Nathan Nichols, the 34-year-old executive chef at Gram & Dun, started working in the restaurant industry as a fry cook. He was 18, and he’d landed a job at an Outback Steakhouse. He worked his way up to kitchen manager, and then the chain had him travel around to help open new restaurants, from Kansas City to Avon, Colo.
“I got my hands dirty with experience that way,” Nichols says.
When he moved back to Kansas City, he started working at Bluestem under Colby Garrelts. That, he says, was his real culinary school — he never actually attended any other kind.
“It was just very hands on, and just being able to work with him side by side in the kitchen. … That was really what kind of got me hooked.”
Cooking, Nichols says, has always been a passion, but seeing how the Garrelts family operated their business changed things for him.
“Once I became sous chef, ever since then, it was on,” Nichols says.
Q: What’s your least favorite ingredient?
A: Truffle oil. Real truffles are great, but that processed, crappy, white truffle oil. … You will never find it on the menu.
Q: What’s your favorite cheap lunch?
A: Probably a Philly cheesesteak sandwich from a local place here in Kansas City called Philly Time.
Q: What’s the best thing you ate this week?
A: I got into a little VIP night on Saturday right before we went out of town to Stock Hill. Joe West is awesome, and I’m really glad that we opened that concept. It was probably the 22 ounce Cowboy Rib-eye that I had. I went from that right on down to Disney World.
Q: What’s your favorite splurge?
A: Any kind of pasta. Pasta carbonara, probably.
Q: What’s your go-to ingredient?
A: Roasted garlic.
Q: What’s your go-to drink after a long day?
A: Boulevard 80-Acre.
Q: What would your dream trip be?
A: I would probably go back to the Cayman Islands, because it’s just absolute paradise. I was just there like three months ago too.
Q: Describe your culinary style in five words or less.
A: Food that leaves you wanting more.
Q: Which celebrity would you like to cook for?
A: Heidi Klum.
Q: What would you make?
A: Whatever she wanted. Steak.
Q: Who’s your biggest inspiration?
A: Colby Garrelts.
Q: What’s your kitchen pet peeve?
A: People that are late.
Q: What’s your go-to kitchen gadget?
A: A Vitamix blender.
Q: What’s your favorite cookbook?
Q: What’s something you love to make?
A: Pasta dough. Actual pastas, all types of different pastas.
Q: What’s something you hate to make?
A: Mashed potatoes. I don’t know why. They’re good. I love them. But they’re just messy to make.
Q: What’s your favorite fast food meal?
A: Arby’s. Regular giant roast beef with curly fries and extra Arby’s sauce.
Q: Do you have a guilty pleasure when it comes to food?
A: Little Debbie Swiss cake rolls.
Q: What’s a culinary trend that you think needs to end?
Q: What do you think Kansas City needs more of?
A: Just local restaurants that have an emphasis on trying to keep things local. Cook from the region, and just kind of cut down on how far the food and ingredients are having to travel. Using more local farmers.
Q: What’s your favorite barbecue in Kansas City?
A: That’s a tough one between Q39 and Joe’s. I would probably go with Joe’s KC. Q39’s a close second, though.
Q: What’s your favorite food city in the U.S., aside from Kansas City?
A: Chicago. I just like how many great, awesome restaurants there are. Of course, it’s so big, but places like Longman & Eagle, places that don’t seem hoity-toity on the outside, but the food is just pristine and perfect every time.