Interview with 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Chef Nick Balla

May 2013

Katherine Sacks: Why did you get into cooking?
Nick Balla: Our metal band failed. I was already working in restaurants and that was the back up. I ended up being bequeathed with a chef job at a place in Michigan because everyone else got fired. I went to the CIA in New York for four years and then came straight to San Francisco.

KS: Where do you get your inspiration?
NB: I lived in Hungary for part of high school. My dad was a professor there, we're Hungarian by blood, and my dad wanted to go back and reconnect. So it’s usually from family, ethnic food, peasant food, full flavors, and honest food.

KS: How would you describe your style?
NB: I don't know about style but I like full flavors, ethnic food, shared format dining, and big portions.

KS: What are you most proud of?
NB: I was class rebel when I in high school.

KS: What has been the toughest thing you’ve done?
NB: It’s tough going into and changing an existing restaurant. I've had a lot of big challenges, my last three positions had been openings but coming into a successful restaurant and changing everything people loved was hard. I was doing Japanese food and had always cooked Hungarian food at home. In some ways there are similarities, they probably developed from the same tribe. Chad asked ‘What do you think about doing Central European food with great bread?’ It was challenging, a very popular restaurant with a wine bar and French bistro food. Everybody loved it and here I was coming in and doing weird fisherman stew. It was a challenge but it worked.

KS: How do you inspire your team?
NB: We have a pretty unique approach. A lot of young cooks try to talk with the chefs about weird technology and intellectual food and impress people by their amazing creativity before they have experience. What we encourage people to do is embrace what they really like to eat.

KS: Where will we find you in 5 years?
NB: I would imagine I will still be in San Francisco, probably mostly in the Mission. In my mind it’s the best restaurant place. It’s locals, you don't have to cook for tourists or expense accounts.