An Interview with Head Chef Nicolette Manescalchi
Emily: Let's go ahead and jump right in! What was your relationship with food and cooking growing up?
Nicolette: I would say it was this strong relationship. My dad was a stay-at-home dad and he did all the cooking for our household. His parents were from Sicily. So, there was a ton of Sicilian influence. He would often make me do all the boring things, but he didn't want to do like chopping garlic, which I hated, and rolling meatballs…so I did that kind of stuff a lot.
Nicolette: My mom really enjoyed baking as a hobby. So I would, uh, very often bake with her, you know, cookies and cakes and things. We never bought those kinds of treats, we would always just make them ourselves.
Emily: And when did you first know you wanted to cook professionally?
Nicolette: I always loved cooking, but I knew the life of a chef was very difficult. I knew that having a family life was important to me, so I really struggledwith that while I was in college, trying to decide what to do, after my bachelor's degree. So finally I had one of my English professors ask me, like, why, why is it that you want a master's degree?
Like, what is it for? Is it just because you feel like others would think more highly of you? And I was like, yeah, I guess so. He was like, well, maybe you should pursue cooking then, if that's what you're really interested in, I took his advice on that. And I did, I went to culinary school instead of pursuing a master's degree in English.
Nicolette: Before I even started culinary school, I was able to get a job at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant as a line cook, which ended up teaching me a lot and started my career.
Emily: Cool. Very cool. What's your favorite thing to make at home?
Emily: And then the second part: what is your favorite thing to make in a professional kitchen and like the differentiation there?
Nicolette: I would say pasta is probably the go-to thing at home, everyone in the family loves pasta. So that's good because it's hard to satisfy everyone sometimes. We have it once a week and you know, change, the sauces and what we're doing every week. When I had more time, I would make fresh pasta at home too,
Emily: I was going to ask. What pasta do you use if you can't make fresh pasta?
Nicolette: If I don’t have time, I use dry pasta. I like the Granoro brand, which we will be starting to use here at Luke’s next week.
Nicolette: It's very important to get quality dried pasta because it really does affect the texture to make sure you have a good al dente texture. I also enjoy baking when I have time. So whenever I have time, I love to make cakes and cookies and things like that, too.
Emily: Do you have a favorite cake? ,
Nicolette: Well, I would say bundt cakes, just because it's so fun. I have some cool bundt pans and they just always look like a special occasion, even if it's just like a simple, a simple poundcake!
Emily: And then what about in a professional kitchen? Do you have something that's your favorite to make in that setting?
Nicolette: I would say like the most fun thing to make is definitely pizza in a wood-burning oven, just because it's very interactive and it's just like, feels so, you know, like back to like the roots of cooking with the fire and just the act of making the pizza is just super fun.
Nicolette: In general, I love cooking with fire…I've never been into like the sous vide cooking or for that kind of thing. I think it's really more fun and I think flavors do better when cooking with fire as opposed to electricity.
Emily: I agree. And do you have a favorite thing to eat, but not make? Like, something that you love eating, but you're like, I don't – this is something that I don't actually want to make myself. I'd rather get this served to me.
Nicolette: I would say bread…. like sourdough bread. It’s such a trend to make it in recent pandemic time,, but I think that like really good quality sourdough bread Or like Levain style bread, is best made by professionals who are using, you know, wood-burning ovens at and can get the right balance of the texture, like not too dense. The Midwife and the Baker for me is my favorite. bread that I purchase for myself and love the lightness of it. They use ancient grains that they mill themselves, and so it's really delicious and also like better for you, healthier.
Emily: Yeah. I completely agree. I never got on the bread making train either. Cause I was like, there's so many good bakeries around. Why would I make my own when we were just surrounded by experts?
Nicolette: Yeah, we’re really lucky.
Emily: So, moving a little bit more into Luke’s stuff. What originally drew you to us, to Luke’s Local?
Nicolette: Well, I always really enjoyed Little Engy if you're familiar with that, but it’s the business model that they have in England, they have cookbooks as well and it's more of like a grab and go deli style of really high-end food. , and so this seems like it could be a good opportunity to kind of have a similar situation, but here! Luke’s Local is definitely a step above the other grocery stores, I would say, in their prepared meals. And it's exciting to think about expanding that and seeing what we can do in the future!
Emily: Definitely! And do you have a favorite Luke's food item or meal that you've tasted so far?
Nicolette: Well, I've overall been really impressed with the seasoning that all of the cooks here are doing, they're all really great.
Nicolette: I loved the special tomatillo avocado salsa that we had during the Super Bowl. That was like the perfect mix of like spice and acid and saltiness. It was just really good.
Emily: You haven't had Patricia's roasted red pepper dip yet, have you?
Nicolette: Yeah, that's really, really tasty and I'm excited that we'll be changing some of our oils next week, which will make everything taste even better!
Emily: That's very exciting, looking forward to it! Last question: Is there anything exciting coming up that you can tease?
Nicolette: Yeah, yeah. There's actually quite a bit of excitement. The oil switching is really excited to me. A lot of our staple items will be made using completely olive oil from now on. I think that will make a huge flavor difference for sure. We're going to change a couple of sandwiches coming up, as well as make a new pasta that will be vegetarian and a pasta sauce! So, the vegetarians will have an exciting baked pasta option, and we'll be moving the bolognese sauce to the freezer, so we'll still have that meat option for people to purchase as well.
Emily: Cool. That is a lot of exciting things. Okay. Well, that's it. Thank you so much. Thanks for taking the time.
Nicolette: Thank you. Have a good rest of your day!