Nikki Dinki first turned heads on a national basis as a contestant on the ninth season of the Food Network series Food Network Star. Prior to landing on Food Network Star in 2013, Nikki built up a following in our area, regularly appearing on WBAI-FM and posting cooking videos on YouTube. Her popularity from Food Network Star led to Nikki being offered her own show on The Cooking Channel, Junk Food Flip. Last year, Nikki also became a published author with the release of Meat On The Side: Delicious Vegetable-Focused Recipes For Every Day via St. Martin’s Press.
Downtown had the pleasure of conducting Q&A with Nikki about Meat On The Side and what else she has coming up. She, husband Evan and daughter Ivy are proud Manhattan residents with a taste for gardening; a video of their garden can be found below. More on Nikki can be found at www.nikkidinkicooking.com, while Nikki herself is known to be very active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.
You’re originally from Buffalo. What brought you downstate to New York City?
Nikki Dinki: I always knew I wanted to move to New York City, I used to visit as a kid and fell in love early on. At 18, I moved to Manhattan to pursue a career as an actor.
After moving to this city, did you always live in Manhattan?
ND: I have had eight different apartments throughout my 15 years in New York City. Most of them were in Manhattan, two in Queens.
How did you first wind up on WBAI?
ND: I responded to an ad looking for hosts for a new radio show. Though I had little experience at the time, my producer took a chance on me and let me wield the mic every Tuesday.
Where did the idea for a cookbook come from? Were these recipes you had always had written down?
ND: I had always wanted to do a book ever since I started cooking professionally, and the term Meat On The Side really just described the way I cooked and ate. What I realized after talking to people about my concept of Meat On The Side was that it spoke to so many people as it is the perfect way for people to get healthier, lose weight, best for our environment and your pocket book. Once I realized how many people wanted a book like this, I worked harder to make it happen. Most of the recipes were written specifically for the book as I wanted the recipes to be new recipes that had not been published on my site or anywhere else.
My fiancée has made the cheesy spaghetti squash recipe twice so far. Is there a recipe in your cookbook that you have made the most?
ND: Probably my Eggplant Meatballs or the Red Cabbage and Raspberry Grilled Cheese. The meatballs are great to have in the freezer and pull out whenever I want to add a little something extra to a dish, and the grilled cheese is so simple yet special — it’s the perfect go-to lunch or dinner.
Your cookbook discusses your evolution from “Picky Nikki” to chef. Are there any foods you still avoid?
ND: I hate olives. We are simply not friends. We just don’t get along. As far as veggies, I love them all now, though carrots are a more recent addition to the “love” list. By preparing them the right way and slowly incorporating them more and more into my meal, I have learned to love them. What I love about the book is that it can get anyone to enjoy any vegetable, even ones that they think they hate.
What are you working on currently? Are there plans for a second cookbook?
ND: I have been writing a second book. More details to come soon, but let’s just say it takes my concept of Meat On The Side to a whole new level, and I think it’s some of my best work to date.
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
ND: I have an eight-month old, so she takes up most of my free time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I do have an extra minute you’ll find me doing yoga or tending to my terrace garden where I grow more than 60 plants every summer.
As a professional chef, how often are you in the kitchen when it comes to time at home? In other words, I can’t imagine that a famous singer often heads to a karaoke bar when they are not on-tour…
ND: I love to cook, but I love it most with a glass of wine in my hand, surrounded by friends and all the time in the world. But that doesn’t always happen — there are plenty of nights where 8:00 PM rolls around and I’d rather be watching The Bachelor than cooking in my still-messy-from-yesterday kitchen, so ordering from Seamless definitely happens. You’ll still find me in the kitchen most nights and when I’m recipe testing during the day we always have plenty of leftovers for dinner that night.
Do you have a go-to restaurant when it comes to just going out and enjoying a meal with your family?
ND: There is a local Italian place, Trattoria Belvedere, that we love. They are so accommodating — which is great with a baby — the food is terrific and it’s warm and cozy. Let’s just say we are regulars.
Do you have tickets to any upcoming concerts or events?
ND: I’ll be doing some cooking classes in the late winter here in New York City, you can follow me via @nikkidinkicooking on Instagram or Facebook for more updates.
Finally, Nikki, any last words for the kids?
ND: Never quit your daydream.