Nicolai's culinary journey began rather unexpectedly. While studying engineering at Sacramento State, Nicolai realized his true aspiration was to become a chef.
This realization led him to Boston's No 9 Park, where he apprenticed under his first mentor, Barbara Lynch. He credits Barbara for not only giving him a strong foundation, but for encouraging him to hone his skills abroad. In love with Barbara's pasta, Nicolai would later move to Piedmont, Italy before spending several more years in Spain. There he cooked under renowned chefs Juan Mari Arzak and Joan Roca, but also amongst grandmas, families, charcutiers, learning traditional cooking methods from charcuterie to paella. At Fundacion Alicia Nicolai cooked with scientists and worked alongside nutritionist under the direction of Ferran Adria and Pere Castells. Spain deeply influenced him and to this day is Nicolai's second home.
In California, Nicolai worked under David Bazirgan at The Fifth Floor. Afterwards he moved to Australia to run a tasting menu only restaurant, Sage. He then returned to California to take the helm at The Battery, a private social club in San Francisco.
Most recently, Nicolai launched Niche Events and is focusing on opening a series of small neighborhood restaurants around the Sacramento Area.