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Chef Spotlight: Molly Nickerson (Video)

“I honestly can’t imagine my life without food.”
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“When I think of Marea, I think of family,” says Molly Nickerson, executive chef of the two-Michelin-starred ode to coastal Italian seafood located on Manhattan’s iconic Central Park South. “We’re here so much. I think that’s the main thing—and pasta, of course.”

When she was just 19 years old, Nickerson began washing dishes and cutting vegetables at a catering company across the river in New Jersey before her father encouraged her to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. “When I got there I was kind of like, ‘yeah, this is where I want to be, this is what I want to do,’ and from there, never turned back.”

“Molly’s version of cooking is obviously simplicity—and that is the hallmark of Italian cooking, its simplicity,” says Michael White, chef/co-owner of Altamarea Group, which runs a slew of restaurants including Marea, Ai Fiori, Vaucluse, Osteria Morini and Nicoletta. “There’s also so many layers of flavor that go into it.”

The dining room at Marea.
The dining room at Marea.

Nickerson first started at Marea only six years ago as a line cook. In 2013, she left to work at Sorella, eventually rising to executive chef when chef/owner Emma Hearst departed the restaurant. When it closed a year later, she came back to Altamarea and then officially became the executive chef of Marea in January of this year.

“I thought maybe I’ll come back to Marea for a little bit and then leave and open my own restaurant,” she says. “And then just being here and how much I’ve learned since I’ve been back—this is where I need to be at this point in my life to keep pushing myself.”

“I’ve always loved the food at Marea,” she continues. “From the first day that I trailed here I was like, ‘yes, this is the kind of food I want to cook. This is where I want to work.’” Nickerson likens the pasta at Marea to anything you’d find in Italy. “Our pasta is pretty f-ing amazing. Every single thing is made in house.”

Gnochetti with ruby red shrimp, chiles and rosemary is a top seller at Marea.
Gnochetti with ruby red shrimp, chiles and rosemary is a top seller at Marea.

Of the restaurant she calls home, Nickerson describes Marea as fine dining but not stuffy. “The fact that you can sit in a beautiful dining room and have a bowl of fusilli and bone marrow, I think people really enjoy.”

“Since Molly’s been here we had a menu that was probably 55 or 60 options, and now we’re above 80,” adds White. “I think people come back for these signature dishes because they’re just delicious and they’re consistent,” she says.

“When I was chopping vegetables and washing dishes in New Jersey 14 years ago, I didn’t think that I’d be the chef of a two-Michelin-star restaurant, so that’s pretty cool,” she admits. “And I one hundred percent feel pressure to uphold the Michelin stars here. It’s very important to everybody that works here. It kind of signifies that your’e at the top of your game, and there are a lot of people that have worked hard past and present to get there and I need to carry that torch.”

“I have the utmost faith in Molly to see the kitchen continue to flourish,” says White.

Watch the full video below.

Video and photos shot by Kathryn M. Sheldon, an award-winning producer, photographer and editor with a background in still photography and television production. Having produced food and beverage content for seven years at NBC, she is currently producing video content for the MICHELIN Guide.

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