One of Us: Nick Elmi
The Top Chef winner, 37, has one of the hardest tables to get in Philly (Laurel) and is behind the eagerly anticipated Royal Boucherie in Old City. He tells us what he and his wife argue about and why you should never, ever put foie gras or pickled chanterelles on his burger.
My full name is … Nicholas George Elmi. My great-grandfather’s name was Interguglielmo. When he came from Sicily, they shortened it.
I was born in … Methuen, Massachusetts.
My first restaurant job was … as a busboy, when I was 14. I was terrible. So they threw me in the dish tank instead. A couple of months go by, and some guy didn’t show up for work, and they said, Okay, you’re making pizzas now.
I came to Philly … in 2000. Followed my brother here. I crashed on his couch and started working at Brasserie Perrier.
These days, I live in … Collingswood. We love it. Great schools.
Georges Perrier … and I are total opposites, which is why we work well together. He is screaming and yelling, and I’m basically the opposite.
My Top Chef experience was … interesting. It was fun to be competitive like that, but I don’t think I understood the full breadth of what it would entail.
If you want a table at Laurel … you need to be ready right away, or plan 60 to 90 days in advance. Things happen. Babysitters flake. People get sick.
Stick a knife in my hand, and I’ll happily butcher … a pig or a lamb. Rabbits are fun, too.
The last real vacation I took was … Jamaica, five years ago. This is one of the very few arguments I have with my wife. We never take real vacations.
One game you will not beat me at is … Uno. I’m a killer at Uno.
My biggest food aversion is … green pepper. I’m open to anything and everything, but when I go to the Home Depot in South Philly and get a sausage sandwich with onions and peppers, I take the peppers out.
If you’re buying me a bottle of booze … make it an interesting tequila.
If you want to open a restaurant in Philadelphia, you should be aware that … you are going to get taxed every which way, coming and going.
One Philly restaurant I’m negligent for not going to is … Marigold. I have no excuse.
My kids are always asking me to make them … sushi. Well, my seven-year-old daughter enjoys sushi. My five-year-old son is pizza and mac-and-cheese. It’s heartbreaking.
If you want to come work for me, you’ve gotta be … Nice. We can train anybody, but if you’re not inherently nice, it’s not going to work.
My secret junk food obsession is … anything gummy. Gummy worms. Swedish Fish. My little vice.
One restaurant trend that needs to die is … fancy burgers. A simple burger is great. But a burger with pork belly and fried onions and pickled chanterelle and foie gras? Gimme a break.
If you come to Royal Boucherie, you should expect … classic French brasserie food and a tremendous amount of charcuterie and shellfish, done right. Boisterous and vibrant, but also very relaxed.
The most expensive thing on the menu is … the kombu-cured gigantic rib eye. In the $90 range.
To stay in shape … I do Muay Thai and TRX.
One thing I wish I could change about this business is … the margins. I don’t think people realize how slim they are. I wish I was selling tires. Tires don’t go bad.
Published as “One of Us” in the November issue of Philadelphia magazine.