Fresh Chef Nikki

Photo courtesy Nicole Pavlovsky

Bay Area Native ‘Fresh Chef Nikki’ Looks to Become Next Food Network Star

Self-taught Nicole Pavlovsky takes a break from cutthroat corporate America to pursue her love and admiration for cooking.

As a recent winner of Food Network's 'Chopped at Home Sargento Challenge,' Nicole Pavlovsky is on a mission to learn different cooking techniques and to create unique flavor combinations to win in New York City this coming fall at Food Network's HQ! This was a partnership between Sargento and Food Network for "Chopped at Home.”

Ultimately, she had to utilize four mystery basket ingredients (1 of which was Sargento branded cheese) to create an entrée in 60 minutes. Her dish was judged by 3 people, 1 of which was the CEO of Sargento. Stay tuned for Fresh Chef Nikki’s appearance on “Chopped at Home!” The Daily Meal had the opportunity to chat with Nikki about her aspirations and initial reaction as she heard about the exciting news.

The Daily Meal: What was your immediate reaction as soon as you found out you're doing to be a contestant on “Chopped at Home?
Fresh Chef Nikki:
First reaction was, "Did they call the wrong number?" Second reaction was, "Oh my god! I have to call my mom!" It was a pretty surreal experience. I campaigned so much to get people to vote for me for the 1 month open voting period that I truly felt like I was running for President of America. I fought long and hard to get the opportunity, and having my dream fulfilled was a truly out of body experience. My mom didn't believe me when I told her, and she was heavily involved in the process and has been so supportive of my cooking adventures. My mom has always been a huge inspiration in the kitchen for me and growing up, it was our way of spending time together. I cherish our time together in the kitchen and love learning little tricks from her. I call her all the time to run cooking ideas by her and ask her for cooking tricks!

What are you most looking forward to competing on “Chopped at Home?
I'm really looking forward to the opportunity of challenging myself. A lot of the cooking I do is planned in advance- I thoroughly think out what I want my dish to look like and what flavor combinations I want to have. I cook what I like to eat and what interests and inspires me. For example, I'm passionate about all kinds of seafood and cheeses, but I couldn't care less about some ingredients like kale (sorry kale lovers) or pork chops. That's a complete 180 from a Chopped-style competition- where I have no control over the ingredients I get, I'm cramped for time, and I have to use all the basket ingredients. So in that regard, I'm looking forward to the challenge of a new way of cooking in a high-pressure, timed situation.

If you had a show on show on Food Network, what would you call it and why?
Brunch at Nikki's! I'm kind of copying Bobby Flay's show Brunch at Bobby’s, but that's the show I vibe with most. My style of cooking is heavily focused on fresh, colorful ingredients and big, bold flavors. Brunch is a huge deal to me and is the main overarching theme of much of my cooking. Food is something that should bring everyone happiness and sustenance, and should make you feel good after eating it. Even after eating my heavier dishes, like cheesecake or huevos rancheros, I still feel energized afterwards. No food comas in Fresh Chef Nikki's house! I really want to spread the message that taking time to cook your own food, to use fresh ingredients, and to make each home-made dish look restaurant-ready will make you healthier and happier and will make you appreciate and love food!

What do you wish you knew after going on the show?
I wish I knew that filming would be incredibly fun! Since I knew months in advance that I would be competing, I had tons of time to stress out and overthink everything. When I actually got to the studio, everyone on the set and the competitors were so friendly and incredible! It was an incredible and unforgettable experience. I can't even describe how amazing it felt when Ted Allen came up to me and said "Fresh Chef Nikki! What are you cooking for us today?"“I am deeply emotionally touched by a perfectly-cooked egg and a fresh poke bowl.”

What do you want your readers to gain out of your upcoming cookbook?
I strive to get people to play with their food and experiment in the kitchen. I know so many friends and family that don't know how to make toast or how to boil water, and just constantly eat out for most meals. I really want to inspire people to view cooking as a fun, creative activity rather than a chore and to really get people to play with their food. Also, I want to instill the love of brunch and eggs. Brunch is the most important meal of the day, and eggs just make everything better- people really need to know that!

What ingredient can you simply not cook without?
EGGS! Eggs are EGGS-tremely versatile and so much flavor to each dish. I'm huge on savory dishes, and I can't think of many dishes where a beautiful runny egg DOESN'T make the dish look and taste 10x better. Egg porn and yolk porn are a real thing, and it's so critical in my life!

What’s your favorite dish to create? Favorite food to eat?
My absolute favorite dish to make is black and white sesame crusted, honey citrus soy marinated seared ahi tuna with mango avocado salsa. It's the dish that I first made that really lit a flame inside me and that got me immersed into cooking, plating, and food photography. It's a really healthy and pretty dish with tons of colors and bright flavors. In the marinade alone there are 10 ingredients! I'll never get tired of making it. I know it's strange, but I actually prefer to cook than to eat. But if I had to pick a favorite food to eat- it would probably be crab cake eggs Benedict. It's all about cracking that yolk and watching it ooze!

Who is your all-time favorite chef who inspires you the most and why?
That's an easy one. Hands down, Bobby Flay. Bobby (yes, we're on a first name basis) is big on bold flavors and always looks so calm, cool, and collected in the kitchen. He makes cooking look effortless and fun on all of his shows and I really admire that. I'm a big planner, so for me, I'm really inspired by Bobby's demeanor and am in love with all of his brunch recipes. I watch all of his shows and feel like we're really in sync with our style of cooking- I would love the opportunity to pick at his cooking brain and to meet him one day!

What’s the next exciting endeavor for Fresh Chef Nikki?
I just upgraded my gear from my iPhone 6 to a DSLR with a professional macro lens which is ideal for my style of food photography. I'm excited to experiment more with the photography element of my cooking. I'm currently in the works of writing a cookbook showcasing my favorite ways to eat eggs, and am really excited to show the world my up close and personal photos of ways to utilize eggs in cooking!

Learn more about Fresh Chef Nikki on FreshChefNikki.com or follow her recipes on Instagram: @FreshChefNikki.

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