Since it was first established in 1979, more than 150 of the world’s leading chefs have been honored in JWU’s Distinguished Visiting Chef program. Three times a year, chefs such as JWU alum Emeril Lagasse, Jacques Pepin, Chef K Paul Prudhomme and Providence innovators Johanne Killeen and George Germon have come to JWU to share their experiences, tips and techniques with the next generation of culinary leaders.
Besides a commitment to perfecting their culinary skills, all these chefs have another thing in common: they have all shared the demonstration kitchen with one man, Chef Stanley Nicas.
A quiet, unassuming man with a gentle nature, Chef Nicas is the epitome of what all chefs strive to be: hard-working, patient, and committed to his craft. Chef Nicas also brings to his work a love of life and the ability to always keep a smile on his face.
Born in Massachusetts of a Greek family, in 1924 his family moved to Albania to take care of an ailing grandmother. He soon found his passion for food and work as an apprentice in Switzerland and France. When the Italians invaded Albania in 1939, the 15-year-old fled the country and returned to the United States. He found his first job working with Pierre Franey in the French Pavilion at the World’s Fair in Brooklyn.
But eventually the Second World War caught up with him and soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor he joined the U.S. Navy. He served not as a cook, but as a gunner and was serving as a gunner aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill during the battle of Okinawa in May of 1945 when it was struck by two Japanese kamikaze aircraft.
After the war Chef Nicas returned to the U.S. and worked at the Hotel St. Moritz in New York before taking a job as Pastry Chef at the Hotel Tremont Plaza in Boston. He soon settled in Leicester and in 1950 he and his wife started a little pizzeria that eventually became the widely acclaimed Castle Restaurant, which he and his family have operated ever since.
Trained in the classical French culinary traditions, Chef Nicas has done more than just run one of Worcester County's most popular eateries. He has taught and lectured widely and is known and respected as one of the most generous and talented mentor chefs in Central New England. "I wanted to be a schoolteacher," he once said, but, "My father wanted me to be a chef. He was a chef and his father was a chef."
"There are few teachers left like him," said Shari Alexander of the Red Maple Inn in Spencer, Mass. "Stanley has the keys to traditional French cuisine," she added. And that makes him invaluable. More than 250 chefs have served apprenticeships at the Castle Restaurant since it first opened.
In 1982 Chef Nicas was named one of the first JWU Distinguished Visiting Chefs. He quickly saw the importance of the program and started returning year after year to assist each new DVC demonstrate and explain what it takes to be a chef to hundreds of students. "He is not only talented in his own right," said Bill Brady of Sonoma Restaurant in Princeton, Mass., "Stanley basically trains the trainers."
Although he is today the Chairman of the DVC program and National President of the Les Amis d'Escoffier Society, the 86-year-old Chef Nicas still works quietly, patiently, on the sidelines, helping to make each DVC feel at home, secure, and comfortable in an amphitheater full of JWU students.
For more information about the Distinguished Visiting Chef Program, please contact the College of Culinary Arts.