Sitting down in the beautiful Le Bouillon, with the candles flickering and the cool of the smooth stone table against your wrist, the painted brick walls and the sparkling water, you almost feel transported somewhere else, somewhere special, though you’re right in the heart of downtown Omaha. When your meal arrives, presented like something out of Food & Wine magazine, you take that first bite and it is love, in an instant. The brightness of the vegetables, the creaminess of the potatoes, the briny flavor of the olives and the seafood, all cooked to perfection in a way that is both foreign...and domestic. But how is it possible for a dish to evoke the French countryside and also my grandfather’s summer garden? The answer lies with culinary visionary, Chef Paul Kulik.
Born in Berlin but raised in Omaha, Chef Kulik credits time spent in France, particularly in Provence and Marcelle, for cultivating his curiosity and inevitable love affair with food. Though he holds degrees in Engineering Physics and French, he admits that the time he spent working in kitchens in his early teens ultimately let him back to his passion. Throughout his career, he’s had the privilege of working in cities well known for their cuisine; Chicago, Washington DC, Paris and Berlin. So, what ultimately lead him back to the Midwest? Paul shares, simply being homesick for Omaha. He adds, “There’s something about this community, so much interesting human capital, such sincere thoughts and contributions, more than elsewhere... there's a purity to the fact that you have to go experience things yourself.” I couldn’t agree more.
Now, some may debate about Omaha being a true culinary destination. Sure, we have our fair share of fabulous steakhouses with the usual accompaniments, which is on brand for a state known for its excellent beef. But one taste of a Brandade Tartine from Le Bouillon, or one bite of the crunchy and creamy Arancini from Via Farina, and you quickly see what Omaha could become, using the freshest local products in daringly delicious ways. But it’s not only the artfully chosen seasonal ingredients that make Chef Kulik’s cuisine stand out; it’s the unspoken ambience in his restaurants that contribute to the pleasure of the meal. None of the five senses are left out. He shares, he wants to create experiences that are “authentic and not manufactured, not pretentious...a restaurant is really a lifestyle for your guests, and when they come in, they have those memories for a lifetime.”
Chef Kulik has shared his skills, not only by opening The Boiler Room in 2009, but also in the classroom, serving as an instructor at the MCC Culinary Arts School back in the day. He still pops in from time to time, no doubt much to the delight of the students. Not often to you get a chance to meet someone who’s hosted a dinner at the prestigious James Beard Foundation House in New York, along with his team from The Boiler Room. His advice for aspiring top chefs? “The industry isn't built for longevity, it's very hard... you must start early. Do something you think is important, figure it out early and lay the groundwork.” A mission even I’m anxious to apply.
Whether formerly at La Buvette and The Boiler Room, or more recently at Le Bouillon and Via Farina, Chef Paul Kulik puts his delicious signature on everything he does. Fresh local ingredients transformed into a passport on your plate. As the Chef put it best, “Why wouldn’t you enjoy the food you eat?”
Author: Adriene Archibald