Lofty Dreams

A Dream Realized: Cattaraugus Native Makes It Happen

Nick Rhinehart made his childhood dream happen. The professional cook is pictured with parmesan crusted scallops with roasted red pepper risotto, philly cheesesteak baked potato and blackened mahi mahi with cilantro rice and Vera Cruz relish. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

By the time Nick Rhinehart last appeared on this page on July 13, 2002, at the age of 14, he had already been telling his family for 11 years that he was going to work in a restaurant. Throughout the years he cooked with his grandmother, Audrey Rhinehart, and by the time he was 8 or 9 years old he had raised his ambitions to become a restaurant owner. The Cattaraugus resident stayed true to the pledge he made at 3 years of age, starting with a dishwashing job at the former Victory Gardens Restaurant when he was 15. Before long, he was running the deep fryers for the eating establishment. At the age of 16 he visited his cousin, who was a chef at a country club in Baton Rouge. While there the cousin encouraged the young man to write a lunch menu, giving him a feel for what it would be like to work in the business.

Rhinehart has come a long way since those days, but not by chance. He began his education in the Culinary Arts program at Ellicottville BOCES, where he met his future wife, Ashley. During his high school years, he won first-place in a food preparation assistance competition through Industrial Club of America. Both he and Ashley continued their education at Louisiana Culinary Institute in Baton Rouge. While in Louisiana, Nick worked in several food service establishments, enabling him to learn tricks and techniques from various people.

“Everyone makes their gumbo in different ways,” he says.

Because Cajun and French cooking are prevalent in Louisiana, they have had a great influence on what he does. He especially enjoys making soups and sauces and believes he has gotten quite accomplished at preparing seafood.

His grandmother is gone now, but she lived to see him achieve his first goal. He uses the professional set of knives she and her husband, Hobart Rhinehart, presented him when he graduated from LCI. His grandparents were great encouragers throughout his college years.

When Nick Rhinehart appeared on this page on July 13, 2002 at the age of 14, he had already been planning his future. Photo by the late Jack Berger

Rhinehart currently holds the position of Cook 2 at Seneca-Allegany Casino’s fine dining restaurant, Western Door Steakhouse, having been employed by the casino since March 2010.

Cooking not only serves as his livelihood, as the culinarian uses it in his recreational time and for family and friend activities. He has done some catering, chicken barbecues and pig roasts since leaving college and will be catering an upcoming wedding this summer. His brother, a friend and he and his wife have season tickets for the Bills football games. He talks about the fun time they had last season at a very snowy Colts game. They often take a refrigerated trailer to the games, where they can do some serious tailgating. The group of friends purchased a pig to roast for the first game of 2016. He and his father slept in a tent while manning the rotisserie/smoker for the required 20 hour cook time.

He says there is a good possibility that wine-making will be a summer project this year.

Rhinehart is a member of Cattaraugus Volunteer Fire Department where he served as president for four years and is currently on the Board of Directors for the Firemen’s Club. He enjoys hunting deer and says he and his father “break down the deer ourselves.” He has a large dehydrator, grinder and wood burning smoker he uses for making jerky and sausage.

“I didn’t get a deer this year, so I didn’t make any jerky,” he says.

He has been experimenting with the smoker, recently using it to smoke chicken on Super Bowl Sunday. He gets together with some buddies every other week to play Texas Hold’em.

The family recently purchased and moved into a three-bedroom, two-story home in September. They painted every room in the house, after Rhinehart and his father replastered the walls. The father and son team also took out the kitchen and dining room flooring, replacing it with a marble-like tile and took down suspended ceilings and replaced them with drywall. Rhinehart replumbed the entire house after watching demonstrations on YouTube. In the home’s dining room, his beloved grandmother’s china cabinet with curved glass, displays a large set of English china he received from her friend, the late Madora Ball of Otto.

Although Ashley earned a Culinary Arts degree while at LCI, she is not employed in the food service field, but is an administrative assistant at Tri-County Family Medicine Associates in Gowanda.

Tanner, the couple’s two-year old son, likes to help his father crack and stir eggs and help run the blender.

“Not sure I want him to go into the profession where you don’t have holidays and weekends off,” says his dad.

The family attends Immanuel Lutheran Church in Otto.

Most of the recipes offered were developed by the cook, were a combination of more than one recipe or were recipes the cook found and changed to his liking.

“I never follow a recipe as written,” he says. “I always change it unless I’m at work and then I have to follow it.”

He came up with the Philly Cheese Steak Baked Potato recipe on the job in order to use up prime rib and some other products.

“Whenever I make a recipe, I usually have an abundance of something I need to use.”

He made Parmesan Crusted Scallops and Buffalo Chicken Wing Soup five or six times each before he wrote the recipes. The soup won first place when he entered it in a local church cook-off fundraiser for a library. The Pineapple Chicken Salad were made by him and his cousin, Eddie Rhinehart, on a New Orleans TV News Channel.

