On the Line: Niki Starr of Mesa, Part Two
Photo by LP Hastings
She may be a tomboy, but Chef Niki is also one of the more articulate chef subjects I've had the pleasure of interviewing. In today's segment, we learn not to mess with her on the playing field and the dance floor.
Did you forget to begin at the beginning? That's alright, you can still click here for Part One. When you're ready, proceed below.
What's your favorite childhood memory? Growing up, my family was very fortunate enough to go on a lot of vacations. My dad (being a sports writer for the LA Times) had to fly quite frequently, and didn't exactly love all the time spent in airports and hotels. So when going on family vacations, we camped a lot. Camping was the best thing that happened to me as a child. I was allowed to get as dirty as I wanted, we slept under the stars and we cooked dinner outside on a habachi grill.
My dad always wanted a son, but got two daughters instead. And me, being the youngest, and the fact that my parents didn't plan on having anymore children, I became his tomboy. He taught me how to build a fire, set up a tent and (my favorite part) how to cook in the great outdoors. I still love to camp, and would take a weekend camping next to the ocean any day over a hotel room suite. I'm sure one day, my future husband will thank my dad for this.
Last book read; how was it? Last book I read was called Pillars of the Earth, an epic novel written by Ken Follet. I love everything he writes, and this would have to be one of my favorites.
Do you have any skills that have nothing to do with food? I played soccer from age 4 to 18-years-old. I play a little piano. And I am super funny. Well, at least I think so; I am constantly laughing at myself.
Tell us something most people don't know about you. My middle name is really Starr. I didn't make that up. And it is a family name; all the girls have the middle name of Starr.
You have a whole day to yourself; what do you do? Sleep in. Then go eat and drink. R & D, I like to call it.
Tell us something valuable you learned from working at French 75 and Broadway that culinary school didn't teach you. I learned time management. So much of our jobs have to do with time. Ticket times, wait times, delivery times, cooking times, etc. You need to learn to use your time wisely and efficiently. Work smarter, not harder.
I also learned how to 'dance' in all my kitchens I've worked in. How to cook beside another cook in a very small proximity to fire and knives. Some you dance better with than others, and some you almost become an extension of one another. Those are the best dance partners.
Last song playing on your radio. Phantogram - Fall In Love.
What did you study in school? Did you always plan on becoming a chef? I was actually studying to be a nurse. I obtained my BS in Health Science from CSULB, and was planning to get my Masters in Nursing when I decided I wanted to become a chef and went to culinary school. My parents almost killed me. But hey, I love what I do, and I can't picture myself doing anything else.
What turns you on-- creatively, spiritually, or emotionally? Passion. Anyone that is passionate about something, whether it be their craft, work or love, is such a turn on to me.
Where did you grow up, and where do you call home? South OC. Mission Viejo, to be exact. And that is definitely where I call home-- at my parent's house, where they have lived for over 25 years.
Hardest lesson you've learned: For me, that hardest lesson I've learned is to believe in yourself. I am quite a perfectionist, and that leads me to be my biggest critic. For a long time, I would talk myself out of things because I couldn't let myself believe that I was actually good/talented/educated enough. It wasn't until I realized that I was the only one holding myself back from my dreams, that I was truly able to start my career.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.