Heritage Prairie Farm - Elburn, ILShare your story
“I love working here. I’d love to see how far I can go with all the opportunities that arise. I want to see what happens next.”
You might think that whipping up a dish of freshly roasted, organic beets is the last thing Nick Kennedy would love to do – especially since he was strictly a chicken fingers and Sprite kid when he was growing up. Nick, now Chef Nick, is most at home in the kitchen at the Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn, and he is loving every minute of it.
How he found his way to becoming a chef was almost by accident. The West Chicago High School graduate thinks maybe it was the freedom to experiment in the kitchen that his mom allowed. Not that he was very adventurous – “My main staple was malts or smoothies,” he says. “Mom would let me try any concoction I wanted and I came up with some pretty good stuff.” Guess it all started with a boy and his blender.
After high school, Nick enrolled in a business program at NIU but returned home after a year. “I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I found I did enjoy cooking, but I didn’t really connect that enjoyment to a career.” Unbeknownst to Nick, his girlfriend did a little internet searching herself and discovered the culinary program at Robert Morris University. She filled out the form requesting information and when the materials arrived, Nick found it was exactly what he was looking for. He completed the program at the RMU DuPage campus and, with the credits he transferred, was able to complete a bachelor’s degree in a little over two years. He graduated in June.
His experience at RMU not only helped him develop his culinary skills, but also motivated him toward a satisfying career. “Teachers inspired me and really helped me through some rough spots,” he added. While in school, he worked at Kishwaukee Country Club as lead cook, and used the experience as an internship as well. He signed on to work at Heritage as a junior and has been there ever since.
Heritage Prairie Farm operates a great field to table establishment. Situated on a small farm off of Route 38 in Elburn, they grow all their own vegetables organically, specializing in Heirloom tomatoes. They also have beehives and collect their own honey. With a large tent on the property, they are open for special events on weekends during the warmer months, particularly weddings. The menu for the receptions feature all the freshest possible produce, much of which was in the field in the morning and on the table by evening. The menus always reflect the harvest – what is best and bountiful at a particular time of year.
In addition to the special events, Heritage Prairie Farms has a small store next to the main barn, they provide produce to many local establishments, and they participate in a number of farmer’s markets in the area.
Nick’s position at the Farm is one that manages a “weird balance,” he says. He is involved in many aspects from writing menus to prep work to cooking and harvesting – and of course, as part of the team that insures each reception comes off perfectly. “We have a great group of people here,“ he continued. “For example, our head farmer is also a chef. We get our baked goods and some of our vinaigrettes from a local bakery, Gracious Haul. We have a great network in the area that enables us to get additional supplies – and help – when we need it.”
As he walked through the fields past the lush greens of lettuce and crops of zucchini, it’s obvious that Nick has found a place that gives back to him as much as he puts in. “I love working here. I’d love to see how far I can go with all the opportunities that arise. I want to see what happens next.”