Whether you were “Team Bobby” or not, everyone who watched The Next Food Network Star knows who Nikki Martin is. Recognized for her outspoken personality and prowess with a grill, she almost made it to the end of the competition and earned many fans along the way. We reached out to Nikki to learn more about her experience on Star and her ‘Grill Next Door’ persona. Here is what she had to say.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking? When did you decide you wanted to be a chef? What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
NM: My love affair with food began at an early, early age. My mom was a busy executive at US Food and she carted me around to food shows, conventions and through the kitchens of all her restaurant accounts. I was fearless when it came to trying things and I was mesmerized by cooking, fire and all things edible. I started messing around in the kitchen around the age of nine. Since both my parents worked grueling hours, nobody was home to make dinner. Thus, the exploration began! It definitely wasn’t always good, or even edible, but it sparked an interest in me that has become my lifelong passion. I have never gone to culinary cchool; but I have had every job in the book when it comes to hospitality. I moved to LA to pursue acting & entertainment. The only school I have attended was a short-lived sabbatical studying Biology and Medicine. Seems so incredibly random, but there is a meaning to the path I took.
Studying Biology and Medicine explains why I love surgery and removing organs from my whole chickens, inspecting hearts and also why I like to find foods that are healing and mindful to one’s health.
FP: We’re glad your journey led you to Star! Name some of your favorite chefs and why.
NM: Anthony Bourdain. He’s a rule breaker. Risk Taker. Globe-trotting fool who will eat or drink anything.
Bobby Flay. My MAN. He’s got swag. He like his grills and is an enterprising gentile.
Eric Ripert. Such class and refinement. Amazing food, exquisite technique. Also has the patience and coolness to hang with Bourdain on the regular. #Jelly
FP: We couldn’t agree more with your assessments of your favorite chefs.
Tell us about your experience on Star from casting to filming. What was it like to compete with the other chefs? What did you learn from the judges?
NM: Casting was fun. I don’t get nervous at those sorts of things. Meeting my team and cooking next to BFLay… NOW that’s another story! I know I have mad skills and a great sense of food, but again, I’m not classically trained.So at times, I was insecure about my techniques. However, once we all formed that Team bond, we helped and looked out for each other. We made a pact- I helped Michele with camera challenges and she helped me with chopping techniques.
FP: Sounds like there was great camaraderie on the show even though it was a competition.
We really like your ‘The Grill Next Door’ persona. How that did that concept evolve? Did you do a lot of grilling growing up?
NM: Evolution is the right word. It started as “Girl On Grill” because that’s what my friends nick-named me when I would take over all the BBQ ‘s and backyard parties. However, I realized that the double entendre might offend some more conservative viewers of the Food Network. So I changed it up, added a little wholesome-ness to it and ‘The Grill Next Door’ was born.
FP: When you are home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself (If any)? If you go out to eat, name some favorite places. What are some of your guilty pleasures (if any)? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name :)
NM: When I am at home, I make weird stuff. It’s my test kitchen. I will go out to eat at a rad spot, come home, and try to make some zany version thereof. I live in LA and the weather is always nice, so grilling is YEAR ROUND. I also love it because, it can be super healthy, tons of flavor, you can get a tan while cooking and your casa does not smell like last week’s dinner when it’s all said and done. I do however, LOVE SEASONS, and wish we had them here. On the first sight of rain in Fall, I love to make soups and stews. I make some mean turkey chili. One of my favorite hearty dishes is my duck confit ragu with potatoes and leeks.
As far as dining out- I love Sushi Park In WeHo. Peter Park gets the freshest fish and prepares the most perfect sushi ever. It is Omakase and if he says ‘No Soy Sauce’… then No Soy Sauce! I’m not gonna lie, I love Houston’s and all of their partner restaurants. That place makes a efffin delicious Rib Eye and those ribs…THOSE RIBS.. umm who can resist?!
I totally have FOODIE PLEASURES, here are a few:
Barely Buzzed Cheese. Sooooo good.
Lavender and Coffee Grind Rind. Makes a killer grilled cheese with arugula and turkey.
Chocolate Dipped Sopressata (Home Made. Salt n Sweet= Love)
BEER. Allagash. Chimay. St. Freullien. I like infusing Beers and Whisky.
Fritos. OMG. and Bean Dip. YUM. I make Frito Lay Fried Chicken that would blow Paula Deen’s socks off!
FP: We’re going to have to come to LA and explore those spots with you! Name three individuals you would want to invite over for dinner and what you would prepare for them.
NM: Anthony Bourdain. I would make him Grilled Baby Octopus & Guanciale. Copious amounts of Whiskey.
Ellen DeGeneres. Mussels, Kale, and Fresh Herbs in a Beer Broth. Grilled Bread.
My Grandma, Mildred Louise Clements. Her signature ‘Millie’ is tattooed on my wrist. I never got a chance to cook for her while she was alive, but I know that she is my biggest fan. I would make her the most delicious Pot Roast Dinner (she was a very simple lady) with Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans. I would even get out my rolling pin and bake her a Blackberry Pie from SCRATCH. To sip on: I would make her a Grasshopper Martini. She really didn’t drink much, but I know she liked Creme De Menthe,
FP: All three sound memorable! Speaking of the kitchen, any tips for novice chefs?
NM: Be inspired. This could apply for a novice anything but you will truly find passion in your soul when you allow the world to inspire you. Be open to it everywhere, it comes in the smallest of packages.
FP: In three words, how would your friends describe you?
NM: Nerdy. Spontaneous. Perfectionist.
FP: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing? What are some of your non-cooking hobbies?
NM: I might be a heart surgeon. I have a heart condition and I love making people feel better.
FP: You make people feel good with your cooking, too! Where will we see Nikki Martin in ten years?
NM: All over world. A girl bad-ass version of Bourdain perhaps…
FP: A girl bad-ass version of Bourdain sounds like a great idea! When it happens, please take us with you on your journeys! Thanks Nikki so much for your time! We’re sure you will succeed in all your future endeavors. Happy Grilling!