As a young girl, I loved being in the kitchen. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle), we would go crabbing during the summers and spend weekends at Pike place market. These experiences instilled an appreciation and love of fresh seafood and produce. I learned the art of catching, cleaning and cooking - sea-to-table was very real.
Driven by passion, I graduated from the Culinary Arts Institute at UVU. I loved every second absorbing everything I could in school. That's when I cultivated my skills and developed an excitement for Italian cuisine. This excitement took me to Italy where I studied and learned the art of homemade pasta, pizza, and sauces. While pairing my love for pasta, seafood and citrus I couldn't stop.
I quickly started my private cheffing business at age twenty-four fresh out of culinary school. I started building a network of clients through my community and began teaching private cooking lessons and catering small private events. Quickly that grew and I have used my skills and passion to feed the masses over the last 10 years and still counting. I've had the opportunity to cook for many professional athletes, musicians, C-Level Executives, local politicians and surgeons. I have also competed in local cooking competitions and won. But most of all, I love to create culinary experiences for people.
The feeling at the end of the event, when you have brought pure joy through your food is euphoric. A magical beautiful moment that lights me on fire every single time.
Q1: When you were in culinary school and nearing graduation, had you always planned to take the solo entrepreneur route and start your own business or did that just sort of pan out as time went on? Can you offer any advice for novice chefs who may want to consider the same path you took after graduation? How is it working alongside your husband Marco now?
A: When I was nearing graduation I had set myself up in the catering realm. During the last year of school I did my internship with a local catering company. I learned a lot there, not just about catering and what it takes but the business side of it especially.
Right then and there I knew I wanted to be my own boss. Time freedom, and control of the quality I wanted to put out there was and is very important to me.
The best advice I can give someone just starting out is to survey the area you live in. Ask yourself, what's missing in my community? Can I capitalize on that? And what works best for you and your life?
The first thing I did after assessing those things was looking into my network of people around me. I found an influential wealthy family and offered my private chef services. I was lucky! They hired me three days a week to make dinner for their growing family. From that I built my brand.
To get my name out there and to make more money I started a Cooking Club. I knew a lot of women with beautiful homes and kitchens. They hosted, invited their friends, and I brought everything for the perfect GNO (girls' night out). From that they started hiring me to cater their house parties and my connections continued to build from there. I am still building and will never stop.
Creating, bringing value to your community, monetizing and social connections is what it's all about. You have to believe in yourself, have vision of where you want to go and work hard. That is the key.
I met Marco through family a few years into my career. At the time he was the Executive Chef of the largest catering company in Utah. We both had a love and passion for what we did and that instantly bonded us.
We just got each-other and if you're in the business you know it's hard work and long hours. You have to love to stay and we both were committed. Thankfully, we get to spend a lot of time together which usually isn't the case for a chef and their partner. We bounce ideas off one another and compliment each other's skills as well. Once in a while we disagree in the kitchen but what is a kitchen without passion? Overall it is amazing.
Q2: What inspires you when creating menus for events? Do you tend to let the clients choose from a list of developed recipes or are you creating specific dishes from scratch to meet their needs? Do you still have the freedom to express your creativity in your dishes or do you have to kind of set that aside for the client’s sake?
A: When I create menus there is a list of criteria I go through. The client is extremely important so first, I take the time to get to know them. Where are they from? What type of event is it? Do they have any allergies or dietary restrictions? What is the best meal they've ever had?
Then I get into the nitty gritty, location (will I have a prep area of kitchen to work out of?), guest count, start time. All of these details help me formulate the perfect menu for me to create whatever I want. I make custom menus for ever event I do. Creatively just going to grocery store and physically seeing the produce and meat sections inspire me.
Health and wellness is an area I am passionate about as well so using the best quality ingredients I can is a must.
Q3: As you’ve continued to develop your skills what would you say is the most noticeable change in the way you cook and present your dishes compared to when you first began your career?
A: In the beginning I was timid and afraid. I desperately wanted people to be happy, so the pressure I put on myself was my fight. I had to learn to be more assertive with my food and business.
So I'd say my overall confidence in myself is the biggest change I've been through. Not only as a chef in cooking but as a woman in this business.
Q4: We hear you’re in the process of developing a cookbook right now. What would someone expect to find when flipping through the pages and when could we expect to see it available? Do you have any other projects going on at the moment you’d like to share?
A: Yes, I am constantly creating and writing recipes. I have so many hand written recipes in notebooks, to full menus for teaching, to ebooks specifically for dietary programs. The one I am currently writing is a lifestyle cookbook with all my favorites that are tried and true to who I am as a chef.
I am always working on them behind the scenes and hope to have my work come to the larger market soon. Marco and I do have some projects we are working on together to build our brand. This last year we took a giant step. He left the corporate world of cheffing to build our private catering company we cal 'am Niccoli'. We get to cook for incredible people and have the opportunity to travel to cook for them as well. We spend most of our summer in Lake Powell cheffing on houseboat yachts. We also partenered on a European style cafe this year called Voro cafe, it has been fun to build that brand.
A few other things we are currently doing is restaurant consulting, filming and we are brand ambassadors for companies like Blendtec etc. Marco will be selling them on HSN later this year. There are so many fun and hard things coming I can't talk about yet but as they come we will share them with the world.
Social media is the quickest and easiest way to get the word out and can be a very valuable tool. We are always working and building our company and I don't see a finish line in sight. We love what we do! I always say "Dream a bigger dream!" and that is what we are doing.
Q5: In our new segment ‘Social Asks’ we take to our Social Circle to see if our community has any questions for our featured chef.
Marcus G. from Facebook asks asked "When you were beginning your chef business, what would you attribute most of your growth to?"
- I attribute hard work and the power of one on one connections with people to my growth. The power of word of mouth is unmatched.
@lott1987 asked "What has your biggest struggle been since you've jumped off the standard chef path, pursuing a private chef career"
- One of the biggest struggle I've had was valuing myself and skill set in a monetary way. It's much harder than you think in the beginning and it's basically on-the-job training.
Remi M. from Facebook asks "What is the most important lesson you've learned on the job, that you couldn't learn in school?"
- Some of the most important lessons I learned are to never give up, especially when you burn a batch of biscuits! School will teach you the fundamentals which are very valuable. But to dream big or to PUT IN THE WORK are not taught. Living life will teach you if you are open to it.
Nobody gave me money or anything to start my business. I built it from nothing and I really mean nothing. I was a penniless single mom of two. I had a two year old little girl and a six month old baby boy to care for. I had no car, so I borrowed one from a family friend. My grandfather graciously let me live in his rental house for the first year so failing wasn't an option. I never grave up and never will. I feel like I just started.
If you're interested in learning more about Aubrey you can follow along on instagram @aubreyniccoli and get a glimpse of her life and Private Catering Business
Thank you so much to chef Aubrey for chatting with us this past month or two. It's amazing to hear about how she began and where she has grown to. If you're looking into following a less formal route after culinary school we hope this Q&A will provide you with some information and tons of inspiration.
We are excited to see 'am Niccoli' continue to grow and can't wait to see what else is in store for Aubrey in the future. Be sure to follow them on Instagram for updates and subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to hear about our latest featured chefs! Drop a comment below if you found this Q&A interesting or if you have any questions for Clement Design or Aubrey.