In life, they say speak softly and carry a big stick! Nicole Pederson is the first female chef I’ve interviewed for 20 Questions. Her pedigree is very impressive. Nicole isn’t currently on twitter yet and seems happiest in her kitchen working with her team.
She’s worked in France, for Danny Meyer and now Marcus Samuelsson at C-House. One of the neatest aspects is that she cooked at the White House for the Obama’s first State Dinner. Nicole isn’t a look at me type of person but she can trump many local chefs with her experience!
I appreciated her sense of humor and candid answers.
Name Nicole Pederson
Restaurant C-House, Affinia Hotel
From New Brighton, Minnesota
Culinary School The Art Institutes International
Knife Hand Right
Twitter Handle Laughing – no – I will. She just got a smart phone recently and jettisoned her old flip phone. Now that she has the phone she knows she’ll be doing more social media! Loves the new iPhone
1. What did you have for dinner last night?
Nicole: Tacos at Big Star at 11:30
CFS: Whiskey or Beer?
2. Place you eat most often on days off?
Lula Café – I’m there all the time.
3. Favorite ingredient to work with?
Nicole: That’s a tough one – depends on the season.
CFS: Is there a season you get more excited about?
Nicole: The fall – apples, crab apples, root vegetables, squash. I get excited about braising things.
4. If I gave you $5,000 how would you spend it?
Nicole: I’d go on vacation!
CFS: Anywhere special?
Nicole: Where do I want to go right now? I want to go back to France – it’s been 6 years - Paris eating at the little 45 seat chef driven restaurants.
5. First word that comes to mind when I say foodie?
Nicole: (Laughing) long pauses…hmmm foodie –
CFS: This is going to be like Michelin – first reaction is guarded
Nicole: (Laughing) I would say Farmer’s Market – people all going around getting stuff.
6. Favorite Charity Event that you do?
Anything that is for the Academy of Global Citizenship - We’re doing an event next week with some chefs in a new loft space. I’m going to help.
7. Last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in?
Japan – I would go eat Ramen!
8. If you weren’t cooking, what would you do for a living?
Nicole: Right now…if I weren’t cooking…I can’t imagine not doing anything not related to food. It would be retail or writing around food.
CFS: You don’t want to do writing – there’s no money.
Nicole: (Laughing) Cause cooking pays so well (laughing)
9. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Nicole: Marine Biologist or geologist
CFS: Lots of Marine Biologist in Minnesota?
Nicole: (Laughs) No, that’s why I went to Geology!
10. Most exotic vacation destination that you’ve been to?
Nowhere exotic just the run of the mill – Mexico, Canada, France, Italy the usual.
11. If you left Chicago to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
Probably, back to New York.
12. Most embarrassing cooking moment?
Nicole: When I went to do the state dinner at the White House, we’re getting everything ready to go down to the main kitchen in the tent. The state dinner happened in a giant tent on the lawn. We were talking about the rice and I asked if anyone had tasted it. So while we were getting it ready, I went to taste it and hit my thumb on the aluminum foil cutter. It was a gouge! I almost needed stitches. Blood is everywhere. I’m at the White House and cut myself on the foil! I was trying not to let it show and was so embarrassed.
CFS: How did you get the gig?
Nicole: Marcus Samuelsson invited me and the pastry chef to come and help. His chef de cuisine at Red Rooster was in charge and we all went down to help. He wanted us to come see what it was all about.
CFS: How would you describe that experience?
Nicole: It was amazing. It was like being in someone’s house which was a bit weird. It’s a professional kitchen but with armed guards and machine guns walking around.
CFS: I was thinking armed men with dogs walking around.
Nicole: The only dogs were the pet dogs. Which would come down in to the kitchen and you’d have to chase them out.
CFS: (Laughing) that’s awesome can’t really yell at the first dog!
13. Person you would most like to cook for?
14. What are you most excited about right now?
Nicole: The 40 lbs. fresh octopus I got from Alaska yesterday!
CFS: All one octopus or a few?
Nicole: No, it’s one
CFS: Oh my god, that’s huge!
Nicole: It’s like 32 pounds. (Laughing)
CFS: That’s a little daunting.
Nicole: That’s what the guys said. I asked if they cooked it yesterday and they said no.
CFS: Where they nervous because of the size or because they didn’t want to ruin it?
CFS: I can respect that.
15. Do you have any pet peeves?
When people use a container like honey or something sticky and it runs down the sides and a pool of sticky ends up on the table. Ugh, it makes me crazy.
16. What’s your karaoke song?
I don’t sing.
17. Is there a difference as a female chef working in the US versus Europe?
There was one other woman when I was in France. You know I think male chauvinists are male chauvinists around the world. It’s a hard environment because dudes are dudes in the kitchen. I think a lot of it is the personality of the female versus the men
18. Is there an advantage as a woman chef?
CFS: (surprised) None?
Nicole: No advantage. I feel people have preconceived notions of female chefs.
CFS: What do you think those are?
Nicole: Their food is quaint and homey. We’re girl crazy.
CFS: Have you ever worked for a female chef?
Nicole: Yes, Karen Nichols.
CFS: Is there a huge challenge outside of the chauvinism?
Nicole: I don’t know if it’s my personality and maybe its women in authority but people automatically equate you to mom. And it’s a little condescending and annoying, weird.
19. You worked for Danny Meyer at Gramercy Tavern and many try to emulate him. What did you take from your experience there?
Absolutely! The type of people he hired he called 51%. People who understand the difference between service and hospitality. The people he hires and brings in are not those who do it for a living. They’re passionate and most successful. That’s definitely one thing. And he’s always around and always available! No matter how many restaurants he has he’s always popping in. If I’m ever lucky enough to have more than one restaurant, I’ll do that to.
20. The Affinia is starting a comfort movement...when you’re not in the kitchen what do you do to find/feel comfortable?
Nicole: I really love to knit and crochet and listen to NPR. (Laughs) That’s my cozy comfort I have a sun room and sew big pillows for a love seat I have.
CFS: Now do you tell the cooks this and that’s why they may look at you like mom?
Nicole: (Laughs) no I don’t tell them that.
CFS: They know now.
21. Are you a Wild fan or do you miss the North Stars?
Nicole: I miss the North Stars! I still root for the Wild. How can you call a Hockey team in Texas the North Stars? It’s the dumbest thing ever!
CFS: It’s sad they had to move. Dino Ciccarelli was the bane of my existence for a while as a child. (Chef laughing) I appreciate you know what I’m talking about.
Nicole: Of course, I do! I went and saw the Hawks play the Wild twice last year.
Chef, thanks for the time and great answers!
If you liked these 20 questions, check out the how Ryan Poli, Francis Brenna, Giuseppe Tentori, Charlie McKenna, Chris Pandel , Michael Muser, Curtis Duffy , Rob Katz/Kevin Boehm, Michael Taus, Chris Curren, Patricio Sandoval, Bill Terlato, Matthias Merges , Vic Perdue, Sheila O'Grady, Adam Rapoport, Andrew Knowlton, and Jeff Kauck answered.
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Joe is retained as a compensated blogger by Pei Wei Asian Diner. and contributes to Eater Chicago.