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In Conversation With Samir From Gemmayze Street

This month we visited Samir Allen, the chef and owner of Gemmayze Street, an eclectic restaurant nestled within St. Kevin's Arcade in Auckland, New Zealand. Gemmayze Street serves as a homage to Samir's rich Lebanese-Pākehā heritage — weaving flavours and techniques passed down through generations in his Nana and Jiddi's kitchens.
He shares his passion for sharing meals as a love language, his commitment to keeping his culture alive and how he offers a contemporary twist to the traditional Lebanese dining experience at his restaurant.
Kia ora Samir, tell us about yourself and what you do.
I’m Samir Allen. I’m the chef and owner of Gemmayze Street in St Kevins Arcade. Basically I cook food for people.
How did Gemmayze Street come about?
Gemmayze Street is a love letter to my nana and jiddi’s kitchen. It’s the story of my heritage as a Lebanese-Pākehā. I always knew I wanted to share the food of my childhood in a restaurant. I got the chance to travel to Lebanon in 2014 and after spending four months there, I knew that was my next step. I had been working in restaurants since I was 18 and to have my own space was a dream come true.
You’ve spoken about working in both Western and Lebanese kitchens and learning the processes of other chefs. What have you been able to take away from these experiences and how have they informed your own process?
Lebanese cooking is not so much about a recipe, it’s more so a feeling. Working in other professional kitchens you learn about the consistency and technique to do things over and over again the same way. Being able to combine those two is how I’ve approached cooking.
What significance does sharing a meal with someone have to you?
It’s my love language. Sharing a meal, particularly cooking for someone, was how I was raised to show love for people.
What practises do you engage in to keep yourself creatively nourished and grounded?
Obsessing over food all the time. Eating it, reading about it, experiencing it.
If somebody new was dining in your restaurant, what dishes would you recommend they order?
Hummus, chicken shish, kibbeh nayeh, lamb shoulder. An iteration of these dishes has been on our menu since we opened seven years ago. They’re staples on a classic Lebanese table.
What does community mean to you?
Community is a way of keeping our culture alive.
Gemmayze Street is immaculately decorated, can you tell me about the decor of the restaurant?
When we first opened Gemmayze Street, there was a huge misconception that Lebanese and Middle Eastern food in general was something that was only eaten at 2am after a night out. While those experiences are just as delicious and important, I wanted to showcase a different dining experience. That flowed through into the decor. I tried to infuse modern elements with memories from my past. Things like the hand blown glass pendants in our dining space are a good example of this. Made by Luke Jacomb, they take the colours and idea of an ornate mosaic lamp and present it in a different way. Family photos, borrowed brass trays, rich colours and textural fabrics are inspired by the decor I grew up with.
What are your future plans for Gemmayze Street?
I’m going back to Lebanon next year. I’m excited to bring back a new wave of inspiration as we keep Gemmayze Street growing and evolving. We also have a project we have been working on for a year that’s launching soon. Keep an eye out.
Find Gemmayze Street at Shop 16, St Kevin's Arcade, 183 Karangahape Road, Auckland

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