Pineapple Chicken Salad

1/4 c French dressing

1 qt chicken

3 c celery, sliced

3/4 c green pepper, diced

1 1/2 c mayonnaise

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp white pepper

1/2 tsp onion juice

1 tsp lemon juice

20 oz sliced pineapple, halved

romaine lettuce leaves


sour cream

crushed pineapple

carrot, ripe olives, green pepper, almond garnish, optional

Cook and cube chicken. Marinate chicken in French dressing for 1-2 hours. Mix celery, green pepper, mayo, salt, pepper, onion juice and lemon juice with chicken

Scoop 1/2 cup salad into small bowls that have been lined with the lettuce leaves. Arrange 2 pineapple rings around each salad. Garnish with carrot curls, ripe olives, green pepper rings and diced almond. Serve with dressing of crushed pineapple mixed with mayonnaise & sour cream.

Blackened Chicken Pesto Pasta

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 pts heavy cream

8 oz classic pesto

4 oz parmesan cheese

4 chicken breasts

blackening seasoning, to taste

salt, to taste

black pepper, to taste

16 oz penne pasta, cooked

Season chicken breast with blackening seasoning. Set aside. In a large skillet, cook down the cream and garlic. Add pesto sauce, 2 cheese, salt and pepper. Simmer until thickened. Cook chicken on the grill until done. Slice chicken, toss with pesto mixture and pasta.

Philly Cheese Steak Baked Potato

4 large potatoes

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1 lb flank steak

1 large onion, sliced

1 large red bell pepper, sliced

1 large green bell pepper, sliced

1/2 c milk or more

1/2 T butter

4 c shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap potatoes in foil (optional). Line baking sheet with potatoes and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until done. In small bowl, combine dry ingredients and season flank steak liberally. In a large skillet, sear flank steak. Cook to medium rare (warm with red middle) or desired doneness. Remove from skillet to cool. When cool, slice into thin strips. In same large skillet, add onion and peppers. Saute until tender. When potatoes are done, cut in half & scoop out the center, saving the skin. In a large bowl, combine potato, onion mixture, steak, milk (may need more for desired consistency), butter and three cups cheese. Fill skins with potato mixture. Top with remaining cheese and bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted.

Parmesan Crusted Scallops

1/2 c bread crumbs

1/2 c grated parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black

1/2 T parsley

16 large (24 oz) scallops

1 lemon

1 1/2 T oil

In a medium bowl, combine bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and parsley. Set aside. Pat scallops dry with a paper towel. Squeeze juice from lemon over scallops. Coat scallops liberally with dry mix. Add oil to large skillet and heat. Add scallops to pan and brown each side. This should take 2-3 minutes. Cook to desired doneness. DO NOT overcook or scallops will be rubbery.

Roasted Red Pepper Risotto

1 T oil

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 c Arborio rice

1/2 c white wine

2 1/2 c chicken stock, divided

6 oz roasted red pepper puree or to taste


1/2 c parmesan cheese, grated

Heat oil to large saute pan. Add onion and saute until golden brown. Add Arborio rice and wine. Cook until all wine has been absorbed by rice. Add half of the stock to the rice mixture. Let rice absorb stock. Continue to slowly add rest of stock making sure all stock is absorbed. Add pureed roasted bell pepper to rice. Season with salt to taste and fold in parmesan cheese.

Buffalo Chicken Wing Soup

1/2 c butter

4 stalk celery, diced

1 medium onion, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

1/2 T garlic, minced

1/2 c flour

7 c milk

1 whole rotisserie chicken, shredded

3 c cheese, shredded

1/2 c hot sauce or desired amount

Melt butter in soup pot. Add celery, onion, carrots and garlic. SautÈ until tender. Add flour to make a roux. Once vegetable have a good roux coating, add milk.

After milk has become heated add chicken and cheese. Once cheese is melted, add hot sauce.

Blackened Mahi Mahi with Cilantro Rice and Vera Cruz Relish Vera Cruz:

1 T oil

1/2 medium onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tomatoes, diced

1/2 c green olives, sliced

1/3 c capers

1/2 tsp oregano

Heat oil in large saute pan. SautÈ onion and garlic until tender. Add remaining ingredients and cook until liquid is reduced.

Mahi Mahi:

4-8 oz mahi mahi filets

blackened seasoning to taste

2 T oil

Coat each mahi mahi filet liberally with seasoning. Heat oil in large saute pan. Add filets and sear both sides. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, depending on size of filet.

Cilantro Rice:

1 bunch fresh cilantro

1/2 c water

1 p rice

2 c water

juice of 1 lemon

Puree cilantro with 1/2 cup water. In a pot, bring cilantro puree, 2 c water & lime juice to a boil. Add rice. Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer covered for 7-10 minutes. Fluff rice with fork.