Behind the scenes of any given NASCAR race, you’ll find drivers, pit crew members, and officials fueling up on delicious, down-home cooking prepared by a team of dedicated NASCAR chefs. As part of this traveling crew of cooks, Nicholas White has been whipping up hearty meals for more than two years now. Pulling off the logistics of feeding hundreds of staffers, three to four meals per day is no small feat. “It’s a portable operation,” says White. “We go grocery shopping every day because there’s not a lot of refrigerator space. We’re working from a hauler, and we don’t have any freezers, so we don’t have the capacity to store everything we need for the entire weekend.”
With fresh ingredients stocked daily, a typical lunch behind the scenes of a NASCAR race consists of a 24-item salad bar and a fluctuating menu based on season and region. Late nights and early mornings also come with the territory. “We arrive around 4 am and start serving breakfast at 5 am, then we go immediately into prepping for lunch. By the time we finish serving and breaking down after dinner, we usually get back to our [hotel] room around 10 pm. And then we wake up at 3:30 am to do it all over again,” he says. A racing fan with a lifelong passion for cooking, White loves every minute of it.
Working as a NASCAR chef is the perfect gig for the southern bred foodie who spent his childhood helping his mom in the kitchen. “I lived in a small town and there wasn’t much to do. We didn’t get cable until I was in the 8th grade, so helping my mom out in the kitchen was fun for me,” White says. By the time he was 16-years-old, he was promoted to line chef at the local Golden Corral restaurant that he worked at in Eufaula, Ala. “This was in the late 90s when it [Golden Corral] was known more like a steakhouse than a buffet. They had a menu where you could order premium cuts of beef, from filet mignon to ribeyes and stuff like that,” he says. When it came time to go off to college, White choose Clark Atlanta University (CAU) in Atlanta where he majored in finance. Still, it wasn’t long before his love of cooking took center stage. “At CAU, I used to cook in the dorms. We didn’t have kitchens in our rooms and cooking was forbidden, but I would prepare meals using my hot plate and a toaster oven,” he recalls, “I became known around campus as ‘that guy.’”
After college, he went on to a career in finance working in the nonprofit sector for an economic empowerment initiative. “We taught financial literacy to college students and held monthly seminars in the community to teach basic money management skills like budgeting and investing and stuff like that,” he says. Around 2008 when the economy hit a downward spiral, the nonprofit lost a great deal of funding and sponsors. As White began looking for work, the opportunity to cook for NASCAR came at just the right time when an old college buddy, Brandon Thompson, now a senior director with NASCAR, called and told him that the organization was looking for a new chef. “The timing couldn’t have been better,” he says. “I jumped at the opportunity.”
For a guy who’s always flirted with the idea of pursuing a career in the culinary arts, the move was a full circle moment and for White, cooking isn’t the only perk of the job. A travel enthusiast at heart, the chef enjoys his NASCAR touring weekends. Whether catering at Dover International Speedway in Delaware, prepping the serving line at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama or cooking at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, he welcomes the opportunity to go to different parts of the country. This past Labor Day, White could be found working at the track in Canada.
With two years at NASCAR under his chef’s belt, White hopes to see many more. “It’s really a great organization and I’m glad to be here.”