Nicole Bayani believes in a simple food philosophy– excellence in the kitchen is achieved through refined cooking techniques, utilizing seasonal ingredients. “It’s also very important that I cook dishes that are an extension of me,” says Bayani. “As I continue to have new life experiences, I gain more inspiration for my dishes.” She extends her “learning-by-experience” philosophy to the team she leads. “Having worked among and trained under some notable chefs, I’ve discovered that I’m motivated by working with ambitious people, people that want to educate themselves on a daily basis.”
In her role as the executive chef of Chicago’s Presidio, an intimate craft cocktail lounge and restaurant in the city’s Wicker Park neighborhood, Bayani draws inspiration from the restaurant’s culinary ethos: a commitment to creating seasonally-driven dishes that are vibrant, flavorful and rich in both presentation and execution.
A San Diego native, Bayani she knew from an early age that she wanted to be a chef citing her grandfather and mother as sources of inspiration. She grew up skimming pages of her mother’s extensive collection of cookbooks and visiting her local farmer's market reveling in the beauty and aroma of fresh produce and ingredients. During these visits, Bayani developed an appreciation for farmers and locally sourced food. “I knew from a young age that cooking in something I wanted to do. Working a normal 9-5 job drained me more than working 10-16 hours in a kitchen.”
After graduating from Antioch College in 2008, she jumped headfirst into the culinary world. With no formal training, Bayani proactively set out to learn as much as she could by training in kitchens and studying technique on the job. Following stints as kitchen manager and line cook at Chicago restaurants like La Sardine and Dusek’s Beer and Board, Bayani was hired as a sous chef at Yusho in the city’s Logan Square neighborhood. As part of the opening team, she helped the restaurant gain national acclaim, including a Bib Gourmand award from the Michelin Guide. Prior to joining the team at Presidio, Bayani worked at the acclaimed Tru Restaurant, and served as the Chef de Cuisine at Scofflaw.
In the kitchen, Bayani is driven by a desire to innovate and evolve. “I’ve always been incredibly self-motivated and feel I bring unique perspective to culinary world,” she says. “My life experience is different from most chefs – I’m young, a woman of color and largely self-taught. Throughout my career, I’ve sought out opportunities that I can learn from and channel my experiences into my menu and dishes.”
In her spare time, Bayani loves dancing, listening to Rockabilly, 40s Jump Blues and R&B. She spends her time dining out and investing her time and energy into furthering her culinary education by exploring other restaurants in Chicago. Bayani lives in Avondale with her American Bull Terrier, Mary Lou, who she describes as the best girl ever.