Women Chefs In Same FamilyI met Nikki B. Frias (rightmost on the picture, together with her Mom and Nana) when I attended the “Steakhouse Fundamentals” cooking class at the Los Gatos store of Sur La Table, more than 6 months ago. Nikki is the culinary manager there and also the instructor for that class. Although we’ve met only once, I still remember her hair that’s dark and curly, her eyes that spark passion, and her laughter that is contagious.

When I started to put more attention into cooking lately (given that my life in the past was more spent on study then work, and someone else always took care of the cooking, until recently I moved on to live on my own, with kids), I was determined to get good at it. For me to be good at something, I need to fall in love with it.

I’ve been loving it, enjoyed it when my little ones asked for pancakes and brownies, when my stepson wowed (who normally seems not to be impressed by anything) after I made a mocha cake for his 16th birthday, and when I was able to keep supply of fresh meals at home while working full schedule.

But I feel there are more, in food and cooking, the beauty of which I haven’t touched deep enough. So I got interested in talking with someone like Nikki, who seems to have that deep level bond.

Spicy Braised Short RibQ: How do you describe your bond with food and cooking?
A: Food and cooking do not just nourish my body; they nourish my soul as well. You cannot lie with food. If you’re having a bad day, it shows on the plate; likewise if you’re having a good day. For me, to cook is to live; and to eat is even better…

Q: What are unique about you being a chef?
A: Every chef has their own signature. I consider my food to be comforting and rustic. Many of the dishes I make are revisions of classics I grew up with or that I have picked up along the way of my culinary journey.

Q: How long have you been in this career? What are your current responsibilities?
A: I have been in the culinary profession for the past 16 years. Currently, I am the culinary manager of the Los Gatos Sur La Table program. I am responsible for teaching classes and private events 3-4 times a week; shopping for all of the classes; designing the classes for the calendar; staffing the calendar; promoting the Sur La Table brand name; and appearing on local TV cooking segments.

Q: What are your signature dishes? Could you tell a complicated one and a simple one?
A: I have many signature dishes…Two of my favorites are my braised beef short ribs with port wine reduction and my sweet and savory scones. Complicated dishes are comprised of many components and techniques on a plate. Simple dishes can be just as complicated; it’s just a matter of observing technique and executing it well.

Cooking Class Making PizzaQ: What are the keys to make good cooking, grilling, baking?
A: Cooking and Baking are two completely different entities in the kitchen. Baking is 3 elements in my opinion: math, science, and weather. Everything in baking is about formulaic equations, planning, and organization. Cooking is more of an organized chaos that allows for much more improvisation.

Q: What’s your favorite meat for cooking? Why?
A: I love braised dishes; cooking meat slow and at a low temperature results in tender meat full of flavor. For that reason, I love beef short ribs. If I am grilling, I automatically reach for a well marbled rib eye.

Q: What are your favorite spices/flavoring ingredients for cooking with meat (beef, pork, lamb, chicken) and fish respectively?
A: I love the mixture of cumin and corriander on any protein. It is so fragrant and when rubbed down on a piece of protein, the accompany sauces are endless. For example, a cumin and corrainder rubbed pork tenderloin with a tomatillo sauce is amazing and yet very simplistic and clean in flavor.

Q: How do you prepare the sauce so that it enhance the tasting experience but not covering up the natural taste of the meat or fish?
A: Many times, accompany sauces in a restaurant utilize the same main ingredient which results in having all of the food to taste the same. The trick is to not overseason any dish and serve the sauce sparingly on the plate to accompany the protein instead of drowning it.

Q: What’s the process for you to create a new dish?
A: It can be as simple as a dream; it can be a random thought during the drive on the way to work or reading a cookbook that inspires you. I take inspiration from everything around me and try to work it into my dishes.

Baking Class at Sur La TableQ: There are several chefs in your family right? Do you learn from each other? Is there any competitive factor between you?
A: I am a third generational chef. My Nana (my mom’s mom) is a pastry chef and amazing cook. My father is an executive chef, and my husband is the executive chef for Restaurant O and catering. We are ALWAYS inspiring one another and pushing each other to be better in the kitchen. Many holidays are spent discussing new ways to look at food and trying out new dishes on one another. We are all very supportive of one another and strive to help eachnother on our culinary journeys. Being that I started out in the kitchen as a pastry and chef and halfway through my career I jumped on the line and became a chef, I am well versed on both sides of the kitchen. My father and husband help me advance that side of the culinary kitchen, while my nana keeps me in line with my “roots” of the pastry side. I pride myself in being able to wear both hats.

Q: How do you describe yourself as a woman in real life?
A: Driven, loving, madly organized, passionate, and dedicated.

Q: What’s your astrology sign?
A: I am a true virgo…funny enough, many of the pastry chefs I know are virgos…go figure…