Spuyten Duyvil business bakes gluten-free goods with pure love


Derrick Paez loved his wife, Monika Kusinka-Paez, so much he invented chickpea pasta just for her.

Well not really, but it was one of the couple’s first successful gluten-free experiments. Now settled in Spuyten Duyvil for the last 17 years, the Paezs have just opened the doors to their gluten-free bakery, 3x3kitchen.

The bakery opened in what Kusinka-Paez referred to as a soft launch March 23 because she and Derrick were still adjusting to the goods they offer.

Kusinka-Paez has an intolerance that makes digesting the gluten found in bread, pasta and most flour-based foods difficult. Her husband is a chef, professionally trained at the Culinary Insitute of America, so, when they met in 2000 they experimeted to find gluten-free recipes they both enjoy.

The chickpea pasta came after Kosinka-Paez came back from a trip to India and brought back ideas for new flavor combinations and ingredients. Paez said she inspired him, which eventually led to his creation of the pasta made from chickpeas, which they strung up all around their first apartment in Astoria to dry.

The pair started selling their gluten-free baked goods at the Riverdale Y Sunday Market four years ago. It was fulfilling a lifelong dream for them.

Their inspiration has drawn from their shared life experiences.

In their travels, they stayed in the town of Marta, Texas, which had a population of 1,700 and everything was closed from Monday through Wednesday, leaving the Paezs with few food options. They began frequenting a little shop entitled Para Llevar — “to go” in Spanish — which had a selection offering healthy, upscale meals.

This sparked an idea in Kusinka-Paez. She wanted to create and sell gluten-free family style meals. This idea led the couple to the farmer’s market scene. In the process, they realized their strength was in creating gluten-free baked goods, so they put aside the family-style meal idea.

But Kusinka-Paez said she has not given up on her idea and plans to bring family-style meals to her store someday.

“We’re very passionate about what we do. We want people to know you can taste and feel and get that same experience each time you come,” Paez said.

Paez’s experiments require a great deal of food science. Kusinka-Paez says he’s dedicated to his process and it’s always ongoing. Paez said the process has allowed him to unlearn everything he thought he knew about cooking and have fun. 

“Understanding the flours and the blends and how they work together, understanding how they react when baking is key,” Paez said.

Kusinka-Paez said her husband labors in the kitchen coming up with new recipes, and he critiques his experiments, but she insists she’s loved all of his cooking, experiments and all.

Their current menu includes items like cinnamon rolls, apple turnovers, ginger snaps, sourdough bread, and carrot turmeric muffins.

When they first began working at the farmer’s markets, Kusinka-Paez said, it was a lot of work and, over the course of their four years, she has questioned whether they were doing the right thing.

They have two children — now 13 and 17 — but leaving them alone for whole weekends when they were younger was difficult for Kusinka-Paez. Not to mention the toll it took on her body in the early days, standing for two days straight after being used to sitting every day, all day.

Kusinka-Paez grew up on a farm in Poland and, before moving to America, eating gluten-free was not a thought in her mind. In fact, one of her first culture shocks after moving to America was cornflakes. She grew up eating cornflakes nearly every day and in her excitement to see cornflakes in the store, she was horrified and disappointed to find they were covered in sugar.

“I don’t eat cornflakes to this day. I think it’s a crime that people are deprived of the natural flavors of everything,” Kusinka-Paez said.

The Paezs use locally sourced ingredients and unrefined sugars.

Making their menu for the farmer’s market all those years ago, they started with foods they knew were already common, like a muffin, which they didn’t feel needed to be reinvented so much as modified to fit their standards.

“Our biggest pleasure is that we serve a purpose,” Paez said. “It’s not just that we’re bakers, we find a lot of people with (gluten allergies), so the purpose is serving that market,”

How their store ended up an eight-minute bike ride from their home was purely coincidental.

They searched all over Westchester, through the Bronx and into Brooklyn. Storefronts on places like Riverdale Avenue were too expensive or needed more renovations than the pair could afford.

Kusinka-Paez said she’d all but given up hope when she turned down Fieldston Road and saw the sign about the space for lease.

“I think we happen to be in the right place in the right time,” Paez said.

The restaurant will host its grand opening May 22 at 3601 Fieldston Road.

Derrick Paez Monika Kusinka-Paez 3x3kitchen Gluten-free bakery Spuyten Duyvil Chickpea pasta Gluten-free baked goods Riverdale Y Sunday Market Family-style meals Local ingredients Unrefined sugars Culinary Institute of America Grand opening