It's not every day you hear about a dish so good that it inspires life-long love and devotion. But that's exactly what Himmarshee Public House's executive chef Nicolas Koska says happened after he presented his now-wife with a plate of his penne chicken alfredo.
"One of my most memorable — and now favorite dishes — has to be penne chicken alfredo," says Koska. "That's the dish I cooked for my wife when we were dating that sealed the deal to get married. I’ll never forget that day."
You can fall in love with a rendition of this same dish at Himmarshee Public House where — from time to time — Koska has been known to feature it as a special, rotating among regular dishes such as cheesesteak spring rolls, San Marzano smothered meatballs, and Southern-style fried chicken.
With more than 15 years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, Koska began his JEY Hospitality career as executive chef for ROK:BRGR Fort Lauderdale, where he assisted with the opening of the restaurant, the design of the kitchen, and helped to create some of the menu's most popular items and recipes.
A native of Tacoma, Washington, Koska relocated to South Florida in the early 1990's to attend Johnson & Wales University. Growing up in an Italian and Czechoslovakian household, he says food was a way to celebrate many of life's happy and joyous occasions — and cooking was a way to bring everyone together. From there, the decision to become a chef was almost obvious: inspired by family tradition, he found his passion for culinary arts at an early age, making his way from a busboy at a local pizzeria to — most recently — a skilled executive chef for one of South Florida's most successful restaurant groups.
Prior to joining JEY Hospitality Group, Koska worked at various establishments throughout South Florida, including Il Migliore in Aventura and the Hilton Bentley Hotel on South Beach, where he took on the role of chef de cuisine and spearheaded the hotel’s in-room dining services. He also had the opportunity to work at Mark's at Hotel Nash in South Beach, where he met and befriended respected local chef and mentor, Tim Andriola, helping to open Andriola's Timo Restaurant and Bar in Sunny Isles Beach, where he served as sous chef.
We caught up with the busy family man and chef to see what makes him tick.
New Times: What's one of the best kitchen memories you have?
Nicolas Koska: It was an eye opener for me working on South Beach, and having the chance to actually get my hands on great, high-quality ingredients. At the time I was working with Tim Andriola at Mark's Hotel in Mimai Beach, who two years later opened up his own restaurant, Timo, in Sunny Isles Beach. I had the opportunity to help open and design the kitchen for his new concept, all while going to school. It was a great learning experience.
What’s your favorite restaurant in South Florida (besides yours, of course)?
I'd have to say Timo. Tim Andriola, and his restaurant, are at the top of my favorites list.
What’s in store for your spring menu?
For our spring/summer menu we will definitely be incorporating a lot of seasonal herbs, fruits, and vegetables. We like to use the freshest selection of produce, and the best way to do so is by getting creative and highlighting ingredients that are in season.
What’s the weirdest request you’ve ever gotten from a customer?
I once had a customer order a $20 burger at ROK:BRGR for their dog.
What do you cook for yourself when there’s no one to impress?
My favorite dish to make at home is spaghetti bolognese or as my 7-year-old daughter, Mia. She says, "bagettis." It makes my kids happy, which also makes me happy. Every time I make it, it makes me smile. It's a classic dish which means a lot to me.
If you could open your own establishment what would the concept be, and what would you name it?
It would be a coffee bar and deli type concept. I enjoy waking up early, and like to start my morning with a great cup of coffee. I’d like to be able to share that with people by serving awesome breakfast sandwiches and a great cup of coffee.
Name one kitchen utensil you could not live without.
I could not live without my Robot Coupe – it’s a food processor. I just love it, it can do everything, even Hollandaise sauce on the fly.
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What do you think the next big food trend will be in South Florida?
I think for South Florida it’s fusion cuisine, because of how much diversity we have here and people love fusion cuisine.
Advice for up and coming chefs trying to break into the biz?
It's important to keep in mind that you won't land your dream chef job right out of culinary school. It's a competitive industry so you’ll have to start from the bottom and work your way up by working hard. Be patient and if it’s what you truly love – stick to it.
Himmarshee Public House is located at 201 SW 2nd St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-616-5275, or visit publichouseftl.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.