The Hound Executive Chef Robbie Nicolaisen imagines a restaurant, right in the heart of Auburn, where the menu is a tango between Asian cuisine and Southern soul. He formulated this concept for a “new-school” take on Asian style noodles and is calling it Chubby Belly Noodle Shop.
“I’ve always been infatuated with Asian-style cuisines across the board,” Nicolaisen reminisced. “Whether it’s Chinese, Thai, Japanese, so on and so forth. As matter of fact, if I wasn’t doing [Southern fusion], I’d be doing that style.”
Nicolaisen has been surrounded by the culinary arts nearly his entire life. Every job he has held, since the age of 14, has been in the restaurant industry. Still, it was not until his early 20s that Nicolaisen realized he was meant to be in culinary arts.
Nicolaisen attended Johnson and Wales College of Food Innovation and Technology in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been the executive chef at The Hound for over three years now and continues to explore the bounds of culinary style through concepts such as the vision of Chubby Belly Noodle Shop.
“I guess my style would be taking classics and kind of reinventing them and putting new trends and techniques on them,” Nicolaisen explained. “That’s true even with The Hound’s menu, you know. It’s recognizable, but it’s definitely updated versions [of] everything.”
Culinary art is a vast and a continually shifting field, Nicolaisen said. Even with his experience, he still sees himself as a learner.
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“My dad always said to me, the more you learn, the less you know,” Nicolaisen expounded. “I guess the meaning behind that is, once I’ve learned something about a new ingredient or a new technique or trend, it opens up so many more opportunities to be able to work with that. You can never learn enough.”
What once was a vision in the mind of Nicolaisen now has a name and a menu. Chubby Belly Noodle Shop has come to life in the form of pop-ups in the Auburn-Opelika area as well as kitchen takeovers at The Hound. On Oct. 14, The Chubby Belly Noodle Shop “kitchen takeover” transformed the atmosphere and menu of The Hound to reflect Nicolaisen and his passion for Asian cuisine and Southern fusion.
“The music for the dining room is like old-school hip-hop, another thing that I love, so I’m piecing together things,” Nicolaisen explained. “They kind of represent myself in a way through the menu, through the branding and the concept. When it comes to the food itself, ramen, for instance, we have ‘old school’ and ‘new school.’ On the ‘old school,’ we have some of the classics, Katsu and Shoyu ramen. Then, more on the new side, our ‘new school.’ We have a roasted tomato ramen, and at the last ‘kitchen takeover,’ I did the shrimp and grits ramen.”
Nicolaisen uses his passion and creativity in the realm of culinary arts to cultivate signature dishes such as shrimp and grits ramen or roasted tomato ramen. Ingredients within these dishes were once foreign to classic ramen dishes, but are now utilized to create “new-school” ramen, as Nicolaisen calls these dishes. Culinary moves of this sort reflect a personal touch of the chef, acting as Nicolaisen’s signature.
“So, part of the reason I like to do these things is not only to serve good food but to kind of educate people as well,” Nicolaisen described. “[It shows] that it doesn’t have to be this one way. It can be, you know, interpreted many different ways. I mean, there are a lot of people doing ramen, but are they doing it the way I do it?”
Through signature dishes and restaurant atmosphere, Nicolaisen strives to create an experience for attendees that is unique and unmatched. Every aspect of Nicolaisen’s Chubby Belly Noodle Shop is meant to emulate the rich, cultural experiences found in the concept’s Asian roots and Southern chef.
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