“My mom would come in and be like, ‘What are you doing? You’ve got pots and pans and whisks and everything all over the kitchen,’” he said. “I was just always in the kitchen creating stuff.”
Now at age 25, Rippey is encouraged to do much the same in his job as chef at Nico Heirloom Kitchen, the upscale Italian eatery on the Heritage District’s Restaurant Row.
Owner Brad Kircher has Rippey in the kitchen whipping up new creations that vie for a menu spot.
“It doesn’t have to be Italian, so long as it tastes good and we stick to our roots,” Kircher said. “Ultimately, it’s fresh ingredients and trying to always do better, always make additions to make it a little bit better and put some flavors together that maybe you don’t think should go together.”
Kircher’s background was in corporate restaurants with Brinker International, which operates Chili’s Grill & Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurants. He said that gave him an education in processes and maintaining consistency.
He and his wife, Melody, opened Nico in 2016.
“We just try to bring good food to downtown Gilbert,” he said. “Over a four-year period, we’ve started to hit our stride. More people know about it. More people are starting to understand what we do.”
The menu changes constantly as Rippey’s creations are added and others are taken away. Kircher wants the menu to stay small so the restaurant can execute its dishes perfectly each time.
Some customers can be disappointed to find a favorite dish gone, but other regulars look forward to trying what is new, Kircher said.
“I want to create a kitchen environment where it’s not just you come in and you’re doing the same thing over and over again,” Rippey said. “It’s constantly changing. It’s not a muscle-memory job. I want the creative juices in your mind flowing.”
Nico Heirloom Kitchen
366 N. Gilbert Road, Gilbert
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.,
Sat. 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.-9 p.m.