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Karen Nicolas

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The kangaroo didn’t faze her, but the camel burger was a different story. “I’ll never forget it, and I’m not saying that’s a good thing,” says Karen Nicolas, who was in Australia at the time, working at various restaurants to learn about the country’s produce, seafood and game. “The taste was in my mouth for 24 hours. ‘Gamey’ doesn’t begin to describe it.” 

For a Filipina, Nicolas has a lot of chutzpah. The chef has crisscrossed the country, working at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole in Las Vegas, Gramercy Tavern in New York, and Equinox in Washington, D.C. (where she was named a 2012 Best New Chef by Food & Wine). She had always wanted to work with Palmer, so she asked him in person, driving to Vegas with a few hundred dollars and a carload of clothes. She did the same at Gramercy Tavern. “It’s a way of proving what you can do,” Nicolas says. 

Now, she’s proving to be an exceptional executive chef at Merion Station’s C&R Kitchen, the first fine-dining kosher restaurant in the region. Nicolas faces another challenge this fall: opening a second C&R on Rittenhouse Square. Won’t running two restaurants be a lot of work? “Yes,” she says. “And I can’t wait.” 

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