Dream Job | Nick Dostal

July 2017 View more

Chef Nick Dostal, executive chef of the acclaimed Sixteen restaurant in the heart of Chicago, is a true Midwesterner—complete with self-effacing charm and an open, friendly demeanor. But combine his unflagging culinary zeal, an impressive educational pedigree, and his remarkable creativity for showcasing the integrity of simple ingredients, and it’s easy to see why he has risen so quickly to top-tier positions in the culinary world.

At the young age of thirty, Dostal has already accumulated an impressive culinary resume, including positions at Michelin-starred restaurants like Ria at the Elysian Hotel in Chicago (now the Waldorf Astoria), as well as Quince in San Francisco. Just this year he was nominated for the esteemed Jean Banchet award for best chef-du-cuisine, a position he held for two years at Sixteen working with good friend and mentor Chef Thomas Lents. But like many successful chefs, Dostal’s story illustrates the importance of starting at the bottom.

“I was lucky to get advice early in my life, before my career, to first take the lowest paying, bottom-of-the-barrel job you can for a year and work your way up. You have to pay your dues before you can get that promotion and earn the respect of those around you.” For Dostal that meant washing dishes for a year at the busiest restaurant near his home, being “chewed out” in languages he didn’t understand, and experiencing the pride of accomplishment when he was promoted to lemon slicing for three hours each day. The result? He wanted more.

After graduating from Hinsdale Central High School he began his formal training at Le Cordon Bleu Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. But it was his time spent cooking in France and San Francisco that taught him to cook seasonally and with the finest ingredients—not just locally grown, but (thanks to the magic of technology and overnight shipping) from all over the world.

However, the most significant influences on his career haven’t been cultures, cities or cuisines, but people.

Dostal credits his mother as an early influence, teaching him to cook their family meals from the local farmers market, and encouraging his interest in a culinary career. It was in his family’s kitchen that he learned the integral role the family table plays in honest hospitality and meaningful relationships.

But it was a seminal event at dinner one evening with a good family friend that redirected his education toward a bachelor’s degree in culinary nutrition from John & Wales University in Denver. In the advanced stages of colon cancer, and on a restricted diet, Dostal’s friend confided there was one food he missed more than any other: ice cream.

One idea and two hours later, Dostal handed his friend a surprise: a bowl of fresh fruit sorbet, made from perfect, just-picked peaches and sweetened with organic honey. “This guy was one of the strongest, most powerful men I’ve ever known in my life and he just sort of broke down crying. At that moment, seeing how food can bring so much joy to someone who is in such a difficult place, was a monumental moment for me.”

Today, whether it’s scintillating views of Chicago’s skyline from the sixteenth floor of Trump Tower, or Dostal’s sixteen-course extended menu including critic-celebrated “ethereal” Dungeness crab with white asparagus puree, Sixteen offers a one-of-a-kind, incredible experience in new American cuisine. But Dostal’s ultimate goal, whether for food critics, foodies or friends remains the same. “At the end of the day, that’s why we do what we do. We make people happy with our food, and serve people to bring a little joy into their life, even if it’s just a bowl of ice cream.”