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Chef Spotlight: Nick Nikolopoulos of BAY RIDGE BAKERY and GLUTEN FREE GLOROUSLY

Chef Spotlight: Nick Nikolopoulos of BAY RIDGE BAKERY and GLUTEN FREE GLOROUSLY

Chef Nick Nikolopoulos of Bay Ridge Bakery in Brooklyn, New York and Gluten Free Gloriously in Stirling, New Jersey is in Broadwayworld.com's "Chef Spotlight."

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Chef Nick was raised in the bakery business that was operated by his parents, both pastry chefs. Nick spent almost all of his childhood in his family bakery, learning the art of pastry, customer service, and how to run a business. Nick learned to be a pastry chef from his dad, John, who gave him the foundation needed to succeed in the Bakery business. After College, Nick attended the French Culinary Institute in NYC where he learned the science of pastry and baking. He graduated with honors as a Pastry Chef and loved his experience at the school. With his dad's secrets, techniques and recipes passed on to him and the knowledge that he gained at FCI, Nick is among the well-respected pastry chefs in NYC.

Nick remembers decorating his first cake at 12 years old for a customer. His finesse and talent for decorating was starting to show in his teenage years and he slowly began gaining the confidence needed to succeed. Nick was developing his own identity in the business. He learned under the old school European baking method where everything is made from scratch using the best ingredients possible. As he grew older and more mature in the business and customer demands changed, Nick took the "old school" methods and added the modern twists that you see him still using to this day. He often travels to conventions across the country and in Europe learning new techniques and sharing ideas. "The pastry arts are always evolving and you must be open-minded to change, so that you can be at the forefront of your trade," he says.

In the summer of 2016, Nick added another bakery to his enterprise, a dedicated gluten-free and diary- free bakery located in Stirling, NJ. Gluten Free Gloriously is a venture that Nick cares about very deeply. After learning that his nephew was extremely sensitive to gluten, he became genuinely interested in servicing the gluten and dairy free communities, offering healthy and delicious options to those who wanted and needed great bakery options.

Today, Nick is happily married with three young boys and also lives in Brooklyn. He is following his parents footsteps and strongly believes that every product that he makes has to look great and taste amazing. "You cannot sacrifice quality for looks!", he is known to tell people. "To succeed in this business, you must be a pastry chef and an artist" Nick says. He takes pride in making all the custom cakes himself and is seen in the kitchen overseeing his employees. When it comes to his custom work, he sits with his clients and designs their dream cake. He loves putting a smile on people's face through his cakes and pastries. He instructs his employees that everyone that walks through his doors must get treated to something sweet.

We interviewed Chef Nick about his career and his bakeshops, Bay Ridge Bakery and Gluten Free Gloriously.

When did you first know you were destined to be a pastry chef?

I grew up in the business, but always wanted to be a cardiothoracic trauma surgeon. I studied forensic osteology in school and was a NYC Paramedic for many years while working in my family business as a pastry chef. While doing all this, I found time to go to the French Culinary Institute (now International Culinary Center) and graduated the top of my class in pastry arts. I fell in love with pastry arts over time but it was not my childhood dream; I think that's because I spent so much time in the bakery as a child.

What are some of the advantages of working in a family business?

Some advantages are that there is a built-in support system. You can cover for each other and take time off when you need it. On the other hand, one disadvantage we face is getting the older generation to change their conventional ways with the changing times. However, working with my strict old-school Greek father since I was a child developed discipline and thick skin, which are two things needed to succeed in any business environment.

What advice do you have for young people hoping to be successful in the food industry?

My advice is the same I give to my kids. Put the electronics away and focus on your surroundings, focus on how to make an impact in the world. If the food industry is what will make you happy, be ready for long hours, working on holidays, and learning the dance of the kitchen. You should not get in your own way and you should walk or run with purpose. You have to be able to do ten things at once and do them all well. Always strive to be the best at what you do and be ready to start at the bottom and work your way up. That will make you better at leading a group when you have been in their shoes. There are also many types of food industry jobs besides the kitchen.

What are some of the challenges of your career?

The biggest challenge in the food industry today is finding good loyal employees that are willing to grow the business with you. The food business should never be a job, it should be treated as a career and there have been many successful people in the industry that started from the bottom and did well for themselves. Putting a smile on a customer's face should always be a proud moment for any food professional. Another challenge is that many people look only at price and forget about quality. In my business it is a fine line that I have to dance around between giving a high quality product and giving it at a good price.

What are some of your favorite pastries/confections?

I love our NY Cheesecake, French cheesecake and German chocolate cake. These have been top sellers in our bakery for many years and I am now modifying the recipes so we could offer them as an option for our gluten-free customers at Gluten Free Gloriously.

Tell us how your NJ customers have liked Gluten Free Glorious.

Coming from the city, it has been a bit of culture shock to me. People seem to be less stressed in NJ - maybe because there is plenty of parking! The customers have been very receptive to me and have accepted me into their homes via my cakes and pastries. I have brought my two passions together (medicine and pastry arts) through my gluten-free products, and it thrills me to see people enjoy the desserts that they haven't had in years. I have met people that have been affected by gluten in so many ways -- from Celiac disease to gluten intolerance, to high allergies and the "diet". Our customers thank us everyday for making high quality gluten-free desserts that their guests don't even know are gluten-free. We are also a certified gluten-free bakery and that puts our customers' minds at ease when they shop in our bakery.

For the future?

We just launched our new website and are working on the final touches of our online catalog. My goals are to offer nationwide shipping and to become the #1 Gluten-Free Bakery destination in the tristate area. I want my products to taste so good that they will be the hit of any occasion!

For more information on Gluten Free Gloriously in Stirling, New Jersey, call 908.647.7337 and visit http://www.glutenfreegloriously.com/.

For more information about Bay Ridge Bakery, call 718.238.0014 and visit http://www.bayridgebakery.com/.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chef Nick Nikolopoulos

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