Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to be invited to the official grand opening of a fabulous new restaurant in Huntington Village – Jema, owned by Miracle Mop inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano. (Ed Note: yes, that Joy.)
Walking into Jema is like walking into a breath of fresh air. Inspired by Danish design, the décor is warm, modern, clean and comfortable, and according to Joy’s children, very similar in style to Mangano’s home in St. James.
Joy Mangano grew up in Dix Hills and spent a lot of her youth in Huntington, a place that she loves. Since Huntington is something of a foodie town, she thought it would be a perfect place to open up a restaurant. In 2009 she stumbled upon a great building on Gerard Street and opened Porto Vivo. However, with fresh new ideas in mind, and a brand new chef, she decided to re-launch her restaurant and open Jema, which means “gem” in Portuguese, as well as “something that was done very well using both style and edge.”
Jema is certainly not lacking in either style or edge, whether you’re talking about the décor, the food, or their signature cocktails. This multi-level, 7000 square foot restaurant is something to be experienced. Jema offers diners “globally inspired dishes with fresh locally sourced produce, including seafood, meat and vegetables with a focus on seasonality, sustainability and provenance.” It is under the guidance of 26-year-old, Brazilian born chef Franco Sampogna, whom Joy met while vacationing on a private yacht with her family three years ago.
Chef Franco won Joy over with his risotto – the best she has ever had – and when she heard the way he talked to food vendors at markets when they were at port, she knew then that someday they would work together.
“It means so much to me to bring this level, this ambience and this form to Huntington,” said Mangano. “Nobody has to trek into the city to get this kind of quality. I fell in love with this building, and then to have this chef here, creating what he does, plus the décor – people are really getting his level of brilliance, but at the same time they are getting the warmth of what we represent here.”
Chef Franco Sampogna learned to cook at an early age. At 17-years-old, he moved to Nice, France where he learned the basics of cooking at Villefranche-surMer in the Alps at the Le Mère Germaine restaurant. He then spent four years honing his skills, and working in the kitchens of top Michelin Star winning chefs. It was his dream to come to the United States to work, but he had no connections. Then he met Joy, and his entire world changed.
He arrived in the United States about six months ago, and he cannot say enough about Joy and her entrepreneurial family. He loves working for them. As for his style of cooking, Chef Franco states, “From my travel and my experience abroad, I wanted to bring global inspired dishes to Jema. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a dish from a certain place, instead I apply technique and ingredient.”
The menu at Jema changes every few days, depending on what’s in season.
Local products are a primary focus at Jema, with salt from North Fork Sea Salt Company, scallops from the Hamptons, duck coming from Crescent Duck farm in Aquebogue, and of course local produce from Long Island’s many farms. Chef Franco combines these local products with other imported products from Italy and France. The menu at Jema changes every few days, depending on what’s in season.
The evening of the grand opening started out with some magnificent passed hor d’oeuvres. Hamachi tuna with wasabi caviar and radish was outstanding, as was the chick pea mousse served in miniature cones. The Kobe beef sliders were something to be seen in homemade black bread buns. Each burger was served in its own individual cardboard box. Like the sliders, the fresh salmon roe with wasabi caviar was served in individual caviar tins with miniature spoons. Kobe beef hot dogs with truffle mayonnaise was a big hit among the guests, and so was the octopus and tomatoes with grilled tofu and harissa. My absolute favorite hor d’oeuvre was the quail egg with white truffle Sabayon served in little egg cups. It was so creamy and flavorful; I could have eaten hundreds of them.
Professional mixologists created some amazing signature cocktails to accompany the hor d’oeuvres, too. The Nossa cocktail is an ode to Chef Franco. It features Cachaça 51, the most popular brand of Brazilian sugarcane rum, combined with Paul Beau VS Cognac, pineapple, house-made vanilla syrup, coconut elixir and lemon. The Joy de Vivre cocktail is in honor of Joy Mangano and features a flavor combination of her favorite drinks – a French martini and Black Sambuca. This drink is made from Catskill Distilling Company Peace Vodka, pineapple, Mathilde Framboise, Cedilla, house-made vanilla syrup, lemon and an amethyst “Jema” which is a Black Sambuca “chip” which is a product of molecular-mixology.
For the sit-down dinner, four courses were served. The amuse bouche was art on a plate and consisted of North Fork chicken mushrooms atop a charcoal rice cracker. For the appetizer, there was a beautiful and flavorful North Fork sea bass tartar with Petrossian caviar and HOG Farm sorrel. For the main course, perfectly cooked Shinnecock Bay Scallops with celery root risotto and a burgundy truffle. The melding of flavors in this dish were outstanding. Dessert consisted of a wonderful Valrhona chocolate with lightly smoked vanilla ice cream and salted caramel. This is a dessert I would keep coming back for. Each of the courses were paired with wine, three of them from the North Fork – Macari Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Bedell Cellars Viogner, and Macari Vineyards Block E Red.
The meal was pure perfection in every way, with Michelin star quality and presentation. When asked if Jema would seek a Michelin star down the road, Joy replied, “If you know me and if you know him…”
Frankly, I would not put anything past Joy Mangano. If anyone could achieve a Michelin star on Long Island, it would be her. She is driven beyond comprehension, and she most definitely has the chef that can pull it off.
Joy is one of today’s most-successful entrepreneurs and inventors, and appears regularly on television promoting her products. She invented not only the Miracle Mop, but Huggable Hangers and several other home product inventions as well. Joy has also created cookware product lines for Chef Todd English and celebrity chef Ming Tsai who attended Jema’s opening in October. In 2007, Joy launched the first environmentally friendly ceramic non-stick cookware which is available to the public. She is the president of Ingenious Designs LLC, a company which she founded in 1990 and which is based out of Ronkonkoma. Her amazing life story was the inspiration behind the 2015 movie “Joy,” which was directed by David O. Russell and features Jennifer Lawrence as Joy, along with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.
“The key to success is to listen to your instincts and absolutely keep moving forward even if the path goes in a different direction,” said Joy. “Be strong, have courage, and believe in yourself. Don’t stop, and you can be successful at anything.”
Jema is opened for dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. and on Sundays until 9:00 p.m. Jema offers a Chef’s tasting menu as well as an a la carte menu. Reservations are accepted.