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Sprinkle of Passion

By Katie Sloan
In Bayou Icon
Jul 31st, 2017

Chef Pat Nolan has a zest for life and a passion for food. For nearly 20 years, she has delighted guests with her premium cuisine.

Some people simply think of cooking as the blending of ingredients to form a final product. It’s easy, it’s necessary, and it does not go beyond filling a basic human requirement. There is no connection with the components, the flour or the vanilla or the beef; they are as stark as their names. However, there are many other people who see cooking as an art form, as expression, as a passionate endeavor used to bond people who may not otherwise share last names or bring those who do even closer. There are people who relish the tastes, the aromas and the spectrum of colors. They embrace the coolness of dough in their hands, the grittiness of sea salt and the steamy heat of cookies just from the oven. They enjoy these aspects, because without them there would be no children sneaking a treat, no drinking wine while waiting for the brisket to finish, no laughter among friends, family and new acquaintances at the dinner table. And what fun would life be without those moments?

Chef Pat Nolan certainly fits into the latter group. For nearly 20 years, Chef Nolan has delighted those fortunate enough to consume her premium cuisine. Although not a Monroe or even Louisiana native, she embraces the eclectic flavors and tastes of the region, often blending familiar Southern tones with others from around the world. Fortunately for residents of the Twin Cities, Chef Nolan continues to work hard to prepare wonderful dishes, a work that brings her as much delight as those who come back time and again.

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, in upper South America, before her family moved to Canada, Nolan spent her entire youth and early adulthood north of the U.S. border. Growing up in Kitchener, Ontario, as well as Toronto, the future chef was introduced to a sundry mixture of cultural influences. Kitchener in particular is a city that seemingly thrives on its diversity, and it often celebrates the differences of its inhabitants, oftentimes through food. The best example of this may occur during Kultrun. Every year, Kitchener residents, along with thousands of global visitors, partake in the festival highlighted by music and cuisine from around the world. Nolan even mentioned visiting Kultrun, stating that she remembered entire streets being essentially shut down by the enormous number of crowds enjoying the weeklong party. Growing up in an environment like this, it is easy to realize why Nolan began to gravitate towards the culinary arts.

After attending the University of Toronto, Chef Nolan enrolled at George Brown College, where she focused on culinary management. While the college certainly teaches students how to master cooking skills, other programs deal with management of restaurants in every facet. Chef Nolan admits that while she felt that she could and can cook, she never truly foresaw that she would be doing so. Instead, she believed that management was her future, so she prepared thusly. Upon leaving the college, she embarked on a career in Canada and abroad that saw her undertaking a multitude of restaurant tasks, although actual food preparation was not one of them. In the late 1990s, Chef Nolan got married to a man from Monroe, and shortly thereafter, she relocated her talents to Louisiana.

In 1998, Chef Nolan was given the chance to work at the Garden District Café. Though a number of restaurants could be found in historic and downtown Monroe, few if any offered a “white tablecloth” environment, or in other words, not many gave patrons the opportunity to enjoy a true fine dining experience. Chef Nolan sought to change that, so she seized the chance. From her numerous years of experience at larger venues, Nolan was able to create an ambiance that was perfect for visitors, some of whom made their way to her dining room from thousands of miles and even an ocean or two away.

After spending several years at the Garden District Café, Nolan was asked to oversee the West Monroe Convention Center, an enormous facility dedicated to large scale banquets and events. Knowing the daunting task that lay ahead of her, Chef Nolan decided that she would face the challenge. She accepted the position and provided the city of West Monroe with wonderful Convention Center leadership for 13 years. Her first night, though, brought great anxiety; with a large gathering set to arrive, she faced a troubling dilemma: the chef did not show. Rather than wave a white flag, Chef Nolan rolled up her sleeves and acted accordingly, preparing ribeyes for over 400 guests. She, for the first time, commenced cooking exquisite food on a grand scale and in an innovative fashion. That night, a success for all involved, proved to Chef Nolan that she could be something special as a chef. Overseeing weddings, reunions and business gatherings, Nolan made certain that guests received the best quality treatment. Eventually, though, the desire to run her own restaurant and catering business became a premier goal, so Chef Nolan made her way back to the Garden District Café, her original home in Monroe and one wherein she takes a great deal of pride in reintroducing the unique blends of flavors and foods that made her a favorite of locals and visitors alike.

Chef Nolan offers potential patrons with many possibilities. While she has begun gaining much local fame for her catering, her in-house festivities are second-to-none. Owing to her joy derived from cooking, Nolan teaches cooking classes. The classes are done by appointment only, but Chef Nolan points out that the groups who wish to partake always have a great time. Not only do they learn how to cook interesting meals, there are usually competitions involved between participants that heighten the entertainment. Another distinctive delight is the Meals Around the World program. Entering its fifth year this upcoming September, Chef Nolan invites guests to taste the essences of exotic locales while also providing them with instruction about preparation that usually also involves a discussion. On Tuesday nights, she and her staff prepare menus of traditional cuisine that promote international cultures. To date, approximately 60 countries have been highlighted, though Nolan admits a particular love for French-Mediterranean due to its universal flavors and reliance on interesting blends of spices.

Even more than cooking or her involvement in the restaurant business, Chef Nolan enjoys her family and those close to her. She understands that relationships to people and a community are what bring people the greatest joy. With that in mind, she quietly contributes her time and energy towards several charities. From veteran affairs to St. Jude and Masur Museum gatherings and Strauss events, Nolan desires to be an active member of her regional society. She particularly loves interacting with those within the arts community as she feels that it is an undervalued yet intrinsic piece of helping people discover their own inner-creativity while enhancing self-esteem and the love for those special people in their lives.

More and more people are wishing to become chefs today. With the rise of chefs as television personalities, gaining fame and wealth and rubbing elbows with the stars of the world, attendance at culinary schools is exploding. However, Chef Nolan claims that there is more to being a chef than learning how to cook. While cooking is obviously and certainly an important aspect of the craft, other components are just as important. Compassion, a love for food, a love for teaching and a love for working are all ingredients for success in the field. Without them, one is just going through the motions. One must have a passion for all facets. One must compete with him or herself time and again to deliver the best results. The job and the title come about only through dedication. These traits and the desire to be successful in her own eyes and those of her guests have made Chef Pat Nolan a force in the Louisiana culinary industry, and her persistent excellence promises to keep her in a position where she will continue to have fun with her family, her friends, and her art. Luckily, we in her community are invited to smile, taste and savor the fun as well.