After Hours with Chef Courtney Nielsen
The executive chef shares her path to the top job at The Keep Kitchen & Liquor Bar in Hotel LeVeque and what’s always in her fridge.
A childhood gift started Courtney Nielsen down the path to where she is today, as executive chef of The Keep Kitchen & Liquor Bar in Hotel LeVeque. “When I was little, my Grandma gave me cookbooks. So I cooked, growing up, all the time. … Even when I was too little to use an oven, I had this kids’ microwave cookbook and I made cakes and stuff,” she says, laughing. “Life takes different turns sometimes, and I ended up in a field that I didn’t want to do, so that’s when I decided—it’s time.”
She went to culinary school and later worked for chef Rick Lopez at his bygone Knead Urban Diner, where she learned to cook everything from scratch, she says. Most recently, Nielsen served as chef de cuisine at The Keep under chef Jonathan Olson. She took over for Olson in July after he left to become executive chef at The Royce.
As a female executive chef, Nielsen is in rarefied air in Columbus and hopes to see more women rise to the top of the kitchen hierarchy. “I’ve been fortunate that the male chefs I’ve worked with, especially the most recent one, have been very empowering of women,” she says.
Since opening in the summer of 2017, The Keep had maintained a French bistro bent; that has changed under Nielsen. “We have more comforting foods. I try to focus on a lot of local and seasonal produce. … It’s a little more eclectic, kind of the vibe I’m feeling that day,” she says. “It’s more like American bistro.”
Here’s where Nielsen dines when she’s not at the Downtown restaurant.
First food memory: “I first remember my Grandma Quinby getting me a kids’ cookbook and me cooking dinner for my family member’s birthday.”
Favorite Chinese restaurant: “This is a hard one but currently CoCo’s Grill, specifically [for] the red chile oil dumpling.”
Favorite breakfast: McCarthy’s Wildflower Café in Clintonville
Best travel destination for food: Portland, Oregon
Always in her fridge: “I always have tons of mustards.”
Recommended reading: “Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest” by Blaine Wetzel