Partner and Executive Chef Nicholas Yanes of East Austin’s Juniper not only serves Northern Italian fare influenced by local products and flavors, but offers meaningful culinary experiences defined by engaging and welcoming surroundings. Crafting such an environment begins with ingredients sourced from nearby farms in combination with world-class products from Italy and beyond. “I like to find the best components from our neighbors, apply both new and Old World techniques, and utilize international accents to highlight and enhance those fresh Austin flavors,” Yanes says.
The chef’s menu, which encourages diners to start with small plates and move on to large-format and pasta dishes at a natural pace, fosters an immersive guest experience similar to the way in which Juniper’s design, which Yanes envisioned, uses various distinct sections and eye-catching details to fuel conversation and engagement. To maintain the multi-faceted operation, Yanes depends on constant collaboration among his teams, gathering and discussing ideas to put forth the best result.
Raised in the Houston suburb of Cypress, TX, Yanes holds fond memories of his grandmother’s cooking, a distinct blend of American and Venezuelan. “She was cooking all the time,” Yanes says. “She lived with us, too, and after school we would watch PBS cooking programs, our own little tradition.”
Though cuisine did not factor into his college education, Yanes earned money during the summer by working at local eateries. He rapidly ascended from the salad station through the ranks, and before he knew it, he had an item on a long-standing menu—at the ripe age of 21. The restaurant’s owner suggested culinary school, and Yanes dropped out of college to attend Le Cordon Bleu-Western Culinary Institute in Portland, OR, graduating in 2004.
Fresh out of school, Yanes spent nearly three years cooking for Palmers Courtyard in San Marcos, TX, and then spent a few months in West Linn, OR as sous chef for Bugatti’s Ristorante, before returning to Texas to join Nana in Dallas as roundsman under Executive Chef Anthony Bombachi, who exposed Yanes to culinary artistry and molecular gastronomy.
Yanes then led kitchens in Dallas restaurants including Oceanaire Seafood Room and Dallas Fish Market, while also consulting for Thomas Avenue Beverage Co. and Coyote Ridge Golf Club. In 2008, he returned to Portland as executive chef for Hotel Fifty Portland’s H50 Bistro & Bar. Four years later, Chef Tyson Cole’s Uchi Restaurants drew Yanes to Austin, TX, where he served as creative director and learned from Cole how to turn a traditionally heavy dish into something light and approachable, while gaining essential dessert insights from Pastry Chef Phillip Speer.
Juniper debuted in 2015, culminating the lessons Yanes garnered throughout his career as well as on an immersive culinary trip to Northern Italy, which exposed him to both typical and Michelin-starred cuisines as well as hospitality philosophies that emphasize the importance of food as both nourishment and occasion.In his spare time, the chef and certified Level One Sommelier enjoys riding his motorcycle around his home of Downtown Austin and beyond, as well as devouring books on cuisine, philosophy, ethics, and more—“things that keep the world going ‘round,” he says.