Some pastry chefs are famous for cakes. Others build a following on confections. Nikol Nakamura, the executive pastry chef of Tulalip Casino Resort in Marysville for the past seven years, is known for her mad-scientist approach to sweets.
While she is a pro at inventing extravagant experiences that are a casino’s signature, her ultimate lab is Woodinville’s Auction of Washington Wines (this year, August 13–15; auctionofwashingtonwines.org). Each year at the auction, Nakamura and her staff craft dreamy, fantastical desserts that reduce buttoned-up, Merlot-sniffing adults into giddy, wallpaper-licking (dusted with strawberry glucose powder) fools.
“It’s the event we look forward to the most, and even though it’s for adults, I try to keep a childlike spirit in mind,” Nakamura says. To match Tulalip Bay restaurant’s new Italian steakhouse–themed menu, slated to debut this month (tulalipresortcasino.com), she revamped the pastry program with an Italian-inspired confectionery cart filled with amaretto bonbons and limoncello lollipops.
Delizioso! Nakamura's Italian-themed dessert cart; photo: Tulalip Resort Casino
Nakamura recently returned to Tulalip reenergized after a kidney transplant that caused the 43-year-old former Four Seasons (Seattle and Beverly Hills) pastry chef to reevaluate her health and priorities. “Chefs are perfectionists,” she says, “but this made me slow down and realize what’s important.” Case in point: She is not making her own wedding cake for when she ties the knot in Las Vegas next month.
At the auction weekend’s kickoff picnic on August 13, Nakamura is creating an ice cream social on the back lawn of Chateau Ste. Michelle, complete with handmade ice cream sandwiches, root beer floats, sorbet push-pops and paletas—Latin American ice pops made with fresh watermelon and pepper-infused pineapple.
The showstopper will be a 12-gallon nitrogen-tank station where guests can customize their own milk ice cream and choose from six cereals—yes, she’ll have Fruity Pebbles—to mix in. For the more subdued winemaker gala on August 15, Nakamura is rocking the wine-inspired treats, including a Riesling savarin, a type of liquor cake, and port truffles. We’re certain there’s a morsel of mad scientist in those, too.