World-Renowned Chef Finn Walter Elevates Lubbock Cuisine
“Hub City” Local Returns to Hometown to Craft High Plains Dishes
For Finn Walter the key to good food is a global perspective. From Germany, France, California, New Mexico and beyond, Walter traveled the world and gained an international approach to what it means to be both a global citizen and first-rate chef. After spending nearly 20 years traveling and working various places in the world, Walter returned to his hometown of Lubbock, Texas to open his own restaurant, The Nicolett.
“My goal was always to eventually move back to Texas, even when I was living in California, Berlin and Paris,” said Walter. “I always wanted to move back in order to share my version of High Plains cuisine with the Lubbock community.”
Though Walter was born and raised in the “Hub City,” his education spanned far beyond the 806. Starting from a young age Walter and his family took numerous vacations through Europe — in particular, France. While working toward his undergraduate at Bates College in Maine, Walter spent a semester abroad in Berlin studying history and German. Later, Walter returned to Europe to train as a cook in Parisian bistros for a year, learning the ins and outs of classic French cuisine.
“Getting to see and study ancient European cuisines and cultures throughout my life was very eye opening for me,” said Walter. “It was an inspiration for me to see the way that food was historically treated in those places.”
Following decades of world travel and starting his own family, Walter decided to return to Lubbock to pursue his dreams of starting his own business.
“After a while, I felt like I needed something more in my life,” said Walter. “The Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University was what brought my wife and I initially back to Lubbock, so I could get my MBA. But after we got back here, I realized that Lubbock has grown in many ways, and seemed very interested in supporting local businesses. I decided to stay.”
Armed with a business degree, and recognizing the potential for growth in the Lubbock market, Walter resolved to open his own restaurant. On November 12, 2020 — after nearly a year of fine-tuning and soft opens — The Nicolett opened its doors to the public.
Modeled after years of Walter’s classical and nonclassical culinary training, The Nicolett marries ancient cooking techniques with uniquely West Texas ingredients. Implementing what he calls “flavor memories,” Walter thoughtfully crafts such menu items as beef cheek “brisket” or elk tartare using ancient cooking techniques learned abroad.
“We want the guests to feel that the food and the setting of The Nicolett is something that is special and worthy of being savored,” said Walter.
For Walter, there was no better place to open his first restaurant than Lubbock. From the quality of work-life balance to minimal commute times and community support, the 806 served as the ultimate launchpad.
“Living here actually gives me the opportunity to pause,” said Walter. “When I was living in larger cities — whether that was Paris, San Francisco, even Austin — I was constantly scrambling to get to work, to get home and get to sleep, and then go right back to work. But it’s different in Lubbock.”
In addition to all the municipal amenities the city offers, Walter acknowledges that the people are truly what makes Lubbock so special. When deciding to open The Nicolett, Walter took into consideration the kind of support the community would provide.
“People are so excited about new things in Lubbock, about new, locally owned things,” said Walter. “Moving to Lubbock is obviously a different experience than a lot of other places. The people are extremely welcoming and friendly. Because of that, starting a business here affords a large amount of opportunity.”
As Walter continues to grow a one-of-a-kind Lubbock business, he sees others throughout the community striving to do the same. With a veritable renaissance of revitalization efforts citywide, people throughout the country are flocking to set up shop in the “Hub City.”
“Growth and culture are no longer strictly confined to just one side of town, or to one neighborhood,” said Walter. “Rather, now there’s culture and growth throughout Lubbock. The entire city is growing.”
Through partnerships with other Lubbock businesses like McPherson Cellars, La Sirena and The West Table Kitchen and Bar, Walter’s restaurant has established itself among other community mainstays.
“It’s still amazing to me that after moving back after 20 years, we’re able to return to experience such a sense of community,” said Walter. “Owning a small business in a city like Lubbock allows you to become a part of the fabric of that city. You’re a part of that community and you actually get to have a voice.”
As the “Hub City” continues to expand, Walter continues to dream of an even better, brighter future for his hometown.
“Lubbock’s growth presents incredible opportunities,” said Walter. “And I think Lubbock will never lose that core of itself or its values. Bringing more and more voices to the table will only help us to grow culturally in so many different and positive ways.”