacamole and salsa, empanadas, nachos and the taco salad as my main course. It was delicious!
What would you like to do that you simply haven’t found the time for yet?
I wake up every morning with a new idea! There’s not enough time in the day to get done what I want. I have a growing list… a cookbook, bottled sauces and a designer chef ware line are what I’m focusing on first.