Elway's exec chef Aniedra Nichols on Vesta chef Brandon Foster
This is part one of my interview with Aniedra Nichols, exec chef of Elway's Cherry Creek; part one of our conversation will run tomorrow.
"Instead of watching cartoons, I was either glued to all of the old cooking shows, like Great Chefs, Yen Can Cook, Justin Wilson and Julia Child, or in the kitchen with my grandma, who was always baking and cooking," recalls Aniedra Nichols, today the executive chef at Elway's Cherry Creek. In fact, by the age of five, the Arizona native was already doing her own thing in the kitchen. "I remember making sugar cookies when I was really, really young, and while they turned out flat, in my mind they looked gorgeous, especially with the sprinkles," she says.
See also: Ten best restaurants in Cherry Creek
Still, Nichols's fascination with cooking didn't morph into a career until after college. "I went to college to study physical therapy, but somewhere along the line I found myself in limbo, and in the middle of trying to figure out my life, my mom asked me what I'd want to be doing if I were doing it for free -- what my real passion was -- and the answer was cooking," says Nichols, who then enrolled in the culinary curriculum at the Denver campus of Johnson & Wales.
And when she wasn't in the classroom, she was putting in time at André's Confiserie Suisse, a longstanding patisserie in Cherry Creek, where she worked throughout culinary school. Nichols also did an externship at the long-gone Fourth Story, which is where she met Tyler Wiard. And when Wiard left the Fourth Story to become the chef at the now-shuttered Mel's Bar and Grill, Nichols followed, starting as a line cook and then transitioning into an events-coordinator role. "I knew how to cook, but I hadn't worked front-of-house, and I wanted to learn every aspect of the restaurant business," explains Nichols, who eventually departed Mel's to become the general manager of Bistro Vendôme, a stint that continued to give her restaurant experience beyond the burners. "I figured that if I ever wanted to open a restaurant sometime in the future, I'd need to know the business side of how a restaurant works," she remembers, "and while I don't have my own restaurant, it was a great experience to draw from if I ever do."
A year into her tenure at Bistro Vendôme, she was ready to return to the kitchen, so she reached out to Wiard, now the culinary director at Elway's Cherry Creek -- and while the only position he had available was as a fry cook, she didn't hesitate. "I was so ready to get back into the kitchen -- that's where I belong -- and I think Tyler is phenomenal, so even though it wasn't the exact job I wanted, I knew I had to take it," says Nichols, who moved up the ladder to sous-chef, executive sous-chef and, last December, exec chef. "Every day is full of new surprises, and working at Elway's has taken me places and opened so many doors for me, like being at the Beard House and becoming a member of FIVE; we're all part of something huge," says Nichols, who in the following interview asks diners not to be afraid of ingredients, recounts the night she chopped off her finger and explains why she's not afraid to make mistakes.