Nikki Boyles-Frias is the third generation of her family to be “called” to the culinary arts. Her life revolves around food, and she couldn’t be happier.
She is currently the Culinary Manager for Sur La Table in Los Gatos, an upscale kitchen store specializing in French cookware and hard-to-find kitchen equipment. She runs the culinary program, conducts private parties, and teaches classes in everything from basic knife skills to Italian and Latin food to baking and classes for kids and teens.
Boyles-Frias was born and raised in San Jose, California, where she graduated from Archbishop Mitty High School.
“My Nana (maternal grandmother) is a wedding cake decorator; my father, Don Boyles, is a chef, and I married a chef (Marc Frias),” Boyles-Frias said. “My parents owned a catering business, DNL Catering, while I was in high school, so essentially I went to the ‘dishwasher academy’ while growing up and helping out with the business.” From accounting and advertising to event planning and cooking, she was immersed in all sides of the family’s business. She knew she would stay in the culinary arts field.
“When I started looking at schools,” she said, “I wanted to attend a two-year program that wouldn’t kill us financially, but would provide me with practical skills in the kitchen.” She took a tour at Diablo Valley College and was hooked. “While on that tour,” she said, “I was attracted to the kitchen on campus, and couldn’t wait to start refining the skills I had learned at DNL. I decided to focus my attention in the baking and pastry arts, trying to follow in the footsteps of my Nana. It wasn’t until halfway through my career that I ended up going to the ‘dark side’ of the kitchen and working with the ‘hot’ side as well.”
Boyles-Frias enrolled at DVC in 1995 into the baking and pastry arts program, which she completed in 1997. She loved it.
“Hands down, it was the influence of the chefs who trained me in that program that helped prepare me for my career,” she said. “The ones who stand out in my mind the most are Chef Linda Sullivan, Chef Chris Draa, Chef Paul Bernhardt, and definitely Bob Eustes.
“To this day I still quote Bob Eustes from his hotel and restaurant management classes. He always told us never to describe anything on the menu as ‘like mom used to make’ because many people don’t have moms who can cook. Chef Paul taught me all my knife skills, and imparted practical knowledge on how to approach food. Chef Linda taught me to approach baking like it was a mathematical equation–‘It’s all about math, science and weather’– and I quote her to this day as well. Chef Chris always made me strive to be a better chef, getting the best results I could from my food and paying attention to all of the fine details. All of these very talented instructors helped to shape the chef I am today.”
Boyles-Frias would absolutely recommend the program to others. “From the practical application of working in the Norseman, to working the bakery in the cafeteria, to the practical applications of the business classes, DVC provides a two-year program that is affordable to aspiring chefs, and rivals the likes of the California Culinary Academy and the Pacific Culinary Institute,” she said. “I am so appreciative of all the knowledge I soaked up while I was there.”
After completing her studies at DVC, Boyles-Frias went to work with her father at DNL Catering as the executive chef and wedding cake designer. She was there for 13 years, until her father sold the business. He then became the general manager for Jesse Cool and helped to run CoolEatz Cafe, bringing his daughter in to execute the large catering events.
Boyles-Frias joined Sur La Table in September of 2006. In addition to managing the cooking class program, she creates recipes, sets the curriculum, and teaches classes in the Los Gatos store.
“I love being an instructor for our culinary location,” she said. “Sur La Table has given me the opportunity to travel to fantastic culinary locations such as Chicago, Seattle, Arizona, and New Orleans. I have also had the opportunity to represent the company on View from the Bay TV segments and in Fresno for their local station. It is a pleasure for me to give back to the profession I love and honor.
“In addition to all of this,” she continued, “I am fortunate enough to work with the very best equipment from the Sur La Table floor, from Shun knives to Le Creuset,” Boyles-Frias said. “Going to work is like going to a culinary ‘Disneyland’ every day and being able to work with the very top-of-the-line equipment.
“I am also very fortunate to be able to cook with my family at the school. My dad and I teach classes such as ‘Seasonal Farmer’s Market Tours’ where we take the entire class to the Los Gatos Farmers Market, shop, and bring all the food back to the kitchen. Then we show the class how to make a healthy meal for the family with sustainable and organic ingredients.
“With my husband (who is also a DVC graduate) I teach classes called ‘Couples Cooking in the Kitchen.’ We have very different approaches to food, and in this class we show how to satisfy both appetites while working as a functioning team in the kitchen.
“I’ve also taught with my Nana for ‘Nana’s Gnocchi Workshop,’ which highlights all of her traditional family recipes.”
Boyles-Frias credits her family for her love of cooking and baking.
“My Nana inspired me to be the best pastry chef and wedding cake decorator I could be, encouraging my vision, creativity and taste. She taught me that food itself can be a masterpiece.”
Instilled with a strong work ethic, her father taught her to take pride in every dish she prepared, and her mother demonstrated how to lead with mutual respect instead of intimidation.
“I try to emulate my family’s kitchen in my classroom: keep it simple, keep it clean, and keep it close to my heart. My passion is to have every single student leave with a fire inside to create, and the skills and confidence to execute dishes with ease in their own kitchens.”