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Q&A With Nikki Cascone

Chef Nikki Cascone has covered her culinary bases: she was once food
and beverage director at Yankee Stadium and later held her own on Top
Chef, Season 4.  Now, she mans her own kitchen in SoHo at 24 Prince, where she has conceived a creative comfort food menu peppered with organic ingredients.  At 24 Prince,
Nikki’s signature dishes include crispy mac & cheese rolls with
smoked gouda & bbq sauce and meat loaf wrapped in puff pastry with
barbeque sauced mashed potatoes. 

 

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A singer / musician

What was your first job in food?

A Pork store on Staten Island when I was 14.  I sliced meats and made mozzarella.

You made it into the top 8 contestants on Season 4 of “Top
Chef.”  How has the television exposure affected your business at 24
Prince?

Top Chef has had a great impact on 24 Prince
however it seems MOST of our customers don’t figure out I was on Top
Chef until they get here.  I think they get more excited.  There has
definitely been more transient people coming in specifically from the
show.  We are truly a neighborhood restaurant so our biggest following
consist of regulars.

Was your experience on the show a positive one, and who managed your kitchen while you were away? 
My
sous chef Raul Juarez and my partner Brad Grossman held down the
kitchen in my absence.  Raul has been with us almost from the
beginning. He understands consistency and is a brilliant chef. My
partner Brad, who has never worked in kitchens, had to help out,
especially with ordering and inventory.  He can now prep many of the
items on the menu.  Overall I had a positive experience.  It is the
type of thing you have to step away from to truly appreciate.  It is
difficult not to have regrets but I would do it all over again.

After culinary school, you pursued an interest in wine and
are now a certified sommelier.  What do you consider most important
when pairing wines with your menu? 

I try not to buy
over produced or very commercial wines. My wine list focuses on the
artisanal wine make that personally handle his wine with love and
appreciation.  I have an eclectic lists with a wide range of varietals
from all over the globe including Greece and Uruguay. I like the
obscure and tend to be drawn to organic / bio-dynamic wines as well.  I
always believed it was my obligation to know every aspect of the
restaurant industry to be a successful restaurateur.  Wine is obviously
a very significant piece of the puzzle.   

In 2005, you worked as the Food and Beverage Director at
Yankee Stadium, serving VIPs in the suites.  What skill sets did you
develop in this position that you utilize as restaurant owner and chef
now?

It was just dealing with catering and a completely
different type of service for me.  I was also responsible for 3
restaurants inside the stadium, one was a fine dining steak house we
renovated that season. I had a lot of ground to cover and a lot more
employees than I ever managed.  That is a very big challenge in itself.
I had nothing to do with concessions. I tried to raise the level of
service and provide a classy product to the suites. It was great
preparation for Top Chef and continues to be valuable to my current
position.

You recently celebrated the two year anniversary of 24
Prince, an accomplishment on this rough and tumble dining scene.   What
is your secret to maintaining a successful restaurant?

CONSISTENCY is key.  I think you
have to know your demographic and I often see that being the number one
downfall of many operators.  It’s great to have a good concept but you
have to put it in a location where your audience will receive it well.
We have evolved into the 24 Prince that exists now.  So another thing
that’s has to happen is that you have the ability to recognize where
and if changes need to be made.  A very big part of success in this
business is surrounding yourself with a great team.  For example, I
have the most personable front man I could possibly have, Kile Brown.
He makes all my guests feel welcome and content.


What’s your favorite dish on the 24 Prince menu and why?

The
whole Roasted Fish which I change with my fish buyer according to what
looks good to him. I love the peasant style preparation of the dish.  I
serve it with a cold salad of red grapes, tarragon, celery, red onion
and pine nuts. 


What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?

Mac and cheese rolls.  Everyone loves them.  I think they are menial and extremely time consuming to make.

What is your junk food of choice?
FROZEN
YOGURT!!! I am an addict.  I love Pizza and Zeppoles.  I also love
Chick-fil-A, it is the only fast food I will eat and unfortunately has
not made it to New York yet.

Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in New York City?
I
love Lupa and Pylos.  That’s a tough question because I have quite a
few that I frequent.  I like the little guys, family owned off the
radar..I often eat my way up and down Carmine Street there are about 6
great restaurants there and it is close to my house.

What culinary trend do you most embrace?
Organic / seasonal.

What trend do you wish would die already?
Oversized, overdone, Asian fantasyland restaurants.

What’s next on the horizon for you?  Any ventures you have planned for way in the future? Spill the beans…
I
have a clothing line in the works focused on both front of house and
chefs wear, coming out with some samples in the next month or so.  I
have 2 restaurant possibilities on the horizon, as we know these things
take time.  I fully intend on expanding my restaurant group. I would
also like to find time to get married and have a kid or 2. SUPERWOMAN!

Address: 24 Prince St., btwn. Mott & Elizabeth Sts.
Phone: (212)
226-8624

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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