2019 SNE Livestock Conference, January 26, 2019 Keynote Speakers: Derek Wagner of Nick's on Broadway & The Chef's Collaborative with Jake Rojas of Tallulah's Taqueria & The Chef's Collaborative
Derek Wagner takes the work of a chef to another level. He’s not just a courier of flavor, delivering bold, seasonal messages to palates, but he also makes it his business to reach diners on a deeper level. And it’s been that way since Wagner took over Nicks on Broadway in 2002, when he was just 24 years old. From its modest 18-seat beginning to its current tripled capacity, Nicks has evolved into a Providence institution, and Wagner uses that platform to foster good food, community, and consciousness in tandem. An early and eager proponent of forging close relationships with farmers and producers, Wagner also planted his own herb and vegetable gardens and fruit trees. A two-time James Beard nominee, with Nicks named “One of the World’s Best Restaurants” by Fodor’s three years in a row, Wagner doesn’t rest on his laurels. In 2010, he was a featured chef at the James Beard House in conjuction with his contribution to the Harvest to Heat cookbook (Taunton Press). Wagner was also a featured chef in the Philip Johnson Glass House dinner and benefit, as well as in the film associated with the event. In February 2014, he took his message all the way to Congress, where he advocated for small and responsible fisheries. Wagner sits on the board of Chefs Collaborative and is the only chef on the board of the Rhode Island Seafood and Marketing Collaborative. In 2014, he won the StarChefs.com Coastal New England Sustainability Award. Jake Rojas was first encountered classical French cookery while in vocational school after an early run-in with the law. Working with food, though, helped the El Paso, Texas native realize his own potential––both personally and professionally. After graduating with a culinary degree from The Art Institute of Dallas, Rojas went on to progress in esteemed kitchens across the country, including The Sunset Restaurant, L’Atelier De Joël Robuchon, and Alain Ducasse’s Mix.
In 2010, Rojas headed for Newport, Rhode Island, to open Tallulah on Thames. As head chef and co-owner with his wife Kelly Ann, Rojas pushed boundaries with aggressively flavorful and composed fine dining dishes served in a casual seaside atmosphere. Rojas also launched Tallulah’s Taco Truck, followed by Tallulah’s Taqueria in Providence, inspired by the Chicano flavors of his childhood. In 2016, Rojas closed the fine dining Tallulah to focus on the casual concepts. He has been noted as one of the best chefs in New England by Food & Wine and earned a StarChefs Rising Stars Award in 2014.