Worthy Brewing Chef de Pub, Kyle Nicholson, Talks Foraging and Putting his Stamp on the Brewpub Menu
In third grade, Kyle Nicholson wrote in class that, when he grew up, he was going to become either an astronaut, a professional soccer player or a chef. This proclamation was buried in a box of relics and found 25 years later. It turns out, Kyle had pursued none of these paths until after college. After training at Le Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Portland and running his own restaurant, Duck Soup Inn, on the San Juan Island, he continued his wild odyssey that brought him to Worthy Brewing in 2017.
How did you first become interested in cooking?
My parents both cooked from scratch and were pretty adventurous for the ’80s and ’90s. Lots of stir-fries, gazpacho and chile verde. I left home when I was 18 to attend The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and immediately got involved with the Sustainable Agriculture program and its working organic farm. After a couple of years, I made an abrupt turn and focused my attention to the Strategic Business Management program.
After I graduated in 2000, I moved to Portland and fell into Western Culinary there. After many impulsive decisions and paths taken in my life, it all started to make sense and come full circle with the culinary arts being the adhesive tying it all together.
I worked through the ranks of the professional kitchen beginning at the Hotel Monaco in my hometown of Salt Lake City. It was a great experience, and my chef mentor there shaped me as a chef. As an avid skier, I jumped at the opportunity for my first foray into kitchen management as the sous chef at Alta’s Rustler Lodge. Six twelve-hour shifts per week, however, didn’t leave much time for skiing.
What one cuisine could you live on?
My father is a dedicated sailor from New England, and many of our family trips growing up involved the family and a boat south of the border eating local fare. These experiences, coupled with the strong Latino culture in Salt Lake, nurtured my affinity for Mexican and Caribbean flavors.
What motivates you as a chef?
I love the fact that I can continue to learn and grow as a chef. Instagram, Netflix, and printed publications like Art Culinaire keep me pushing my own knowledge and stoke the fire to try new things. I started foraging when I was at Evergreen State College. A friend of mine in the organic chemistry program would take me out hunting chanterelle, lobster and hedgehog mushrooms. When I moved back to Utah, my now wife, Emily, and I would pursue the ‘King’, porcini mushroom.
Being on San Juan Island and having a small farm-to-table restaurant really developed my perspective of what it means to have meaningful relationships with farmers, fishermen, and artisans. The experience heightened my awareness of where our food comes from and the community producing it. Emily and I dove head first into the world of wild edibles and would shift our focus with the seasons from the morels and nettles of the spring, to the Nootka rosehips and blackberries of the fall, and all the kelp, seabeans, and arrowgrass in between. Foraging for wild edibles and meeting new farmers and ranchers has really kept me engaged as a chef.
What farms does Worthy Brewing work with?
We are in the preliminary stages of working with local farmers and building a foundation based in holistic awareness. We currently send our green waste to Boundless Farmstead in Bend to use as compost and provide us with items this summer we can highlight as specials. Greene Bros Beef in Powell Butte gets spent grain from the Brewery, and we purchase beef products from them. Our produce distributor is Charlies Produce in Portland, which sources primarily from the Pacific Northwest and has a story for every farm they work with, many of them located in the fertile Willamette Valley. Our everyday beef is sourced from Oregon Country Natural which is a beef cooperative with high standards here in Central Oregon. In the works is a program that will send post-consumer waste from the plate to a hog farm here in the area. We are also granted the opportunity to have our own raised beds on property where we can grow various herbs and edible flowers for the pub and events.
What personal stamp have you put on the Worthy menu?
We just rolled out our first major changes in May and received a lot of positive response. We are continually elevating and refining the brewpub experience. Serving our burgers on local Sparrow brioche buns lets the quality of the ingredients shine. I refined some of the sauces and garnishes for specialty burgers such as a hatch green chile jam on the Prefunk Burger, and a spicy house BBQ sauce on the Magic Bus Burger. Approachable with undertones of refinement is how I hope our food is received.
The One Flew West Torta is a personal favorite. Pickled mango is topped with carnitas, cabbage, coconut, and a spicy chipotle aioli. Flavors indicative of Caribbean and eastern Mexico travels.
For our take on the classic French nicoise salad and a nod to the health conscience locals, we use day boat albacore tuna caught by the small Tre-Fin operation out of Ilwaco, Washington just across the Columbia River. These are just a few things people will see in the new menu. With such a great team in place, we are making rapid headway toward the vision I share with our owner and founder Roger Worthington.