Nick LaRosa of Nook in Arcadia on Working with Gio Osso and Peforming Under Pressure
Lauren Saria Chef Nick LaRosa of Nook Kitchen.
One of Arcadia's newest dining spots is appropriately named -- Nook is the kind of cozy local joint where families can come for an easy dinner and dates can slide into cozy booths for a nice glass of wine. Chef Nick LaRosa, a Connecticut-born guy with Sicilian roots, brings more than a decade of experience in the industry to the restaurant, as well as his culinary degree from Johnston and Wales. Today, the new father tells us how he got on board with Nook and what he learned from working with Gio Osso. Be sure to come back Tuesday when he talks about what else the Nook team has planned for Phoenix and gives his thoughts on children in high-end restaurants.
In the past few months, the dining scene in Central Phoenix and the Arcadia neighborhood has exploded, welcoming handfuls of new restaurants as well as news of more to come. And the Gaslight Square strip mall is a perfect snapshot of the exponential growth. It's an old complex where familiar names like Chef Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table and Chef Cullen Campbell of Crudo share space with newcomers like Chef Nick LaRosa of Nook and Jennifer Russo-Fitzgerald of the newly opened The Market by Jennifer's. What was once an easy-to-overlook set of ho-hum businesses has become a local dining hub.
Lauren Saria Chef Nick LaRosa
Nook opened last fall in a long, skinny space that used to house a bar and grill called Darwin's. LaRosa and owners Frank Vairo and Tagan Dering, also of Amaro Pizzeria and Vino Lounge, rolled up their sleeves to turn the old restaurant into a cozy space with a fun, inviting feel. There are sky blue walls and exposed brick, handmade shelving and sleek metal lights.
LaRosa met the two restaurant industry veterans through Chef Gio Osso (Virtu Honest Craft), whom he worked with at HMS Host -- the food, beverage, and retail provider for many airports including Phoenix's Sky Harbor. As chef de cuisine, LaRosa, who was with the company for nine years, helped oversee the openings of many of the local restaurants in the airport as well as the commissary built to accommodate their needs.
"It was a bit of a transition from doing someone else's food to doing my own," LaRosa admits and giving up a comfy corporate salary wasn't easy either.
But LaRosa says he's happy to be doing the independent-restaurant thing these days. Even with the new restaurant and twin baby boys (born just two weeks after the restaurant opened), the chef says he feels less stressed than ever.
Of course, part of that could be attributed to the fact that LaRosa seems to thrive under the type of chaotic environment that would break other people. When things get slammed at Nook, he hops from pizza oven to working the line, doing whatever needs to be done right then. What's more, he enjoys it.
"I really had no time to do a test kitchen," LaRosa says. "But I've been told that you do your best under pressure."