In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new culinary school in town! HEAT Culinary, located at The Hood Kitchen in Costa Mesa, offers cooking classes for home cooks, team building events and catering for special occasions. HEAT Culinary originally started in Carpinteria, CA., and has since expanded to their 2nd location in Costa Mesa, CA. Meet the Executive Chef Owner behind it all – Nikki Dailey!
How did you get started in the culinary industry?
I was lucky enough to be raised by a mom who didn’t cook. My life was spent going to restaurants and tasting new dishes that I don’t think I would have tried, had she ever wanted to spend time in our kitchen. I did have a Great Grandma or “Nona” who was an amazing cook! She taught me traditional Sicilian recipes that were passed down, which of course she never wrote down, but knew by heart. She always joked that cooking skipped a generation in my family.
Did you go to culinary school? If so, where – and how did that prepare you for your career?
I was working in a professional kitchen as a Prep Cook from the time I was 13 years old. I was offered the job because I wanted to learn and was mouthy enough to ask the Executive Chef if I could help when he was taking in a food order. Yet after years of learning in the kitchen, the obvious next step was to attend the best culinary school, which is why I applied and was accepted at The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park. Everything about that decision was perfect, and I wouldn’t change my time there or all the techniques I learned for anything.
What was your background (work experience) prior to launching HEAT Culinary?
I had worked for years on the line in kitchens, which I love, but my heart is with the home cook and sharing all that I’ve learned with them through my travels and in restaurants. I believe true learning and excitement in the kitchen comes from actively doing and feeling the rush and hustle. My students are pushed to create 100% hands-on four to six full courses in a 2 hour – 2 ½ hour time frame before sitting down and enjoying a family style meal. At the end of the class students are always exhausted, but they keep coming back for more – so my team and I must be doing something right.
When and how did HEAT Culinary come about, and what inspired you to open up a cooking school?
It started when I moved up to Santa Barbara. I decided to open a food truck and by sheer coincidence, the live/work space I was dreaming of became available. I was offered it, and the same week that the food truck was finished building, I opened HEAT Culinary as a culinary school in Carpinteria, CA. It may be selfish, but I love cooking and I love people and how cooking brings us all together, so I just put the pieces together and hoped others would enjoy a culinary classroom as much as I do.
What has been your greatest struggle so far in running a cooking school?
Having patience as we expand to new cities and new kitchen locations is proving to be a struggle. I’m impatient at times, and love it so much that I want it all to happen overnight, which is of course not the way things work. So changing my six-month business goals into a two-year plan has become a personal struggle. Not a bad one to have, but still I like to keep things moving fast.
What has been the best part of your journey so far?
Living and cooking around the world has been the best part so far, as well as sharing those adventures and dishes with students who haven’t had the chance yet to get on a plane and leave the US. That’s the part I want to continue sharing and enjoying for the rest of my life, so the best part of the journey is always around the corner.
What does the future hold for HEAT Culinary? Do you plan on opening more locations or expanding your programs or services?
My goal is to open 8 solid HEAT Culinary locations in California by the end of 2019, providing technique and FUN cooking classes to new students in those areas. Then my plan is to go national, unless I have so much fun being a strictly west coast business that I decide to take a break.
Tell us about the catering side of your business.
While my team and I cater large events, my heart is for culinary education and team building events. I love hosting “Iron-Chef” style competition classes for corporations who are looking for a memorable experience working together. For special occasions, we offer culinary classes and private dinners where every menu is different.
When you’re not working, what are you doing?
I love a great road trip with my husband, hanging out at the beach with my dog Ninja-Bear, flea market shopping with my mom, or just sleeping in on the rare morning and binge watching a new show without ever leaving the couch.
What advice would you give to anyone who is interested in getting into this industry?
Spend some time in a kitchen or “staging” before you make the commitment. You must be ready for the long haul and the roller coaster ride before you make the jump. It’s completely glorified on television. Everyone thinks they want to do it until they try it out and find that it’s not the speed that they want to live their life, which is why coming to a culinary class is so fun for my students. They experience the hard work, rush, high flame and then sit down to enjoy the dinner they created before returning to regular life. Decide which side of the equation you’re on before making the decision, especially if you want to own your own business. Make sure you’d rather be the host for others to enjoy what you’ve created – rather than the guest.