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Conversations with Nicole Harris

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Harris.

Hi Nicole, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I grew up in Marlboro, NY. My first cooking job was at a local farmers market on route 9W called Overlook Farm Market which recently closed in 2022. I cooked, baked, and made hundreds of sandwiches and donuts a day. I decided that I wanted to go to cooking school when I was 16 and applied to the Culinary Institute of America. I got accepted and decided that I would go there right out of high school.

After my first year of school was when I made my first journey to Colorado. I did my externship at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. After about 5 months, I then had to return to finish my curriculum at school in NY. Before graduating from the CIA, I had secured a position at the Ritz Carlton in Naples Florida where I worked for 2 years before returning to Colorado. While in Florida I decided to go back to school and received a degree in Hospitality management by age 20.

Once back in Colorado, I worked for a little while at the JW Marriott in Cherry Creek and then secured the pastry chef position with Sodexo at the University of Denver. I ran the pastry department and bakeshop for 8 years. When my direct manager left the company I decided that I wanted to move up with the company and asked my GM how to do that, and he said the only way was to move to a different department, so I took a leap of faith and moved over to catering.

Now, I was already doing catering through the bakery, but now I would be making all the hot and cold food for the events. I was completely out of my comfort zone, but I can cook, and I have a great pallet, so I found the transition quite easy. In a year, I took over the department and then ran it for 5 years as the executive catering chef.

During that time while working there, I was teaching professional and recreational cooking classes at Kitchen Table Cooking School/Colorado Culinary Academy. I would teach all different styles of recreational classes, but I created, implemented, and got a professional pastry program certified by the state that I taught for an entire summer.

When I left Sodexo in 2019, I went to work for Create Cooking School over at the Stanley Market Place and was their executive chef for about 2 years. I created menus and classes, taught, hosted birthday parties, bartended, and helped create and execute 5-course dinners… It was a very special and exciting place to work. The owner Ras and Diego are just fabulous to work with and work for.

While I was working at the cooking school I also was working in the music world helping with business management, sales, merchandise, booking, tour managing, and marketing. When the pandemic hit in 2020, I took a huge leap of faith and dove into the music world full-time. I had never professionally worked in music, but I had been involved in the Denver local music scene since 2008 booking shows/tours, and playing in bands like Younger Than Neil and The A-Oks.

When beginning this new endeavor of working professionally in music/marketing, I decided that the right thing to do was go back to school for my bachelor’s in marketing. This was a fun, and exciting 2-year run working in music, but the kitchen always held my heart. Skip to today, I am currently the head chef at the Front Range Inn. This opportunity came when I wanted to get back into the kitchen and show the world what I was made of. Having the freedom and ability to create my menus has been phenomenal.

I even got to bring in my own sous chef Vicente Burrola. He is the best sous chef anyone could ever ask for. I couldn’t have done any of this at the new restaurant without his support and assistance. Working and getting to know the customers has been heartwarming. My goal in cooking has always been to make people happy with the food and I hope they all enjoy their food experience while they are there.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It has not been a smooth road. Between cooking and music, it has always been a challenge being young as well as a woman in two predominantly male fields. I have always had to prove what I was worth to bosses, employees, or even clientele who wouldn’t give me the time of day because I was a woman. My first managerial role was at 21, and I had an employee walk out on me on my second day because I was half his age and a woman.

During cooking classes, I would have to give my life story to guests because I “didn’t look old enough” to have done all of the things I did. For years I had a general manager who was misogynistic and would only talk to my sous chef who was a man. Even though it has not been easy, it just always made me want to push and work harder to strive for my goals.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am a chef/pastry chef. I currently work for the Front Range Inn. My goal is to be known at all. I would love to get my name out there into the world and show people what great food I can create. I am most proud of all the menus and techniques I have made and learned throughout the years. I can cook traditional foods from all across the world and love to implement that into my menus.

What sets me apart from others is the diversity in my interests and my drive. I do not give up, and my goal is to create memorable experiences through both food or even music for anyone that steps through the door.

The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you and are any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
Yes, people in food service need more respect and higher-paying positions to combat the ever-increasing cost of living. Otherwise, if this doesn’t happen, and everyone keeps trying to pay less and less for food service professionals, we will not have any more memorable establishments that give exceptional experiences.

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