“Watching my family gather around Mamaw’s table when I was a wee little boy – the only time it got quiet was when food was served,” he said. “I just thought that was so powerful.”
D’Angelo, now head chef of Nick’s Restaurant at 3000 Old Canton Road in Jackson, cut his teeth in the restaurant business in the 1980s as a teen working in Visko’s, a New Orleans seafood house owned by a Yugoslavian chef with a French background.
A cooking stint at Broussard restaurant there followed before D’Angelo moved to Bay St. Louis and later became head chef of The Blue Rose restaurant at age 18.
Those experiences prepared him for work with up-and-coming chef Emeril Lagasse, who had just left the legendary New Orleans Garden District restaurant Commander’s Palace to open his own establishment. He was hired in 1995 to join the 30-member staff.
“It was truly a culinary boot camp,” he said. “I couldn’t believe the amount of food that was being brought through the kitchen. All the people who were on that line with me are chefs now. (Lagasse) was a lightening bolt. His personality was incredible. He was aware of every little thing in the restaurant. I remember how much I admired that – to know you’re cooking for 400 people, but table 22, seat three’s glass of wine is half empty and you need to fill it up.”
D’Angelo became part of Lagasse’s team, a man he views as a father figure, and helped Lagasse open restaurants in New Orleans and Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas.
In 2001, D’Angelo opened his own family-style restaurant, the Bay City Grill, in Bay St. Louis, but Hurricane Katrina blew its roof off and destroyed the kitchen while wiping out most of the town.
He reconnected with Lagasse and helped open Emerill’s Gulf Coast Fish House inside the Island View Casino Resort in Gulfport, which closed last spring.
D’Angelo has appeared in cooking segments on a couple of Emeril Live shows and on Good Morning America. In October, he caught up with Lagasse, the featured chef at the Viking Classic in Madison.
D’Angelo said he plans to stay true to the dishes that have made the 26-year-old Nick’s unique. The updated fall menu includes items like Big Easy shrimp; charbroiled oysters; redfish with crab meat, risotto and a tomato crab sauce; and roasted fall vegetables – a vegetarian dish made of foods from Rainbow Natural Grocery Cooperative and other local organic produce. It’s cooked with herbs grown outside Nick’s that are dipped in a white wine cheese fondue.