If you haven't heard of Nic Gonwa, chances are you have eaten one of his dishes. After working at Alba for years, Nic, 30, is now head chef at Ingersoll Avenue's buzziest restaurant: Eatery A. But enticing menus aren't the only things the pizza connoisseur is making. He also made this year's semifinalist list for the James Beard Rising Star of the Year — a national award presented to "a chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come." Five finalists will be announced on March 24, with the final winner being presented in New York City in April.
Nic sat down with Juice Magazine to share his surprise and some secrets.
Q: How does it feel to be named a national semifinalist for the James Beard Rising Star of the Year?
I was very surprised. It wasn't something that was even on my radar. That said, it's definitely a huge honor and very, very cool — just so unexpected. It's all a little wild.
Q: Eatery A is coming up on its one-year anniversary this April. Are you surprised by its quick success?
Yeah, it's really nice to have the support of everyone around here and be getting great feedback. We started with a really strong team and we've all worked together for years. That really helps — having that strong foundation. From front house to back house, everyone has a part in cultivating this. The team was the deciding factor in the success. Nobody accomplishes anything great on their own.
Q: What's your favorite go-to dish to make at home?
There's not one particular dish. I just keep playing around and experimenting at home.
Q: Are you sick of pizza, having had to make it every day?
I definitely don't eat as much as I used to, that's for sure.
Q: What's one essential item every home cook should have?
A food processor — you can do so much with them and they make a lot of jobs quite a bit easier. If you're going to invest in a piece of equipment that would be a good start. That and a solid whisk — somehow I went without one for a few years, until I got one for Christmas. I had an old, beat up one that was antique and falling apart. But I made it work for awhile. The trick? Forks!
Q: What's the best dish on the menu?
Right now: the confit lamb salad — using confit leg of lamb with squash, quinoa and a tart cherry vinaigrette.
Q: What do you love most about being a chef?
Being able to come to work and do something creative every day. It's nice that things change with the seasons — we're constantly looking for the next fresh idea. It's rewarding when you put out something new for people to try and get a good response. Something you put time, effort and love into.