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Paleo Nick's Story Part 1

Paleo Nick's Story Part 1
It started in a parking lot in 2014 with the Paleo Nick's food booth. 

Or did it? 

It's hard to tell where our story begins, but one thing is for sure, any business that starts in a garage or a parking lot is destined for greatness! 

That was where Ice Age Meals launched, but there's more to the story...
I grew up in a family of food lovers.

My parents loved to eat and much of our life revolved around food. The obesity epidemic is a hot topic nowadays, but it has been a part of my life since I was born. For all of my upbringing, both of my parents hovered north of 300lbs, it was no secret that they loved food. 

Julia Child is famous for saying, "People who love to eat are the best kind of people." 

That is certainly true for my parents, they are two of the best people I've ever met! 
This was the first picture that I could find of me cooking. It was 2003 and I was 21-years-old. I was cooking Stuffed Chicken Cacciatore for 250 people. I was wrapping Italian sausage in pounded chicken breast and then encasing it in caul fat (the stuff I'm holding up in the picture).

One month earlier, I won The Great Alaskan One Pot Cook-Off preparing this same meal. They had a student category, a professional category and a people's choice category. I took second in the student division, but after the public got to taste everyone's food and place their vote, I edged out Anchorage's Top Chefs with the People's Choice Award.

By this time, I had been cooking for 7 years. My first job was at Hardee's in Moorhead, Minnesota. After working my butt off for 90 days, they gave me a 5 cent/hour raise. I resigned immediately and got a job washing dishes at Paisano's Italian Ristorante in Dilworth, Minnesota. It was there that I began to cut my teeth. 
Here I am as the "Head Chef" at the Quinnat Landing Hotel in King Salmon, Alaska baking fresh bagels for the guests. Check out those pants! Summer 2003.
I worked at Paisano's all through high school and learned an insane amount about a professional kitchen. The main lesson was that the work in a kitchen is endless, so it is important to have fun. The staff was family, the jokes were constant and each meal started with a handful of garlic!

Three notable influences from Paisano's were:
  • Nathan Bong, who taught me to tuck my chef hat into itself like you see above.
  • Jason Wilson, who gave me the books Culinary Artistry and Becoming A Chef. 
  • Craig Egan, who showed me that organization and cleanliness were the way to go!

My parent's teaching me a love for food and four years under my belt in the kitchen were the foundation for my decision to go to Culinary School.
I started at the Colorado Institute of Art in Denver on October 4th, 1999. 

The only problem was that on June 3rd, 1999, 3 days after high school graduation, I flew to Naknek, Alaska with three of my friends to work at a fish processing plant. When I stepped off of the plane in Anchorage, I looked up to the mountains and knew that that was where I wanted to live.

I was already enrolled at school in Denver, so, after the summer in Alaska, to Denver I went. I got a job at The Inverness Hotel and Golf club where I worked from 3:30pm - Midnight for $8.00/hour. I went to school from 7:00am - 2:00pm, so I had an hour and a half each day to commute home, shower and punch the clock at work. It was a grind.
Working the line at Kincaid Grill in Anchorage under the tutelage of Chef Al Levinsohn, the single greatest influence on my cooking style and culinary career. Photo by: Hyon Sim circa 2006
After one quarter of Culinary School, I wanted something easier and I dropped out!

Computers seemed like easier money, so I signed up for an associate's degree in Electronic Business Management at Denver Technical College. I got a job at Graybar Electric and the money was easier, but the job was brutally boring. I went from playing with fire to sitting at a computer and digging through filing cabinets. 

The job afforded me more time and enough money to build a mountain bike. I used the time to visit my high school sweetheart up in Boulder and I rode my mountain bike wherever I went!

It wasn't long before I got a job moonlighting at Roy Yamaguchi's restaurant in the Cherry Creek Mall. I worked weekend evenings and I learned a whole new level of flavor, the cuisine of Hawaii!
2018 - Camp Hale Koa, Kaua'i, teaching the kids of the Keala Foundation how to fend for themselves when it comes to food.
I didn't love desk work, so I kept my foot in the world of food. Two weeks after 9/11, I was laid off from Graybar. I still had two semesters left at Denver Tech, so I stuck them out while planning my return to Culinary Arts. All-in-all, while living in Denver, I worked at Inverness, Brook's Steakhouse, Hop's Brewery, Texas Roadhouse, Chevy's, Roy's and Whole Foods Cherry Creek.

In early 2002, I set three goals:
  1. Buy a Landcruiser FJ-40
  2. Buy a Santa Cruise Superlight Mountain Bike
  3. Drive to Alaska in my FJ-40 with my Mountain Bike to enroll in a four year Hospitality and Restaurant Management program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
On August 18, 2002, I rolled into Anchorage in my Landcruiser with my Santa Cruz Superlight. 
It didn't get the best gas mileage, but it got the job done! AK License Plate: 82F J40
For Spring Break 2002, my future wife, Jessie, and I traveled not to Cancun, but to Alaska. At Roy's in Denver, I worked with a guy named Jeremy, who used to work at the Alyeska Prince Hotel in Girdwood, Alaska. He gave me the Chef's name, Al Levinsohn. I reached out and scheduled a meeting with him, telling him I'd be in town over Spring Break.

I also met with Jean Bokman, the director of the Culinary Arts Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. 

Both meetings went well. Al treated us to dinner at Teppanyaki Katsura (think Benihana, but high end and with Alaskan seafood) and at Seven Glaciers, the tram-accessed, mountaintop, four diamond restaurant with a view of seven hanging glaciers in the Girdwood Valley.

Jean welcomed me to the Culinary Program with open arms. 
Here's a view from the bar at Seven Glaciers in spring. In the winter, it's even more majestic. This is a bucket list dining experience that I recommend wholeheartedly.
It was August, 2002, I headed south from Anchorage to Girdwood, where I'd begin the next chapter of my life.

I had three loves at that point:
  1. Food.
  2. Mountains.
  3. Jessie.


These loves have only grown over the past two decades. I can't wait to tell you more about it in part two of my his-story. 

 

Your Pal, 

 

Paleo Nick