Nicole L. DeCinti died in New York on Oct. 15 following a determined battle with breast cancer. She was 58.
She was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and grew up in nearby Mountain Top. Nicole was the youngest of five children born to the late Albert and Perle DeCinti. Her father came to the United States as a child from Italy and received the Purple Heart for his actions in the Pacific theater of World War II.
Anyone who knew Nicole or was lucky enough to be a guest in her house realized that her passion for food and entertaining was a large part of who she was. This passion developed at a young age and predated the American culinary renaissance that would happen years later. She was a frequent customer of Wilkes-Barre’s specialty food store and would create distinctive meals for her family as she started the process of becoming a self-taught chef.
Sensing the need to spread her wings, Nicole took a position in a formal French dining establishment in New Orleans. The food, sights, sounds, music and culture made an indelible impression. Although she lived there for only a few years, the cycle of the New Orleans calendar stayed with her; she always knew when Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest rolled around as if she were still living in the French Quarter.
Her journey next took her to Philadelphia and later to New York, where she would spend most of her adult life. But it was the Vineyard — where she first visited in 1979, lived for several years from the 1980s until early 1990s, and then returned years later as a visitor — that formed her, where her talents as a chef blossomed, and which became her spiritual home.
The Island restaurant community of the 1980s welcomed anyone with talent and a strong work ethic and Nicole did stints at several establishments, including at the Navigator Restaurant and the Lambert’s Cove Inn. She was the chef at the Beach Plum Inn for two seasons, at a time when each guest still received a four-course meal. The next step was starting her own catering company, where she ran what was primarily a one-woman show. Nicole’s commitment to excellence started with procuring the best ingredients the Island had to offer. It wasn’t unusual for her to drive to Larsen’s for fish, drop it off at home in Chilmark, head down-Island to Morning Glory Farm and maybe another farm stand or two, then visit two supermarkets in search of everything she needed.
Of all her clients, the most special was Eleanor Pearlson. Eleanor’s many dinner parties were a fascinating mixture of friends and business contacts that always led to a lively evening. Nicole became more than the provider of a wonderful meal; she became a part of this salon. The first stop for many of the guests would be to the kitchen for a kiss on the cheek to the chef and questions about what was going on in her life.
Other Island entrepreneurial efforts included her partnership with her husband Ken in the pastry business, Seven Layers, and the specialty foods business Chilmark Epicure. In recent years, Nicole and Ken formed the New York-based Culinary Econometrics, a software design and business consulting firm. With little prior computer knowledge, Nicole trained herself to handle all data entry tasks and personally was responsible for converting over 3,500 textbook recipes from hard copy to digital format.
Following a lengthy hiatus from the Vineyard, Nicole and Ken returned in 2005 looking to rent a quiet spot where they could settle in for long periods of time. They discovered the perfect house hidden up a long road in Chilmark and this became Nicole’s special place. It was there that the stresses of life in New York would melt away and where she could show her love to her friends by inviting them to her table. It was where she finally had the time to discover and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of Martha’s Vineyard. Whether it was quietly sitting in an Adirondack chair looking toward the south shore, a walk to the end of the property to gaze at the neighboring farm, or a slow stroll on Squibnocket with Ken and their dog to pick up shells and interesting rocks, this for Nicole was pure happiness.
Nicole is survived by her husband, Ken Goldberg; sisters Alberta, Sharon and Mary; half-sisters Jean and Elizabeth; along with many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews. She was predeceased by her brother Michael. She is also survived by Samantha, her devoted English springer spaniel.
Her family and friends attended a funeral mass held for Nicole in White Plains, N.Y. on October 20. The sounds of Ave Maria and Amazing Grace filled the rafters of the church as well as the spirits of all those who loved her.
Nicole was a supporter and believer in groups that train companion dogs. Donations in her name may be made to: Canine Companions for Independence (cci.org).