By Nicki Noble Bean
When you think of chefs, you might think of hot-headed egotists, the likes of Hell’s Kitchen. But Executive Chef Steve Sicinski, who recently joined The Nonantum Resort team, is surprisingly soft-spoken and down to earth. He’s been featured in Men’s Health magazine and published his own cookbook, but he says those things don’t matter to him as much as producing approachable cuisine and an enjoyable experience for guests.
I caught up with Chef just one week into the job, while he was prepping Maine lobster tails for a wedding. We sat down in 95 Ocean restaurant to talk about how things are going so far. He’s already immersed in observing all the various aspects of our operation – from banquet events to our fine dining service to pub fare in Heckman’s and Latitudes Poolside to room service. I filled Chef in on our Progressive Dinner series and our ever-popular Fire & Ice festivities, among other special events and resort happenings. Chef said he’s looking forward to getting a feel for all that we do here over the coming months before he makes any changes. (I told him I’ve been here for two years and I’m just now wrapping my head around all that we do here!) Perhaps most importantly, Chef acknowledged that we have a lot of traditions at The Nonantum, and he wants to honor that, while also working to improve our efficiency, quality and offerings.
Sicinski is a New England native, having grown up in Connecticut. He says he grew into his culinary career, first making pizza at a busy college restaurant around age 17. He attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Dover, NH where he had classical French training. He spent seven years on the West Coast at a resort spa in Sedona, Arizona where he was focused on nutrition and being very conscious in selecting his ingredients for the spa cuisine. He then moved back to New England and spent four years working in Vermont at the Topnotch Resort and Spa as well as an independent bistro and brewery. In VT, the food scene centered around local dairy and beef and hearty comfort foods – the other end of the culinary spectrum. Chef said he now looks to create a blend in between. He moved to Maine about a year and a half ago and comes to The Nonantum after a stint at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth.
Given your background, it sounds like local cuisine is very important to you?
“Yes, though I feel like the word ‘local’ is overused. I believe in using and finding the best products, whether they’re farmed or fished. I’ve worked with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute on sourcing sustainable catch and featuring underutilized seafood species on my menus.”
Do you have a signature item or a favorite style of cuisine?
“I’m not going to say I have a signature item yet…stay tuned. As far as cooking styles, I like to integrate flavors from everywhere – from Asian to Italian to traditional coastal fare. You’re never really going to invent anything new in cooking nowadays. But you can focus on doing it well. I find things that I like and they become part of my repertoire. And I like to incorporate new techniques.”
Where would you like to travel?
“I would love to experience southeast Asia – Thailand, Singapore – to experience the food cultures of those areas firsthand.”
What is your favorite food?
“I am pretty happy enjoying some quality sushi and all things that go along with it.”
What do you look forward to bringing to The Nonantum?
“I want to execute dishes that are done well but never pretentious or over-the-top. I don’t think fine dining should be intimidating or riddled with fancy words just for the sake of it. Good food should be approachable and real.”
“People come to the resort to relax and enjoy themselves,” he said while looking out the window at families playing games together on our lawn and sailboats coasting by on the river. “It’s all about creating the experience and meeting guests’ expectations. The Nonantum has a great staff – many whom have been here for years – and I want to work to help teach and grow people so we can get even better.”
Who is your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?
“I am inspired by anyone who has successfully carved out a living or niche in this business. It is brutal and unrelenting, with so many facets and operation styles; certainly not for anyone. The people I work with inspire me to keep pushing forward and try to be positive even in the toughest of situations.”
When you’re not at work in the kitchen, what do you enjoy doing?
“Golfing, skiing, fishing, gardening, fixing up my house, being outdoors. I’m a big sports fan. I love taking my 6-year old son to the beach.”
What do you cook at home?
“My son is a very picky eater and my wife eats pretty simply, so my talents are wasted at home,” he says with a laugh.
Come experience Chef Sicinski’s cuisine in our casually elegant 95 Ocean restaurant, which features Nightly Specials and Live Entertainment Monday-Thursdays. (Reservations: 207-967-4050). You can also enjoy our Pub Menu in Heckman’s, just off our lobby, as well as casual cocktails and local craft beers while relaxing in the rocking chairs on our front porch. Head down to our Latitudes Poolside Bar & Grill for refreshing drinks and casual fare in season. Or just sit in an Adirondack chair down by the river with a cocktail in hand as you watch the boats go by.
For weddings, special events and functions, we’re pleased to offer our banquet menus, including waterfront lobster bakes and classic New England fare.