I don't know if I've ever met anyone with a more interesting story than Niles Peacock, but I swear it's all true. He was born on New Year's Eve in 1970 on a tobacco farm in Kyoto, Japan (but that's a tale for another day). He's the owner of Niles Peacock Kitchen & Bar located near the Edmonds ferry dock. I recently got the chance to meet him in person and he's just as cool as his name implies.
With his hair cut short and his arms covered in colorful tattoos, Niles has a flair for the dramatic. He looks like he's in his late 30's, but he's actually 52. He greets me with a big smile and welcomes me in. He's genuinely happy to meet me, but then again, he's happy to meet anyone who crosses his path. In less than five minutes, I can tell that this ball of energy has more ideas than he can reasonably execute, but darn it, he's going to try.
It's easy to see where he got his creativity from. His father, Gary, was a world-renowned jazz bassist who played with the likes of Miles Davis. His mother, Nancy, is a retired oil painter. Many of her paintings decorate his restaurant. While growing up in Wallingford, Niles knew that he was different.
"When I was eight years old, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and acute attention deficit disorder," says Niles. "My maximum attention span was 30 seconds. I couldn't function. I didn't know how to read until I was 10 years old, so I had the impression that I was stupid and that I would never be able to learn like other people. I just didn't know that I learned things a different way than other people do."
Niles said that his parents were always supportive of him growing up, but when graduating from high school, Niles had no idea what he wanted to do, so he asked his dad for advice.
"He said, 'It's your life, man. Follow your heart. If you're doing what you love doing, you'll be living your best life.'"
In his adult years, while living in New York, Niles went to Parsons School of Design studying fashion design (and he's still very fashion-forward). But while working at restaurants to pay the bills, his desire shifted towards becoming a mixologist. Since then, Niles spent years managing bars from coast to coast, including Miami, Aspen, Las Vegas, West Palm Beach, New York and of course, Seattle. Fast forward to 2018, Niles won Best Bartender while working at the former 190 Sunset Restaurant and Bar in Edmonds.
"I don’t think that I'm the best at anything, but those are great accolades to have in the business. It was time for me to open up my own place and be my owner."
So, Niles found a spot in Seattle to set up shop. He started coming up with a bunch of cool names for this new cocktail bar project of his, but people kept telling him to just call it "Niles Peacock."
"That just sounds so pretentious," he tells me. "Then my bar manager at the time said, 'It doesn't matter if you call it your name anyway because nobody thinks 'Nile's Peacock' is a real person. That name sounds fake and made up."
In 2019, Mr. Peacock was planning the opening of his next adventure at a newly constructed building. Two months earlier, he was featured at the James Beard event, "Taste America: Seattle Raising the Bar," which was a pretty big deal given that he hadn't actually opened yet. Then he was hit with some bad news from his architects stating that the developers did not get zoning permits for a tavern license. He would have to pivot and get a restaurant license instead.
"I didn’t know what to do. The kitchen was smaller than my bathrooms," he laughs. "I had no money to buy a mixer or do a build-out for a kitchen. I decided that if I was going to have food that was in line with the cocktails, I needed to do something that could be executable."
So he bought a book. Ken Forkish, a James Beard-awarded pastry chef's book, "The Elements of Pizza" was all the inspiration he needed.
"My way of thinking was, if I can get one of these recipes to work, then we can just make world-class pizza. I found a recipe that I could do and it was the best pizza I'd ever had."
So with a countertop electric pretzel oven he purchased from an old Auntie Annie's and a bus tub where he could mix dough by hand, he was in business. Then the pandemic hit. He had to let his staff go except for one employee, but it was a blessing in disguise.
"Cocktail bars were shut down because they were not considered 'essential.' Had I gotten what I wanted, it would have sunk my boat. And then, I got an offer to get bought out of my lease, and I took it."
Niles decided to move everything up to Edmonds. He was happy with his pizza recipe, but he wanted the best. Niles heard about a world-class pizza chef champion who was surprisingly based across the water in Kingston, Washington. Niles met Will Grant, owner of Sourdough Willy’s Pizzeria, and spent a whole day with him perfecting his new signature pizza dough made with a special ingredient.
"He asked me, 'how good do you want to get at making pizzas?' I said, 'well, the group of people that are the best in the world at making pizzas, that's the group I want to be in.' He gave his 128-year-old sourdough that was brought down from the Alaskan Gold Rush and said 'start doing it."
Niles doesn't do anything small. With his newfound knowledge and encouragement from Will, Niles registered for the largest pizza competition in the world: The International Pizza Expo held in Las Vegas. There was a spot open to compete for the "non-traditional division regional," so he went with that.
