Almost a decade ago, Adam Nichol and I sat around a lunch table in high school. Now, for New York City Restaurant Week, I caught up with Adam. These days he’s a sous chef in arguably the greatest city in the world at the Grand Hyatt New York. Watch as he prepares pan roasted monkfish with Brussels sprouts, black trumpet mushrooms, black truffles and lobster emulsion. As opposed to my rookie video skills with my Droid, it doesn’t any better than this. More, please!
Dreaming Made Simple: What’s your dream?
Adam Nichol: Right now, to have my own restaurant. That’s one of the reasons you become a chef. Hopefully in the next couple years that will happen. I’ve been talking with a friend I know from Cincinnati, so we’re looking there right now. It’s got potential to be a really good food city.
Dreaming Made Simple: When did you think about becoming a chef?
Adam Nichol: It happened when I was really young. I was five, six, seven and throwing food coloring in macaroni and cheese and thinking it was creative. What really got me was when I was eight or nine, I would come home from school and watch "Great Chefs of the World." Just watching them put dishes together and how they worked got me started at a young age.
Dreaming Made Simple: How did you get to New York City?
It’s been a lot of traveling. When I was 15, I started working at Country Kitchen (one of our hometown restaurants). I worked there for two years and pretty much did everything I could - dishwasher, busser, line cook, buffet cook - You name it, I did it. That’s what got me into the industry and made me want to pursue that.
I went to school at Johnson and Wales University. I was in Charleston, S.C. for two years for a culinary arts degree, and I worked in two different restaurants there. Then I went to Charlotte, N.C. for a bachelors in food service management. I worked at two hotels there. In the summers between college, I would come home and work at a country club - the best of both worlds - I got to cook and play golf. After that I did an internship in Chicago at one of the Westin properties for three months. I transferred to a Hyatt hotel in Chicago, a McCormack Place property. I worked there for a little over a year before I transferred to Cincinnati as a corporate management trainee in culinary. Halfway through that, they promoted me to sous chef. I did that for a year and a half. I’ve been in New York for about 15 months.
It’s been a journey. It’s good and bad. You get to meet a lot of people, but at the same time, once you start meeting people, you move. You stay in touch, but there’s still people you kind of lose touch with.
Dreaming Made Simple: Is moving part of the business?
Adam Nichol: It is. It’s the best way to get promoted and to get more experience. I think once you’ve been in one place for a year, year and a half, you’ve kind of learned everything that you can.
Dreaming Made Simple: How have you developed as a chef?
Adam Nichol: A lot of learning. Every chef that you work for has their own styles, different ways of doing things. Here at the Hyatt in New York City, it’s a big union hotel. You learn what you have to abide by with union contracts. It was an eye-opening experience when I first came here. But if you have a passion for cooking, if you have a passion for food, that’s what your driving force is.
You learn whatever you can from whoever is going to offer it. You might have a line cook from Guatemala. Maybe he’s got a native dish that his mom used to cook. Every day you should be learning something new.
Dreaming Made Simple: Do you have a favorite story?
Adam Nichol: I have tons of stories. The first thing that came to mind is when I flew to New York City for my interview. I had just arrived in the city and my boss Christian took me out. My boss starts talking about his love of butchery and pork. He started to say he has a pig tattoo on his left ribcage. I said, 'That’s funny you say that because I have a pig on my left ribcage as well.' We both looked at each other and showed each other our pigs. Before I even started cooking, that was one of the determining factors that he was going to hire me.
Dreaming Made Simple: What’s it like being a chef in perhaps the best city in the world?
Adam Nichol: It’s good and bad. There’s so much talent in this city that it’s very easy to get inspiration. You can go to any restaurant to get ideas. Being right on the ocean, we have amazing seafood here too. On the other side, with the competition, it’s very hard to stand out unless you’re a big boy. Otherwise you can be doing some really great food, but it’s very easy to go unnoticed.