Matt and Nikki Thompson are a busy couple. Owner and operators of two cafés inside the sheriff’s department and detention center, a catering company, and downtown breakfast and lunch spot, Nook, their culinary journeys started in different places, but once they intersected the team was formed.
Matt was a Southern California kid, growing up in San Diego, and uninterested in higher education. When a friend decided to leave for mechanics school in Arizona, Matt opted for Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale.
Nikki is a born and bred Tucsonan, who grew up with a love for food instilled in her by her Mexican mother and grandmother. She would make tortillas with her matriarchs since she could reach the counter, and has fond memories of all the Mexican cuisine she enjoyed with the family. One summer after high school, while watching television, Nikki saw a commercial for Le Cordon Bleu and knew immediately that she wanted to enroll.
As the two youngest students in their culinary school class, the couple hit it off immediately and have been a foodie family ever since.
What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
Nikki: My Dad’s chicken cacciatore. It is still one of my faves to this day.
Matt: My Dad’s burnt ribs. None of the food my family made was amazing, but his ribs even though burnt were delicious. It changed my perspective on food because I remember thinking how good I could make them taste if I didn’t burn them.
What are you eating these days?
Nikki: Potstickers. Always potstickers. As many as I can get my hands on, it doesn’t matter if they are the frozen kind or homemade.
Matt: The cookies at Nook. I also love eggs like crazy. I will eat a healthy breakfast of something like oatmeal, then make myself a messy, cheesy egg sandwich afterwards.
What was the first dish you remember cooking?
Nikki: Well besides the tortillas with Grandma, the first dish I remember cooking myself was the dish I made when applying to culinary school – “Nikki’s Kickin’ Chicken.” It was not very good either. I literally just used the first 5 spices in my parents spice cabinet. A terrible combination of dried mint, cumin and who knows what else.
Matt: Shrimp Scampi. I was with my foodie grandmother who lives in Florida. She took me to a real nice fish market where I picked out the shrimp. The guy at the counter gave me a crash course to scampi. We went back to her house, I made it, and it came out awesome. I was proud walking out with the finished plate.
What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can’t stomach?
Nikki: This is a hard question. Honestly, I am up for eating everything, so I don’t think I have an answer for you.
Matt: I have to agree. We don’t really follow the trends, I really don’t even know what they are to dislike them.
What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
Nikki: Danny Morioka, the chef I interned under in Hawaii. He became our good friend, attended our wedding and is still a close friend of ours to this day. Watching him cook is amazing. He has such flavorful food, he puts more heart and soul into his dishes than anyone I know. You can taste it.
Matt: Anthony Bourdain. The man has so much experience, he has tried everything and been all over the world. Plus he is so real, he doesn’t hold his tongue at all.
What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
Nikki: San Francisco. All the fresh seafood there, plus Chinatown. Last time we were there, we waited two and a half hours for a dim sum restaurant, and it was worth it. I would do it again anytime.
Matt: Las Vegas. They have everything speaking in culinary terms, that you could ask for. We love Todd English’s pub. They have a fresh seafood bar with excellent oysters, clams and mussels.
Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Nikki: Junior mints and any sort of fried Asian food.
Matt: Sour Patch Kids!
Top three Tucson restaurants?
We think we can agree on this one, although it is subject to change.
With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
Nikki: I’d start with some oysters and potstickers. Then my dad’s chicken cacciatore, follow it up with my moms French toast sticks, with a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for dessert. Oh, and a michelada.
Matt: I’m going with the oysters and potstickers appetizer. Then I want a medium rare, paniolo steak (a bone in ribeye, Hawaiian cowboy style), a Stranahan bourbon, and then before the chair can get me, death by chocolate!