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At Home With Chef Nicole Votano

The Miami Chef Behind Mamma Parmigiana

March 18, 2021 Hannah McIntosh

Although chef Nicole Votano has lived in Miami for 20 years, she maintains a worldly perspective. This makes sense for someone who’s lived in London, Italy, France, San Francisco, and Hawaii. Since graduating from the French Culinary Institute in NYC, chef Nicole has worked at The Four Seasons Hotel in Miami, the Miami Biltmore Hotel’s Fontana Restaurant, and as Executive Chef at Michelle Bernstein’s Crumb café, among others. Now, chef Nicole is at the helm of the menu for Mamma Parmigiana, a delivery-only concept in partnership with NBRHD Kitchens that’s serving up Chicken Parm Sandwiches alongside classic old-school, classic Italian fare. Through all her endeavors, chef Nicole weaves in her deep appreciation for fresh ingredients, the offerings of her local farmer’s markets, and the idea that love can be communicated through food.

NBRHD: Tell us your story, elevator-pitch style: 

Nicole Votano: My boyfriend said I should just put my old bumble profile here, but then I thought: ‘better not.’  

I’m a modern Italian Russian Jew. I grew up all over the world – from London to San Francisco to Hawaii, and now, Miami for almost 20 years. I LOVE good food and authentic hospitality. I have an incredible 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter who light up my whole world. I am extraordinarily lucky to get to do what I love every day. I believe in the power of positivity and the law of attraction. I am excited to be able to help the world feel a little happier by spreading love through accessible food around the country. 

Photo by Nicole Votano

NBRHD: What was your first experience in the kitchen? 

NV: My first experience I remember in the kitchen is cooking carbonara with my Dad. We ate it once a week in my house growing up, and my Dad always made it. Now it’s my kids’ favorite. A few years ago, he told me mine has finally surpassed his. THAT was a great day!

NBRHD: What are your foundational sources of inspiration? 

NV: Travel, adventure, and farmer’s markets.

Photo by Nicole Votano

NBRHD: What’s your general philosophy around food? 

NV: Eat what makes you feel good. Food is about memories. I love sharing in that part of life with people.  

NBRHD: How would you describe the food scene in Miami? In your neighborhood? 

NV: The food scene in Miami is at the height of its game. We have incredible local farmers and artisans on top of a few generations of chefs, all creating new and innovative concepts. We also have restaurants from every other important food city coming for a seat at the table right now in Miami. I’m very excited to be a part of the ever-changing culinary landscape of our city. In my neighborhood, Little Havana, there are great places, both old and new, from generations-old Cuban restaurants to new modern concepts. It’s changing and growing all the time. 

Photo by Nicole Votano

NBRHD: Describe Mamma Parmigiana in three words:

NV: Mamma Parmigiana – Old School Classics.

NBRHD:  Where in your home are you spending the most time? 

NV: In my meditation corner and my kitchen (yes, they are ACTUALLY two different places).

NBRHD:  Where do you find inspiration when you’re feeling burnt out? 

NV: Through positive affirmations and cool podcasts. Recently I listened to an episode of The School of Greatness from Lewis Howeswith with Matthew McConeghey as a guest – that was really inspiring. 

NBRHD: What is your go-to meal when you don’t feel like cooking? 

NV: Sushi if I order in (nigiri and rolls). Crackers, salami, cheese, and fruit if I decide to just nosh. 

NBRHD: Sweet or salty? 

NV: Both, in alternating order. Salt and vinegar chips are one of my vices, as is expensive dark chocolate. 

NBRHD: What was your last delivery meal? Where was it from and how was it? 

NV: A bacon cheeseburger, onion rings, and tahini wings from Genuine Burger, and I am very proud to say, it was super yummy. The burger was juicy, the wings were totally unique, and the onion rings are extra crispy, and I love that.

NBRHD: How have you been decompressing lately? 

NV: At the beach. I try to see the sunrise or sunset over the water most days of the week. And by spending time hanging with my kids, my dad, and my boyfriend. 

Photo by Nicole Votano

NBRHD: What’s the last great thing you read, watched, or listened to? 

NV: I don’t get to watch much, but I’m loving Firefly Lane with Kathryn Heigl on Netflix. 

NBRHD: What is something you’re looking forward to when it’s safe to gather again? 

NV: Concerts, giant dinners in the middle of a field, and Burning Man. 

Photo by Nicole Votano

NBRHD: Walk us through your morning routine:

NV: I generally wake up around 6 am. I think about something I’m grateful for for 15 seconds (it’s a new practice I’ve started in the past 6 months. I’m becoming more zen as I age). Then I pop out of bed and make a cup of pour-over coffee for Brian and myself and take a shower while listening to something positive. When I get out of the shower, I usually make breakfast, I’m a HUGE fan of toast, Sullivan Street Bakery’s Walnut Raisin or Sesame Bread sliced thick, toasted to a deep caramel brown, then slathered with whipped cream cheese or cultured butter, and finished with Scottish smoked salmon. It is delish.  

Between answering messages about menus and recipes, I drop my kids off at school around 830 am. From 830-9 am, I try to sit at the beach and meditate. This is fundamentally important in how my day progresses afterwards. After the beach, I head home and straight into the morning check-in with our concept development team. Shortly after that, I hit Vice City Bean for a perfectly crafted cappuccino on my way to our R&D Kitchen to cook and taste new types of food. I don’t know exactly how I fit it all in, but I love trying! 

Photo by Nicole Votano

NBRHD: What are your favorite pantry items? Any tips on how to use them? 

NV: 

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – I particularly love Zoe (I know, it’s Spanish and I’m Italian). 
  • Maldon Sea Salt – I love the crunch and balanced salty flavor. 
  • PX Vinegar or O Sherry Vinegar – adds brightness and sweetness in a one-two punch. 
  • Dried Pink Beans – for making refried beans – my kids are Mexican. 
  • Spaghetti Rigatti – the sauce sticks better to it. 

NBRHD: What are some local businesses in your neighborhood that you frequent? Take us on a little tour and tell us why you love them in a sentence or two. 

NV: 

Rinconcito Mexicano – Authentic, affordable Mexican Food with a LEGIT Mexican bakery inside. I’ve been going there for 15 years and watched it grow. LOVE this place. 

Lung Yai Tapas – The Thai food here is super satisfying, and I love that it comes in smaller portions so you can order and taste more variety. 

Oriental Bakery – This place makes some of the best baba ghanoush and fresh pita bread available in Miami. They have five types of fresh feta and a solid gyro to boot! 

Cindy Lou’s Cookies and Desserts – What can I say, she’s great! I’ve been eating her cookies since Gigi’s was opened back in the day, and now she has expanded to a full fledged dessert shop with each item more homey and craveable than the last. 

Photo by Nicole Votano

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