This March, International Women’s Month, we’re spotlighting and celebrating Chef Nicole Gajadhar, Executive Chef of new hotspot the Nines. Chef Nicole worked in NoHo for seven years prior to joining The Nines. The piano bar is run by Golden Age Hospitality, who has operated ACME, both the restaurant and the downstairs bar, since 2012.
The Nines has been highly regarded as an instant classic in the City, in no small part thanks to Chef Nicole’s menu of indulgent, yet simple dishes. 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 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. Since then, your career has had this amazing trajectory through the culinary world – could you elaborate on how you got to The Nines and into the Executive Chef 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, I was able to stay and grow and take part in a lot of unique experiences. However, in 2019, I left and took some time off for myself to unwind and figure out what direction I wanted to work towards. I ended up working for restauranteur John Frazer at Nix, which closed during COVID, and then I reopened The Loyal in the West Village for him. I loved working in the neighborhood I’ve lived in for seventeen years as it truly felt like I was cooking for my community during the pandemic. Unfortunately, due to COVID complications the restaurant closed its doors in October 2021.
After that, I was planning to take a bit of a break before jumping into my next adventure and do something chefs rarely get to do – enjoy the winter holidays. That plan quickly changed when my colleague Maggie Rouder, who I previously worked with at AvroKO Hospitality Group reached out to discuss cooking for a few private events at The Nines, prior to opening to the public. Long story longer, I came in for what I thought was an informal chat with Maggie and it turned out to be an interview with Jon Neidich, the owner of The Nines and CEO of Golden Age Hospitality. After an interview over coffee, we came back to what would become The Nines for a tasting and the rest was history.
3. Could you walk us through the process of developing the menu at The Nines?
We only had a month to put together the menu at The Nines and had a general direction as the concept of The Nines is quite unique. To complement the space, the menu drew inspiration from the famed lobby bars of grand European hotels. With that, we knew the menu needed to consist of staples such as caviar, tartares, smoked salmon and blini, and a signature burger and club sandwich.
We did quite a bit of research & development to finalize the menu and looked towards inspiration from all over New York City, and the world. Then, on Christmas Eve we did a twenty-five dish tasting of almost the whole menu that took the entire night. This is a really non-traditional approach, it’s often two or three tastings a week for several weeks, but we were crunched for time to get open and we did just a couple weeks later.
4. I know you’ve opened up concepts in the past, but I’m sure in COVID there’s a lot of unique challenges. Could you tell us a little bit more about your experience?
A lot of the thanks is owed to Maggie here at Golden Age Hospitality, she is a total go-getter and has been so on top of it. It really has been challenging. Food wise, working with purveyors has been relatively easy. They have a lot of merchandise, it’s just getting restaurants to actually buy it. Now we’re just figuring out our exact needs week in and week out. I’m also very lucky that a lot of our ingredients come from trusted, NYC-based suppliers I have a relationship with. For example, our bread program is from Pan-Ya, just around the corner. It’s very different compared to a few years ago, really a whole new world. Back then we probably would have had a staff baker, but restaurant operations just aren’t the same now. It’s a totally new experience, and thankfully I have a lot of great staff that I’ve worked with for years. People jump around a lot, but I’m very lucky to have a lot of folks who are very loyal to me. It’s amazing.
New openings in the hospitality industry are difficult as-is, but adding in the complexities of the pandemic is an extra challenge.
5. In your eyes, what sets the menu apart?
The menu is very ingredient-driven. Since COVID began, it’s been really difficult to get products in due to shortages. We also wanted to make sure we were able to really support good suppliers too. My good friend Steven Wong from Aqua Best, plus our other suppliers, had lots of conversations about how to source quality, high-end products.
Our dishes are really simple. There’s rarely more than five or six ingredients in a dish, we want you to be able to taste the ingredients, especially when they’re this high-quality. For example, our Uni Toast is just West Coast uni served on an english muffin with Osetra Caviar on top. It’s important to let the great ingredients shine & satiate for themselves.
Another great one is the Kaspian Potato – a favorite of our guests. They’re an ode to Caspia in Paris. It’s a showstopper and we wanted to play homage to them. It’s so delectable and is just the baked potato with aged Parmesan, chives, and a little creme fraiche topped with thirty grams of Osetra Caviar.
6. Quality ingredients have always been a big focus for you, from a very young age, and I think that really shines with the simple, but indulgent menu of The Nines. Could you share how that became such a core value for you?
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 The Nines because we care a lot about where our food comes from, who’s producing it, and ensuring that it’s high quality products.
7. It’s basically been dubbed an instant classic, even after being open just a few weeks, so could you share what you think makes The Nines such a special place?
I think it’s a unique space. There’s nothing like this Downtown. Jon Neidich had an amazing vision of what he wanted for the space and where he sees the area headed. The venue is also just a total experience in and of itself. It’s almost like a 360 experience – we’ve got great food, great drinks, a beautiful space, and of course the piano. Where else can you get something like this down here? The staff keeps joking that it’s hard to get people to leave because they’re having so much fun. They really just stay!
The space also shifts all throughout the evening. When we start service early on, it’s very much a dining space, but by the end of the night it is it’s own vibe. It’s really beautiful to experience. I like to peek out from the kitchen and watch the night unfold. It’s really magical to watch it all come together.
8. What’s your favorite dish at The Nines? Favorite Drink?
My favorite drink would have to be our Cosmo, it’s a nice twist with pomegranate instead of cranberry juice. Ashley Santoro, the beverage director, has really put together an amazing selection that you can’t go wrong with. It’s fabulous.
Favorite dish on the menu is tough. I love the Uni. It’s one of the best plates, it’s just one bite and is so simple, it really is the perfect bite. You can get some fatty, salty, sweet, umami – it’s got it all.
9. 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.
There’s also just such a community here, and the neighbors are so supportive of us. I think that’s something that’s just so unique about NoHo.
10. 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 over at Bessou and she’s such a sweet neighbor.