By Lisa Capobianco
Nickolas Holiday’s passion for cooking started at birth, as the executive chef and owner of Connecticut’s Take Home Chef grew up in the kitchen. Born in Texas, Holiday became inspired by his grandmother, who owned different restaurants and catering businesses in the south. From rolling dumplings at four years old to preparing a Cornish hen and game birds to cooking sea bass, Holiday gained experience in the kitchen at a young age just by learning from his grandmother, who acquired her skills by traveling throughout Europe.
“I learned her attention to detail—at the same time she was constantly teaching me technique,” said Holiday, adding that his great grandmother was a chuckwagon chef who cooked for a cowboy company. “I was running my first catering business when I was 16, so with my grandmother, we were doing a small business in Bristol.”
As the executive chef of his own business, Connecticut’s Take Home Chef, Holiday provides gourmet food and fine dining service in the comfort of people’s homes. Not only does Holiday offer his clients cooking lessons, but he also teaches techniques and how to utilize creativity in each dish. He serves an average of 30 to 40 people a week when cooking at people’s homes.
Holiday said he feels proud to share his culinary experiences with the people he meets.
“I’m able to share my experiences with other people,” said Holiday, adding that his clients have also taught him new recipes too. “In sharing my passion with other people for cooking and for creating, I believe that they themselves, start picking up on that passion.”
This year, Holiday has already started to share his passion for cooking in his new role at Hearthstone Pub in Plantsville. When not running his catering business, Holiday can be found serving as an operations manager at the restaurant, applying his culinary expertise to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
“I’m more of a partner—I’m here to help them turn it around,” said Holiday, who has lived in Southington for the past four years. “I pride myself in a high level of service and a high understanding of food and people’s taste buds.”
Dean Michanczyk, who co-owns Hearthstone with his wife Eileen, met Holiday one day when he entered Dean’s Stove & Spa nearby to purchase a fireplace. One conversation led to another, and the Michanczyks decided to hire Holiday for his high level of culinary expertise.
“We’re using Nick’s expertise to really dial this place in now,” said Michanczyk, who owns Dean’s Stove & Spa. “He’s completely retrained the entire staff.”
Starting March 1, Hearthstone will have a new menu, a new emblem and the addition of the word “Grill” to its official name. Holiday said the menu will still offer traditional northern European dishes but with a “fusion-style” twist.
“We’re doing a fusion-style Shepard’s pie—we are going more towards like an Irish pub-feel,” said Holiday, adding that the recipe will use a braised beef instead of ground beef. “The idea is to show people things that I feel that they are comfortable with…but put a different spin on it to make it more taste worthy.”
Other additions to the menu include Jack Daniel’s pork chops, a Moroccan lamb, stuffed dumplings, and a “Hybrid” burger that consists of pulled barbeque pork, cheddar and coleslaw. Holiday has also added a potato recipe he received from his grandmother.
“They are the creamiest potatoes you’re ever going to have,” said Holiday.
Besides learning from his grandmother, Holiday also honed his culinary skills while traveling during his service in the U.S. Army. When not occupied with the demands of military duty, Holiday learned a variety of techniques as well as how to build flavor profiles by working at restaurants in the Middle East in exchange for lessons from the chefs. He also traveled to other countries, including Spain.
For Holiday, learning how to enhance flavor in different styles of cuisine was a way to enhance the culinary experience for his clients and customers.
“They are all about teaching,” said Holiday, who also learned about wine, beer and mixing drinks. “When you really start getting that down to where every dish you do, you’re attacking different parts of the mouth, so that when they’re sitting there, they’re not having food, they’re having an experience.”
While serving as a Platoon Sergeant in the Army for 11 years, Holiday learned to be organized, calm and disciplined, which he has applied to his current roles. With experience on the battlefield, Holiday saw firsthand what chaos looked like, so when a crowd of 50 people or more enters the restaurant, he knows how to help his colleagues conquer any overwhelming feelings.
“I can look at things with more a rational, calculated mindset, and because of that, when I’m in the kitchen giving orders, I can actually calm the kitchen down,” said Holiday who achieved over a dozen army achievement medals.
Looking ahead, Holiday plans to stay in Southington, but also intends to branch out his catering business nationally. Holiday said he would like to see a Take Home Chef in New York, Massachusetts and even Northern Europe.
“I’m going to have a New York Take Home Chef, a Massachusetts Take Home Chef, and I eventually want to go across the pond and do a London Take Home Chef and a Dublin Take Home Chef,” said Holiday, adding that he also wants to combine his catering business with Hearthstone. “I want to turn that into a true, nationalized company.”