Neighborhood Spotlight: Interview with Chef Nicole Gajadhar

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We're spotlighting and celebrating Chef Nicole Gajadhar, chef de cuisine of Saxon + Parole. Chef Nicole has worked at Saxon + Parole for over six years and her culinary expertise has helped turn Saxon + Parole into a downtown favorite. Part of the AvroKO Hospitality Group, Saxon + Parole has been in the neighborhood since 2011, and AvroKO has been in the neighborhood since 2008! AvroKO currently owns and operated three concepts in the neighborhood, Saxon + Parole, Ghost Donkey, and The Poni Room.

Whether it's bringing new concpets to the neighborhood or expirementing with cutting edge foods, like the Impossible Burger, Chef Nicole's helped make NoHo a fun, unique dining destination. Read on to learn more about this incredible chef in our neighborhood. 

1. What led you to cooking and the culinary world?

As I was growing up and going to college, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. After two years in college at New York City College of Technology working towards a hospitality degree, I knew I needed to focus in on a career path for myself. My grandmother actually brought me to a talk at BAM that a female chef hosted and that inspired me to pursue the culinary arts. The next school year I spent a semester in Florence, Italy, and cemented my love of the cooking profession.

2. Your career has had this amazing trajectory through the culinary world and even within Saxon + Parole to becoming Chef de Cusine. Could you elaborate on how you got to Saxon + Parole and into the Chef de Cusine role?

When I first externed at Tabla, I hadn't worked in a restaurant, but they were willing to take a chance on me. I then worked at 10 Downing, Tertulia, and The Lion. Working in a kitchen is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, if it fits, it fits, so when I made it to Saxon + Parole having such a natural fit with the restaurant staff made a great job even better. Saxon + Parole is such a family, and being surrounded by a great staff really helps. For example, Kristina O'Neal of AvroKO Hospitality Group is such an inspiration, she does fantastic work and it's really rewarding to work with her. 

3. While at Saxon and Parole you've had the chance to work with several different concepts from the upcoming The Poni Room to the JetBlue Mint partnership. What's been your favorite part of working with all these concepts?

It keeps me on my toes, but more importantly, it helps you see the culinary industry in a whole new light. When the Saxon + Parole team partnered with JetBlue to create the menu for their Mint program, JetBlue's new take on business class flying. The logistics of preparing food for not only such a huge operation but with the constraints that serving food on a plane has is hard. About 30% of your perception of taste is altered when you're flying, you have to design dishes that account for that and taste great. When I helped open up Saxon + Parole Moscow it was all about working with locally available ingredients to create the same Saxon + Parole experience.

4. And speaking of the Poni Room, is there anything you can tell us about the restaurant before it opens?

The Poni Room is a pretty special place. Kristina O'Neal from the AvroKO Hospitality Group wanted to create a fun, feminine space that showcased some lighter flavors. Kristina, Executive Chef Brad Farmerie, and I were able to bring together a lot of diverse backgrounds and culinary traditions to create something unique.

5. What's your favorite dish at Saxon + Parole?

I really do love the menu at Saxon + Parole. For me, cooking is all about tying a memory with a flavor, and when I create a dish I try to think about other people. I really believe in cooking from the heart and creating dishes that make people happy. The charred romanesco with poached salsify, harissa, and black garlic puree is one of my favorites. We make the black garlic is made in house and the dish is an introduction to who I am.

6. Tell us more about how quality ingredients and influences from East Indian and Caribbean cuisine tie into the dishes you create?

I grew up in Trinidad and moved to America when I was 9. Everybody grows food in Trinidad, you don't have American style supermarkets. My grandparents grew rice, raised chickens, and so much more, and every weekend I'd help out on their farm. Doing this every weekend as a child gives you such an appreciation for hard work, the amount of labor, that goes into producing food. When I got to America at 9 years old, my dad worked two jobs to support my brother and me. I want to express my thanks through working hard. I'm able to bring that to Saxon + Parole because we care a lot about where our food comes from, who's producing it, and making sure it's being grown in a sustainable way. 

7. What makes Saxon + Parole special?

Saxon + Parole is such a family. The Saxon + Parole team has the utmost respect for one another, and we're always constantly pushing one another to be better and work harder everyday. I also love being surronded by Maxime Belfand's incredible bar program to complement our work in the kitchen. I'm also incredible lucky that Chef Brad Farmerie is female-forward and constantly pushing me to be my best. It's good to have good influences. With such a great environment, we have a low staff turnover; I've been working with some of the kitchen staff for my entire 7 years at Saxon + Parole. The culinary world has long hours, you're giving up weekends and holidays, and working in a stressful environment. You're giving up a lot to work in a kitchen. You have to have fun and laugh and working in a great kitchen environment with amazing staff, liked at Saxon + Parole, makes that possible. 

8. What's your favorite thing about the neighborhood?

In the last ten to fifteen years the neighborhood has really changed for the better. NoHo is becoming a real destination. In particular the neighborhood has become a real dining and shopping hotspot. I used to live nearby and there wasn't much around here, but the shops and restaurants here make the neighborhood a fun place to be and brings in more people.

9. And finally, any other favorite spots in NoHo?

There's so many spots around here that I love, and it's hard to narrow it down! I absolutely love what Chef Emily Yuen does across the street at Bessou and she's such a sweet neighbor. 

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