Q&A with Nicko Fix, Head Chef of the Great Harbor Yacht Club

by: Kevin Stanton

photography by: courtesy of Nicko Fix

There is something about a farmers’ market that is difficult to resist. There is an immediacy to the produce on display. There is a connection between the people who have worked the soil and the people who work in the kitchen. Whether you are at a farmers’ market in the Napa Valley or the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, buying directly from farmers and fishermen is an age-old practice.

Nicko Fix comes to food honestly, from a boy- hood where days immersed him in the Italian culture of his grandparents and their fami- ly restaurant in San Diego, to the regiment- ed kitchen of Thomas Keller’s very high-end

Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry, with several stops in between. The thing that connects all the points on his chef ’s journey is the instinct to make food from the freshest of ingre- dients.

“I think it’s extremely important to have a connection with your ingredients, and respect for the people who are growing them as well. At The French Laundry we would write the menu the night before based on what was ready to pick from the farm,” Fix said.

Fix, now the head chef at the Great Harbor Yacht Club, sat down with Nantucket Today for a bite to eat and a talk about his philosophy on food.


Nantucket Bay Scallops in the style of Coquilles St-JacquesNantucket Today:

Just the mention of chef Thomas Keller and The French Laundry is enough to get my attention. What was working in his kitchen like?

Nicko Fix:

“Where do I start? As a young cook at 15 years old my goal was to work under Thomas Keller. The road getting there was a long, intense roller-coaster of training in high-volume, fine-dining, military-like kitchens. One of those kitchens was Morimoto Napa Valley, where I trained under a French Laundry sous chef alumnus. He told me if I trained under him for three years and made it, he would get me a try-out at The French Laundry. I did just that, and was hired a month after my stage. (Editor’s Note: The word stage comes from the French stagiaire, which means apprentice. It is a common practice on the way to becoming a chef).

The French Laundry was by far the most intense place I’ve ever worked. My shift would start at 5 a.m. and I’d get off around five or six at night. I was able to work every station. One day Keller asked me if I had a passport. I said yes and he said, ‘well great, I’m choosing you to work at the Noma pop-up restaurant for three months in Tokyo’.”

Nantucket Today:

What is Noma?

Nicko Fix:

“Noma is Rene Redzepi’s restaurant in Copenhagen. It was number-one in the world at the time.”

Nantucket Today:

How did cooking in Tokyo shape you?

Nicko Fix:

“It influenced me to utilize what’s local around me wherever I go. For example, we used beautiful fish that we would buy from the auctions at the Tsukiji Market before our day started at the restaurant.”

Nantucket Today:

How did you first get into cooking?

Nicko Fix:

“Watching my grandparents in the kitchen growing up always made me want to start cooking. My whole family has always been really into cooking homemade meals and

I was always intrigued by how they made the food taste so good.”

Nantucket Today:

What was your first memory of being in the kitchen?

Nicko Fix:

“In my earliest memories I am around 3 or 4 years old and making cookie dough with my mom. But my grandparents owned

a 67-year-old Italian restaurant (in San Diego), and it was a part of our day, seven days a week. I would help my papa Tony make the pizza dough in the mornings.”

Nantucket Today:

One great thing about food is that

there is such a strong connection with taste memory. Eating a dish and being transported back to a time or place in your life. Is there a particular dish that resonates with you that way?

Nicko Fix:

“Coming home from school to the smell of my mom’s spaghetti and meatball sauce. She cooks it for the whole day. I’ll never forget that rich tomato and garlic smell.”

Nantucket Today:

You mentioned that your dad owns a restaurant in San Diego. What style food does he cook? How does his style match up with yours?

Nicko Fix:

“He now owns his parents’ restaurant. My dad taught me more of the business and management side of restaurants. I would say I developed my style by training under some of the best chefs in the world.”

Seared local fluke with spring peas and carrots

Nantucket Today:

How important is it for a chef to have a connection with their ingredients? Nicko Fix:

“I think it’s extremely important to have a connection with your ingredients, and respect for the people who are growing them. At The French Laundry we would write the menu the night before based on what was ready to pick from the farm. We would then put a farm order together and the farmers would pick our ingredients just before we would arrive for our shift. I thought this was truly farm-to-table and it taught me how to know what is growing locally and to support it.”

Nantucket Today:

On the flip side, how important is it for a chef to have a connection with the place they cook? Do ingredients and sense of place have to go hand in hand?

Nicko Fix:

“I believe, based on the type of clientele you are targeting, it’s very important to have a connection with where you work and to feel good about the food or ingredients you are serving. This year I am approaching the yacht club with the vision of doing a farm-to-table setting, utilizing local farms as much as possible, and I feel like it is the right thing to do.”

Nantucket Today:

Are there any ingredients you have a newfound affinity for since moving to Nantucket?

Nicko Fix:

“As simple as it sounds, I am loving being able to find artisan lettuces, world-class turnips and heirloom tomatoes in the summer. We really have everything we need on the island to make farm-to-table completely doable for a yacht club like ours.”

Nantucket Today:

Sustainability is such a buzzword in restaurants across the country. What does sustainability mean to you?

Nicko Fix:

“When I think of sustainability, I think of how restaurants can utilize meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future. For me, being a chef on Nantucket, we practice this every day, saving the oyster shells so they can be recycled back into the harbor. Nantucket is the most eco-friendly place I have been to.”

Nantucket Today:

Do you think you can ever be truly sustainable when you live on an island? Nicko Fix:

“I believe it is totally possible. Bring on the solar.”

Nantucket Today:

You are from San Diego and your wife is from Hawaii. How much of a culture shock was it moving to Nantucket and living here year-round?

Nicko Fix:

“Mostly a culture shock for my wife, but we really have enjoyed our time here.

I personally have fallen in love with the island. Being from San Diego I am not a big fan of rush-hour traffic and busy surfing lineups, so Nantucket has been a blessing: uncrowded perfect waves, and little to no traffic.”

Nantucket Today:

What is your favorite ingredient to cook with?

Nicko Fix:

“My favorite ingredient on Nantucket is bay scallops. They are the sweetest scallops I’ve ever eaten. I really enjoy pairing them with some homemade pasta.”

Nantucket Today:

What is your favorite bay scallop dish to cook?

Nicko Fix:

“In the style of Coquilles Saint-Jacques. (Editor’s note: While Coquilles Saint- Jacques refers to a species of scallop,

it is also a French preparation where the scallops are served in a creamy sauce with cheese and a breadcrumb crust).”

Nantucket Today:

You and your wife had a baby last year. Chef friends have told me about their kids developing a love of prosciutto or caviar. Has your daughter started to explore those kinds of ingredients or has it just been the typical baby food?

Nicko Fix:

“She just started exploring eating different types of vegetables like asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower. She has not tried caviar yet.”

Nantucket Today:

If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?

Nicko Fix:

“A big grilled ribeye steak with pomme purée, grilled asparagus and a morel marsala sauce.” ///

Kevin Stanton is an artist and graduate of MassArt, living and working on Nantucket. A bartender in Boston before he moved back to the island, he writes the “Eat and Drink” columns for Nantucket Today.

Pocomo Meadow Oysters with Royal Osetra caviar