A Chat with Chef Nicole from DIRT
it's not every day that you can get me to drive from my comfy corner of Coral Gables to Miami Beach - just for lunch. But yesterday I did just that. I had no other reason to be there. I just needed that lavender latte again after first tasting it about a month before.
And it wasn't just the lavender latte that brought me back, I could list you every single thing I tried on my first visit and each one weighed equally on my mind every day around lunch when I couldn't have it again. So I went back. Just for reference, here are the dishes Chef Nicole, a friendly, warm personality who doesn't talk about food like a 'chef' but like a cool friend who's seen everything on the Food Network and then took it to the next level and bought a smoker and a sous vide for her kitchen - that is to say, she can talk about food like a friend. She helped us suss through the menu of delicious and healthy looking dishes to find the perfect order for us. In this case, that means one thing from every section of the menu:
- Avocado Toast
- Goat Cheese and English Pea Toast
- Dirt x Jojo Tea Spring Salad by Tico. The Seasonal Salad was a collaboration with our friends, who also turn out to be Nicole's friends, at Jojo Tea. So we had to have that. It features a matcha vinagrette made with Jojo Tea.
- Dirty Steak + Cheese Sandwich.
- Curried Cauliflower Bowl
- The aforementioned Lavender Latte
- Dragon Fruit Lemonade
That's right baby, these girls don't mess around. We needed a well rounded first taste. I can't pick a favorite, it would be impossible. I can tell you that it was a wonderful eating experience. Each plate beautiful, colorful, layered and tasty. It made me feel like I was in California without having to leave Miami - well, I did leave the mainland and drive back to the beach for my second visit.
Below is a chat with Chef Nicole:
Hi Nicole! First and foremost, tell me who you are and what you do at DIRT?
I'm a wife, and a Mother of two amazing kids. I'm an operating partner and executive chef at DIRT. What I do, well, that's a more complex answer . I do a little bit of everything. I write the menu and test the recipes for all our food, drinks, pastries, and packaged products, I do my fair share of events, I work on our social media and scout new locations with my partners Jeff and Matt, and I have a lot of fun doing all of it!
What I do, well, that's a more complex answer. I do a little bit of everything. I write the menu and test the recipes for all our food, drinks, pastries, and packaged products, I do my fair share of events, I work on our social media and scout new locations with my partners Jeff and Matt, and I have a lot of fun doing all of it!
What were you up to before this, very sweet, gig?
Before I started at DIRT I opened a restaurant called Fooqs in Miami's arts and entertainment district, where I developed a very eclectic menu that reflected both my culinary experience and my international upbringing in a small cozy restaurant in an up and coming neighborhood. Before that I worked with Michelle Bernstein for three years running her cafe Crumb on Parchment in the Design District, while also working with her on all of her events and catering, it was an awesome experience, I learned so much and really got to work with an awesome group of people who became my family.
The food at DIRT is beautiful, it's colorful, fun and artful - with a name like DIRT, that might not be what people expect...
Thank you! When I create each dish I think about it's appeal to the guest on all levels, flavor, texture, and beauty, really staying true to our mission to serve fine food fast. We work very hard to source amazing ingredients, they all have natural beauty, and I feel my job is to make those ingredients really shine. The name DIRT can definitely leave people not knowing what to expect, but to me, it makes all the sense in the world. We serve all natural, clean food that comes from the earth.
How would you sum up the philosophy of DIRT's menu?
DIRT's menu should show people that you don't have to give up anything to eat in a way that is good for you. I want people to know that the definition of "healthy" food doesn't have to mean plain, or boring. At DIRT our dishes are well sourced, inventive, and satisfying. They are influenced by flavors and trends from around the globe. You can get a great salad or bowl, or if it's a steak and cheese sandwich and a brownie that you are craving, you can still get it. The bonus is, at DIRT, you don't have to feel guilty about it because you know where it all came from, and that it has been made responsibly.
You mentioned to me when I was eating there that you bring a "girly" aesthetic to the food. Where do you see that on the menu?
My food does have a "girly" aesthetic, and I love that about it. It has happened organically over the years. As a young chef, I was so concerned about being categorized as a woman chef, that I really tried to hide the feminine side of my cooking and myself. But as I matured and got more comfortable, I realized that being a woman is a huge part of who I am, it's something to be proud of, and I should embrace that in every aspect of my life, including my career. I LOVE flowers, and color. Growing up my Mom always kept a colorful house filled with flowers, and it always made me feel happy and brightened my day. I try to make the guest have that same feeling through my food. Every dish is filled with color in all different forms, whether it be shaved vegetables, pea shoots, flowers or spices.
What's your favorite thing on the menu? Ok, I know that's hard, so you can pick one thing from each section if you'd like.
You're right, that's hard. It's like asking me to pick a favorite child, I can't do it!! Right now a few of my favorites are our Santorini Salad, which is our take on a Greek salad served, it has tomatoes, cucumbers, golden peppers, sprouted chickpeas and lentils, farro, Cerignola olives, and French feta on a base of harissa hummus.
I am also in love with our Spring Plate. It reminds me of a comforting Sunday dinner. Red and Yukon gold potatoes are smashed with garlic and shallot confit, Greek yogurt, olive oil, dill and tarragon, they are served under grilled broccolini that has been tossed with chili flakes, lemon juice, and olive oil, topped off with your choice of protein. My choice would be our marinated beef tenderloin. Steak and potatoes, "the DIRT way".
If you're not in the kitchen at DIRT, where can we find you?
When I'm not at DIRT or working on DIRT projects, you can find me at Orange Theory, I just started working out there and am loving it (I go at 530 am because that is the only time I can find in my day!!) Or hanging out with my husband and my kids at the beach or at home watching Netflix ("Chef's Table" and "Orange is the New Black" are two of my favorite shows).
What's your everyday breakfast?
When I first get to work I dial in the espresso machine, and make myself a cappuccino with whole grass fed milk. Around 10 AM I eat grapefruit and orange with sliced strawberries - I love fruit!
Current cocktail of choice?
The Trapper Keeper from The Anderson (definitely the coolest bar in Miami, and an industry hangout). It's made with Effen Vodka, Jasmine tea infused Mandarine Napoléon, Lemongrass and Club Soda. Under the description it says If you don’t have one you’re a loser. It's super refreshing and delicious.
Do you have any secret Miami spots you can share with us? It can be food, drink, a beautiful tree, anything.
I love Hialeah Park, the race track. It has a feeling of old Miami when it's filled with people, but when it is empty and quiet, it is so serene. It's one of the few places in Miami I can go to find some peace.
Is there anyone on the scene in Miami that you want to share with us? A friend or just someone you think is doing something mega-nice?
I have really fallen in love with a new coffee shop/ cafe called ALL DAY which is in the arts and entertainment district of Miami. The owner/ creator Camilla Ramos is committed to her really serious about coffee and her craft. The place has such an amazing vibe, an impeccably curated coffee selection, and delicious baked goods and food. I also LOVE what Diego Oka is doing at La Mar in The Mandarin Oriental! He does Peruvian food in such an inspired and modern way.... and his videos on
I also LOVE what Diego Oka is doing at La Mar in The Mandarin Oriental! He does Peruvian food in such an inspired and modern way and his videos on Instagram are so awesome!
IT'S A TRILLION DEGREES OUTSIDE