Chefs / Main Line

Badass Female Chefs of Philadelphia: Karen Nicolas

Chef Karen Nicolas

So, my series of blog articles featuring badass female chefs was very well-received last month in honor of Women’s History Month. Since I obviously didn’t get to every badass female chef in Philadelphia, I thought to myself, “Why stop now?” Let’s keep this series going for as long as I can and as I receive more information about lovely lady chefs in our amazing metropolitan area!

Just today, I received a press release about Main & Vine who recently brought Chef Karen Nicolas on board as Director of Culinary of the nearly year-old restaurant that focuses on clean, fresh, approachable cuisine in Villanova, PA.

As of this month, Chef Karen will oversee the direction of the restaurant’s kitchen development and enhance Main & Vine’s health conscience approach in order to further define the restaurant’s Northern California-inspired concept.

Nicolas comes with a very strong pedigree having held top positions in some outstanding restaurants including Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, Aureole in Las Vegas, Equinox in Washington, DC, and Harp & Crown and Tria in Philadelphia as well as Cintron & Rose in Bala Cynwyd.

Throughout her career as an executive chef, Karen has earned both local and national accolades such as Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef in 2012, Best Chefs of America and a nominee for People’s Choice Best Chef Mid- Atlantic. 

Karen holds an Associate of Occupational Studies degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales University of Rhode Island where she graduated Magna Cum Laude and was recognized with a Silver Key Award of Excellence. She further advanced her education at the New School of New York City studying restaurant marketing, branding, bar management and business plan development. 

You’d think that would be enough to qualify her as “badass” in my book. But that’s just the beginning of what makes Karen so incredibly deserving of being recognized.

I reached out to Karen to learn more and what I discovered about her floored me. Certainly, being a chef is often just one aspect of who these people are. I realize their chosen career paths do not wholly define them. These people have personal lives, and other interests, passions, and pursuits, that make them remarkably more fascinating.

You see, Karen has had to deal with some very serious health issues, which took her out of commercial kitchens for a while so she could address and heal from them. She was diagnosed with class 4 lupus nephritis, an inflammatory kidney disease, and had bouts of shingles, pneumonia and sjorgens during the worst phase of it.

Over the past two years, I changed my lifestyle and diet completely. And I dove into practices I used to laugh at like yoga and meditation. I nurtured new friendships with people outside of the business for the first time in many many years.

-Chef Karen Nicolas

She’s now almost completely healed from lupus and has made helping others with their wellness a bit of a personal mission.

She wishes to help and inspire others to have more balance in their work and personal life. She stressed that practicing self care for both mind and body is critical to those working as a chef or in the restaurant business.

This new purpose has led her to become a wellness ambassador for Cooks Who Care with Maria and Scott Campbell. Cooks Who Care is a community-minded food industry group and network for forward-thinking food and beverage leaders with a goal of fostering healthy lifestyles, providing community resources to build career longevity, and creating a positive vision of the food industry as a profession, not just a job.

Cooks Who Care Interview with Karen Nicolas

So, Karen is more than a Philly area based badass chef, she is a health and wellness warrior. Congrats to Chef Karen on her amazing career accomplishments, healing journey, and her new post at Main & Vine. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about her in the future. I encourage you all to check out Main & Vine’s new health-conscious menu developed by Chef Karen.

Are you or know women kicking ass and taking names in Philadelphia area restaurants? Let me know so I can feature them!

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