Nick Dostal was appointed executive chef of Sixteen in January 2017 after two years serving as chef de cuisine at the two Michelin-starred restaurant, working in lockstep with his predecessor and longtime friend and mentor, Thomas Lents. Chef Dostal oversees all culinary endeavors at Sixteen. With a contemporary approach to American cuisine, he aims to inspire the staff to continually evolve, both in culinary and beverage programs. Under his direction at Sixteen, guests are treated to a menu incorporating modern cooking techniques balanced with a respect for simple, classic techniques that honor the ingredients and those who source them. “I deeply believe that true, successful and honest hospitality is rooted in putting love into everything you do,” said Chef Dostal. “Appreciating the ‘lesser cuts’ for what they can be when love is applied is a cornerstone of my culinary philosophy. I find a lot more joy and satisfaction in showcasing how good the ‘stems and shanks’ can be with a little bit of love.”
How did you get into the industry?
I developed a love for cooking and hospitality at a young age. We would have friends over for small dinner parties and I started doing the cooking with my family. Eventually this evolved into pursuing a career in restaurants, where I started washing dishes and taking out the trash at a local restaurant.
Any emerging industry trends?
Approachable fine dining. As always, people want to celebrate special occasions by having a nice meal, and now they’re looking to have that same, extraordinary experience while having fun in a non-stuffy environment.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
One key restaurant industry challenge is that there’s a global cook, staffing shortage with an increased demand of short order cooks. People are looking for their food to come faster and easier every day with an increased involvement of technology. The human element of foodservice is decreasing and that presents a staffing challenge across all levels of the industry.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
My vision for Sixteen is to set and maintain the standards for the new fine dining atmosphere and bringing the ingredients closer to the diner.
(Foie Gras Ganache with Rhubarb)
What's next for the Business in the near future?
Our next evolution for Sixteen’s fine dining experience is creating exciting new private dining options. Sixteen recently expanded seating to outside tables in our new garden on the terrace overlooking Chicago’s skyline and river.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
One successful initiative we’ve seen is our social media outreach on behalf of Sixteen, including dinners for social media influencers who show their thousands of followers an up-close look of what it is we do in a fun, interactive way. In additional to social media dinners and on the theme of being social, collaboration dinners with other chefs, restaurants and fundraisers have proven successful in furthering exposure for Sixteen. Getting social, whether on social media or in-person, goes a long way in this industry.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
One of the challenges at the moment for Sixteen is that the economy and politics can affect any business that targets higher income households, including fine dining. You can only control certain things in your life and business, what matters most is your ability to adapt in the current climate. Adaptability and understanding there are only so many things you can control is essential to wading through the changing business landscapes.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Guests who dine at Sixteen can expect an unforgettable, one of a kind meal and overall experience. We provide moments of surprise, wonder, knowledge and sustenance. The Chefs/Sommelier/Managers have a multitude of experience in hospitality and service expertise.
How do you motivate others?
The best way I’ve found to motivate others is to empower my staff. Whether it’s giving my sous-chef ownership over a dish or two on the final menu or giving a prep cook a chance to explore different roles. Giving staff room to learn and feel ownership of a project is the best motivation.
Career advice to those in your industry?
My best career advice for anyone wanting to get into the restaurant or truly any industry, whether a chef or restaurant owner, is to truly work your way up, no shortcuts. I advise to start from the very bottom and learn every job along the journey. Never lose sight of the fact that a restaurant is only as good as the sum of its parts.
Another piece of advice to heed throughout the course of a career is that when given an option to take a risk: take the risk.
(Hamachi with Radish and Fennel)