"It was very daunting, I would say," says Niles, "I'm walking in and I realized that the bleachers are packed. There's a huge crowd on the right, and on the left are all of the prep stations where all the chefs are getting their stuff ready and they look like they're on your own little cooking shows. And all I'm thinking is, I must look like I really don't belong here because I'm dragging a Coleman blue cooler with no wheels on it. It's held together with black duct tape."
Still, Niles pressed on creating his unique pizza, which he called "My Hot Date," with garlic-roasted olive oil, whole milk mozzarella, gorgonzola, Medjool dates, and a balsamic glaze. He turned in his final project, packed up and chalked up the event as a good experience. Maybe he would even return to compete again, but he didn't expect to win.
"The following morning, I went back to the expo to watch a pan pizza competition. And so when I walked in, Chef Michael Marco sees me, comes up and shakes my hand, congratulating me saying, 'Niles Peacock. Seriously, good job.' And I'm just shaking his hand smiling, thinking, 'he's got me mixed up with somebody else.'"
Out of about 80 competitors, Niles not only did a "seriously good job," but he won first place. He also found his new passion: food competitions. Just this last October, Niles competed at the Pizza & Pasta Northeast competition in Atlantic City where his "Hot Date" came in fourth place, just a half-point behind the third-place winner.
Oh, and he also competed at the East Coast Bagel Championship (also in Atlantic City) because he wanted to make his own bagels for an upcoming brunch menu at his restaurant. He won second place for the best non-traditional bagel in America.
"I take the plaque and I'm like, wow. This is incredible and I'm just so blown away by this. I can't believe it. And when I'm walking away they said, 'Niles Peacock, come back,’ and I knew it. Clearly, they made a mistake."
But they didn't. His shmear recipe won first place! In April, Niles and Will (and a few other "pizza-making friends") are traveling to Italy to compete. I swear, Niles should write a motivational book.
"My Hot Date" is on the top of his Edmonds menu. During my interview, I was able to sample this unique pie with Niles, who clearly is still in love with it.
"Some people said, 'Oh, you don't put dates on a pizza,' and I said, 'No, I do put dates on a pizza. It's really good.'"
He admits that it is the crust that elevates it. And I agree. It's light, bubbly and full of flavor.
"See how the crust is fluffy? It's just incredible. I never get tired of this every single day."
"My Hot Date" shares the menu with other equally inventive pizza names and ingredients like "Hunt and Gather" (marinara sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, red onions, green bell peppers, black olives, pepperoni, sausage, bacon and fresh tomatoes), "More Cow Bell" (Marinara sauce, mozzarella, Canadian bacon, sausage, and meatballs), "The Carne Asada Situation" (garlic roasted olive oil base, mozzarella, marinated carne asada, pico de gallo, sliced avocado and spicy salsa on the side) and the "Brussel Wilson" (roasted Brussels sprouts, bacon, parmesan and a balsamic reduction glaze). You'll find more traditional choices, as well.
All of the pizzas come in 12" and 16" sizes and are made with that same 128-year-old sourdough starter. You can also opt for a Detroit-style pan pizza, which takes five days to prepare. It takes two days of cold fermentation, a second proofing at room temperature for another 24 hours and on the fourth day, he par-bakes the crusts. The "Cup and Char" pizza is a good one to try with this as the crust is actually lined with more pepperoni. Its edges comes out crispy and full of flavor, but the base is still light and fluffy.
You'll also find a variety of salads and starters, too. The Goat Cheese & Beets salad with roasted pistachios and raspberry vinaigrette is delicious. Other choices include Caprese and Caesar salads, hand-rolled meatballs and oven-roasted Brussels sprouts (with bacon, grated parmesan and a balsamic reduction).
As for cocktails, you've got to try the Weekend special made with vodka, lime juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters and served with an aromatized bubble, which breaks and releases essence into the air. It's like a magic show.
Niles says that he will be open for brunch soon with delectable items like croissant French toast, sourdough brioche cinnamon rolls and of course, those bagels. And to bump it up a notch, he's planning for different themed brunches one weekend a month, including a pajama party and a jazz brunch.
I could listen to Niles' stories for hours. They're incredibly entertaining, but what makes him so endearing is his humbleness. When not competing or inventing new dishes, you can find him connecting with others in the community, including the local food bank.
While thinking about his father's advice to follow his own path, Niles says that he's continuing down that path.
"The funny thing is, now I have this pressure that I put on myself to compete. On one hand, I'm committed to becoming a world champion pizza chef, because I really want to be and then secondly, I have this expectation of myself now. Like, I have to win because I haven't gone somewhere and not won yet. The thing is, there's so many amazing, talented people that go to competitions and don't win. So, no matter what happens, I'll walk away from here more knowledgeable and more fulfilled. We'll see what this next year brings."
Visit Niles Peacock here.
Jeff Totey is a freelance writer for Seattle Refined. Follow more of his work here.
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