Every chef has a story about what got them into the kitchen. For Nick Sherman, head chef at Basalt in Napa, it was in the form of extra credit. While in sixth grade, he was aiming for all A grades and he found a way to achieve this by taking advantage of the cooking program. The extra credit exercise involved baking and basic cooking, which he had done alongside his grandma baking biscotti and pizza.
Fast-forward a couple years later. While attending Cabrillo Community College and playing on the golf team, he got a job as a busser at the local Holland’s House. It wasn’t long until he realized the kitchen is where he wanted to be. He remembers the head chef was hands-on and very involved, which sparked his interest. He later got a prep position at Michael’s on Main Restaurant, a small eatery in downtown Santa Cruz.
The Santa Cruz native chef moved to Napa when he was 20 years old to attend the Napa Valley Cooking School. During his internship at the school, he found himself at the recently opened Redd Restaurant in Yountville. He worked under Chef Richard Reddington and Chef Armando Navarro for a year; he said he found great tutelage and insight into the business in this important step in his career. After Redd, Nick went to work with chef Todd Humphrey at the Martini House Restaurant in Saint Helena.
Later, he followed Chef Armando to Larkspur Restaurant in Vail, Colorado where he worked his way up to sous chef. Sherman spent three years there, which he describes as a great time all around, working hard during high season, snowboarding in the wintertime and fishing the rest of the year.
“It was important to have that time and perspective in life,” he said. He came back to California with Chef Armando and joined the team at El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma where he held an executive position. He later joined the St. Francis team in Sonoma as sous chef. After his tenure at the St. Francis he went to Farm Restaurant at the Carneros Inn, starting as sous chef and becoming the chef de cuisine where he worked with the seasonal bounty and explored the benefit of having the gardens available.
Well over a year ago, he was offered the executive chef position at Basalt, where he has brought a different perspective and lively approach to the menu.
He has gradually changed the perspective of Basalt’s menu, which he describes as “eclectic” and seasonal with influence from Italian, French, Japanese and Mexican cuisines. He is particularly keen of his pork belly served with yellowtail sashimi, Maine lobster risotto served with preserved lemon and leek oil, and the braised beef short rib with broccolini and twice cooked potato and bacon marmalade.
Inspiration for Sherman’s cooking has come in many forms. He vividly remembers his grandma’s Italian dishes like focaccia bread, cioppino, veal scallopini and biscotti. A standout dish on his menu is poke. He smiles as he thinks about visiting his brother who lives in in North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii.
“I can eat poke all day and enjoy the sunshine” he said.
Aside from his grandmother, he finds Reddington and Armando, currently at El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma, to be his greatest influences.
Growing up, Sherman played several sports including golf, baseball and soccer. He also has taken on skateboarding and surfing. During his spare time, Sherman can be found in the green. Golf is a sport he has cherished since his youth and he even finds time to instruct others. Fishing is deep in his DNA and in a lot of ways ties into his craft. Also, he is a big mushroom foraging aficionado.
Some of his favorite eateries include Glen Ellen Star in Sonoma, sushi at Morimoto in Napa, El Dorado Kitchen and Rich Table in San Francisco. He enjoys a well-made Old Fashioned made with Templeton Rye. And although he admits he is not a big wine connoisseur, he enjoys Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. He also has a growing love for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Constantly reinventing the menu to capture the attention of diners, he is currently working on new ways to expand the lunch menu. His challenge is to offer a healthy and quick option for the many businesses that occupy the downtown area. He is entertaining the idea of playful sandwiches that are packed and ready to go at a convenient price. The happy hour menu is another outlet for his creativity offering small bites that has proven successful.
Basalt, at the corner of Main and Third in Napa, has a vast and welcoming space. Jonathan Wendorf, formerly of Quince and Cotogna, and TORC, is general manager. The cocktail program in the hands of well-seasoned Craig Rekdahl shows a full range of styles. The wine selections are managed by industry veteran Parvati Ananda, who incorporates international wines like Mad Furmint from Hungary into the Napa-centric list that highlights producers like Judd’s Hill and Hill Family Vineyards.
Basalt opens for dinner at 5 p.m. nightly, and offers the happy hour menu until 6:30 p.m. Brunch, is offered on weekends from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Their most popular brunch items include the shrimp and grits with Spanish chorizo and the short rib hash served with spring onions, bell peppers and hollandaise; great with Craig’s Bloody Mary.