Nik Fields didn’t take a conventional path to cooking. The chef and owner of Chic Chef Cafe, a restaurant on Central Avenue and Thomas Road that serves a menu full of Mediterranean and Caribbean influences, made a few stops along the way.
Fields was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from culinary school in 1996 and soon flew to Rome to learn more. There she stayed with a family who ran an olive grove and was inspired by the Italian way of life, the way everyone gathered around the table to eat their meals, food being the element that brought them all together. .
“The food culture is so thick here,” she tells me from her modern restaurant with concrete floors, brick walls and exposed ceilings.
The restaurant, which opened in April, wasn’t particularly busy on a Tuesday night, though Fields says Thursdays, Fridays and weekends got busy.
When Fields returned from her excursion to Italy, her parents were disappointed in her decision to pursue her culinary passion. Her Jamaican mother and Dominican father, who was a chef himself and saw no glamor or success in long hours and hot kitchens, encouraged her to pursue a more traditional path.
She moved to Arizona and earned her bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University, earning a master’s degree in business administration, and then working in finance for 20 years. Even then, she remembers cooking and throwing office parties for her co-workers, foregoing the potlucks everyone was used to.
“Working in finance helped me financially to achieve my goal, but it also taught me business fundamentals: how to talk to people, how to formulate a plan and find employees,” she says. “Everything I learned, I implemented in my own business.”
Fields launched her Chic Chef Co. line of products in 2017, when she was still working in finance. She had stayed in touch with the Italian family she lived with 20 years ago, and they said she could grow her own grove in their olive grove. Since then, Fields has grown from producing two flavors of olive oil to 56, she says, including varieties of jalapeno, bacon, Italian herb and white truffle.
“I had no idea what I was doing, like I literally had no idea,” Fields said of the experience. “We just came down to California and that was the start of the celebrity clientele.”
She stayed in Los Angeles for three years after that, cooking on movie sets for Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett Smith and Snoop Dogg, and flying to Chicago and New York in a heartbeat. But then the pandemic hit. Fields was forced to slow down and reevaluate.
While the world stayed home, she hosted Zoom cooking classes, sold recipes and spices, and taught people how to cook on limited budgets and ingredients. Fields has also started cultivating an herb garden, which she uses in her spice blends.
She opened Chic Chef Marketplace in June 2021, next to her now-open downtown restaurant, to sell her olive oils and spice blends in addition to other products like chocolate balsamic vinegar, salt Seafood Chardonnay, Bourbon Whiskey BBQ Sauce and Jamaican Popcorn.
It all led to his own restaurant where Fields sports an apron and hairnet while Mary J. Blige performs in the background. A huge black-and-white photo of New York City hangs on the wall, reminiscent of the view from Fields’ bedroom window growing up.
She explains the menu, whose names are inspired by her New York upbringing and hip hop culture. Mos Def is a shrimp scampi dip served with crostinis, Illmatic, a Nas reference, is a seared salmon dish with a lemon butter sauce, and the Upper East Side is a plate of New York strip loin with confit garlic and mushrooms.
The dishes are an important way for her to relate her love of hip hop and Brooklyn to food, the chef explains. And while she loves her journey and what made her who she is today, she also recognizes the inherent struggle of being a woman of color leading a growing business.
“It’s hard to be a chef and CEO as a black woman,” she says. “I don’t get respected by white chefs because I haven’t always done this and a lot of black chefs don’t respect me because I’m not a soul food chef.”
Fields says she never really had an affinity for soul food like Creole chitlins or Southern-style neck bones growing up, but luckily her classical training means she can cook. any type of cuisine.
And even though Chic Chef’s menu isn’t technically soul food, there’s still a lot of heart.
La Di-Da-Dis, deviled eggs topped with grilled Cajun shrimp, are bursting with flavor. The Wu-Tang cocktail, served in a Chinese take-out container, is a watermelon mai tai garnished with fresh mint, a slice of blood orange and a cocktail umbrella: a sweet, alcoholic punch.
Whether other chefs encourage her or not, Fields says she and her family regularly celebrate black culture. Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the emancipation of African-American slaves, falls on the same day as Father’s Day this year. Fields’ father, a chef himself, was a major inspiration to her, though he ironically didn’t want her in the industry.
Juneteenth is a celebration of strength and solidarity, simultaneously commemorating the dark history of slavery and uplifting black culture and progress ever since.
Fields plans to celebrate both the holidays and fathers everywhere during the June 19 and Father’s Day event that Chic Chef is hosting on June 19. “A celebration of people and culture,” reads the menu. The jazz brunch runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with live music and plenty of red offerings to symbolize the bloodshed through slavery, Fields says.
The menu includes watermelon salad with feta cheese and mint, red beans and rice with smoked turkey and sausage, and red velvet cake. Reservations are encouraged.
“Juneteenth is for the world to celebrate, but we celebrate daily by being who we are and showing ourselves,” she says.
2302 North Central Avenue, Suite 3
Opening hours: Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., closed on Monday, Tuesday to Thursday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.