It doesn’t matter where you are in the Greater Philadelphia area, chances are you’ve heard about the Main Line’s Citron and Rose. And regardless of where you might be in the country, it’s likely that you’ve also heard talk of the restaurant’s chef, Karen Nicolas. Nicolas has traveled all over for work, cooking at Gramercy Tavern in New York and the famed Equinox in Washington, D.C. It was there that she was noticed by Food & Wine magazine and deemed Best New Chef.
What’s your background with kosher cooking?
No background, really. I’m from a Filipino heritage, and my training has been in modern American and French. But when I interviewed here I realized that they created this niche that no one else is really doing. It’s a great experience and also a challenge. I like playing around with all the spices that I haven’t used before.
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Do you have a favorite ingredient that you like to use?
I cook with the seasons and I go through phases, too. Like, when black garlic was really cool, I’d play around with that. And I play with techniques, too. These days everybody wants to ferment things.
You’re from the Philly area originally, but you spent time living and working D.C., New York and California. How does it feel to be back?
I wanted to work with good chefs, so I made it a goal to hit every food city. I think I did, and I think that Philly has a growing culinary scene. It’s getting more exciting each year. I’m happy to see the slow migration of New York chefs coming here. That’s why I think it’s going to get even more exciting here. Philly is becoming a destination for chefs to start their own restaurants.
You’ve received a ton of accolades, including Food & Wine’s Best New Chef when you were working in D.C. Does that add a lot of pressure, or does it challenge you to do even better?
It does add a lot of pressure. I’m not the type of chef that likes the attention. Some are really good at that, but I like to be left alone. Don’t get me wrong – it’s so flattering to be part of Food & Wine. There are Food & Wine [award-winning] chefs all over. You feel like you’re being compared to other chefs. That can be good and bad, especially for someone shy like me.