Welcome back to Up-and-Comers, a monthly column from Megan Hill dedicated to the rising stars of Seattle's food and drink scene.
[Photos: S. Pratt]
Thirty-year-old chef Nico Borzee has landed at the Book Bindery, the Queen Anne restaurant that is undergoing renovations and will soon be reborn as Hommage. Borzee comes to Hommage from Artusi, where he created a dazzling tasting menu. The up-and-comer started cooking at 15, building an impressive resume at Michelin-starred restaurants in his native France before heading to San Francisco to work as a sous chef at the double-Michelin-starred Coi.
But as Borzee himself admits, "When you move somewhere you lose something, you have to start over again." The young chef finds he's still learning, growing, and making a name for himself in his new home. Eater sat down with Borzee in the still-under construction Hommage space to talk about his plans for the restaurant and his belief that cooking is his destiny.
What can you tell me about the changes happening at Book Bindery?
We have ideas but we don't have the menu set. My biggest problem is that I get bored easily. Right now I don't know if I want to do some conception food or if I just want to cook.
What do you mean by conception food?
Like is the dish the idea or is the dish something that is just done with what we have. A lot of cooks right now are coming from an idea and then creating a dish. But I don't think I'm at this level right now. Right now my concern is to create a menu with the produce I'm going to find in six weeks, so that's all the summer produce, all the tomatoes, all those things.
The idea or the concept is that usually you create a menu and then you prep. I want to do it the opposite way. I'm not going to create a menu if I don't know what I'm going to get. The opposite way is we bring stuff in, we prep in many different ways, like we can take a tomato and work with it in like ten different ways, and from there create a menu.
I have a wife and kid and this is the same way I cook for my family. I go home and open the fridge and see what I have and create a meal like that. You don't prep and plan ahead, you just use whatever you have at the time.
So the menu will change pretty regularly?
The menu will change regularly. It will rotate, but we will probably have the same bases so we're not changing it completely. But yes, I think it will change a lot. Maybe every week, some dishes every day. This is the second time I'm doing this so I feel more confident.
What brought you to Seattle?
I love to travel. I worked in San Francisco for three years at Coi but I am originally from France. I loved San Francisco but it's really expensive. My wife and I wanted to move somewhere we could have a garden and have more space. It's hard, because when you move somewhere you lose something, you have to start over again. But we love it here and it's all worth it.
How did you get started as a chef? Did you go to cooking school?
I wanted to go to cooking school but the places were limited. Do you believe in destiny? I believe in destiny. I did an apprenticeship at 15 and that's how I learned to cook. I was very young, but I was not 15 in my head. I think it took a while for anyone to take me seriously because I was very small. I was smaller than the smallest girl in school. When I first started working I couldn't see over the table, but I grew up quickly. I realized cooking is my destiny. But it was very hard because I was really young. At 15 you're still a kid.
You've worked at some impressive restaurants since then.
I was very lucky to work at restaurants with Michelin stars. People are very fascinated with Michelin ratings and I think that helped me along the way. I worked in Paris at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon and La Table du Lancaster. For three years I cooked at Le Louis XV in Paris, and then at Coi in San Francisco, and all of those experiences have helped me get where I am today.
Will the new menu at Book Bindery will be French influenced?
I think it's going to be Mediteranean-oriented, from all over the area, like Italian, North African, and the Southeast like Greece. I don't like to be labeled but I think that's what it's going to be. But I want to use a lot of local ingredients, as much as I can.
What's behind the new name, Hommage?
Hommage means showing respect for the people and things that have come before you. I also want to bring people back to an earlier time with my food, to have them experience the memories you can only bring back through smells and flavors. I want to reconnect them with their childhood travels, even just for a quarter of a second. But this is a very hard thing to do, so it will be a challenge.
What else should diners know about Hommage?
It's a collaboration with all the staff, the owners, Michael and Sumi Almquist. Everything we're doing is going to be great because of the people here. It's teamwork and I want everyone to be involved. I can't do it alone.
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