There’s a lot you can learn about a chef by visiting their home kitchen. On our visit to Chef Nookie’s Cambridge kitchen, we were greeted by a giant fishtub of meats. “That’s for my new project,” Nookie said, nodding in the direction of the assorted Flintstones-sized racks of various meats. At first, we didn’t spend a lot of time among the numerous bookshelves stuffed with cookbooks, we were whisked outside for a lap around the backyard garden to gather some produce before we made ourselves at home around the over-sized Butcher’s block that is the focal point of the kitchen. Behind us hung a framed poster of the chef’s most recent claim to fame, third place on Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates, which just concluded last month.
Since his return home from the show, he found himself facing some life-threatening health issues that landed him a three-week stint in the hospital and since his recovery, he hasn’t slowed down a bit. In fact, as he puts it, now is the time that he has to work the hardest and that is indeed what he is doing. He’s currently in the process of opening two restaurants, one in Kendall Square and the other in New York. “That’s what all the meat is for” he said with genuine excitement. “We’re in the process of experimenting”. When he isn’t working to open two restaurants in two different cities, he’s the man who keeps the Boston Red Sox fueled for games. And, if that isn’t enough, he is the father of two young boys and he and his wife are expecting their third child. Having a plate that big is enough to drive anyone crazy and leave them in a frazzled state, but Nookie is cool, calm and collected as he excitedly shares all that he has on his plate.
While we chatted about the show, the Red Sox and his current endeavors, Nookie prepared zucchini fritters and a spicy cabbage slaw. “This is the type of food I love”, he said. “Not fussed with and just really good”. Midway through the cooking, his son Eli pulled up a bench, wanting to lend a hand with the cooking. With his Dad at the stove, Eli took one look at the fritter batter and added a pinch of salt to help his Dad with the seasoning and then with a shy “Adios” he was gone. A budding Chef, perhaps? Nookie is clearly an amazing father and chef, passionate about everything he does, he’s a straight shooter who appears to be always having a good time. The uniqueness of cooking in a chef’s home for this particular story was not lost on us; Nookie, who helped open Oleana with his mentor Ana Sortun, is completely focused yet remarkably at ease, as if he’s knows something we don’t. And you know what? He probably does, whipping up a quick lunch for us was seemingly effortless and most of all delicious, he eagerly declares, “this is the first time anyone’s ever made this dish.” By the end of our time with Nookie, we felt like we were leaving a friend’s house. He’s a genuine person and chef, we can’t wait to see what he’s going to cook up next.