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.
Persistence got him into the restaurant where Nicolai 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.
Nicolai was promoted after a year of working at No 9 Park to opening sous chef at B&G Oysters. After a year he returned to No 9 Park as tournant and then moved abroad.
Barbara Lynch shaped his formative years and set him on his path, full of desire. The soul that she placed in her food has since been the most important ingredient in any dish.