You Should Know… Nycci Nellis

Nycci Nellis. Courtesy of Nycci Nellis/The List Are You On It

Nycci Nellis is a well-established local food and wine journalist based in Kensington. She grew up in a Jewish family in New Jersey and has spent years working on a food radio program called “Foodie and the Beast,” along with widespread media engagement in various mediums.

Nellis has also recently worked with the Capital Jewish Museum and will be doing a month in residency at the museum, guest speaking, putting on events on Jewish delis and more as she explores the Jewish and food worlds.

Can you tell me about your background and Jewish upbringing?

I grew up in New Jersey, not far from New York City. Both my parents were Jewish, and I was raised in a Jewish household. My mother’s parents were religious; they were observant. And I grew up with a lot of traditions from my mother’s side of the family. Big Passover tables, big Jewish holiday celebrations, the High Holidays — they were big deals in our family. Also, my best friend growing up, her family hosted big Shabbat dinners every Friday night. So, there were a lot of exterior [Jewish] influences. My experience with religion was not as religious-based as it was food- and tradition-based. Everything took place for me with religion around the table. Whether it was helping my grandmother make rugelach or helping my best friend’s mom make her challah and even now today, with Passover just happening, being together with my family, there’s like 35 of us around the table. … It’s making me a little teary thinking about it, but it is important in my life.

How did you end up in the D.C. area and get involved Jewish life here?

I moved down to D.C. after college. And I married my husband, who was born and raised in the area. He’s also Jewish, and I can tell you the most impactful [Jewish] relationship here was with the JCC in Rockville. … I met all these wonderful people, and my three older boys all wound up being camp counselors there and both the younger kids went through it [the JCC preschool], and it was a very impactful part of everybody’s lives.

How did your media career get underway in the D.C. area?

When my daughter was born, right before I gave birth to her, I was baking out of my house for area restaurants, and I was finding out about all these fabulous events going around the D.C. area. Cooking classes with chefs and wine dinners and all these things. And at the time, if it wasn’t in Washington Post food section every Wednesday, or it wasn’t in Washingtonian, which was a monthly, you weren’t going to find it anywhere. And that made me crazy because I’ve always been a concierge to my friends about what’s happening, what’s going on, etc. So, I decided to create a website. … I did not realize that I was starting a journalistic endeavor. I just thought I was giving people information that I wanted. I wanted to know about events. I wanted to know about restaurants. I wanted to know what was happening in the food community, and I did not feel like I was getting that kind of information. [Eventually] I was asked to start writing for other publications, which was great. I got asked to do a lot of television very early, which was awesome. I also got asked to do radio for WTOP. All these things percolated at the same time, which allowed me to build a foundation.

How did you get involved with Capital Jewish Museum?

When they were in fundraising mode, they contacted me about what they were doing there and how well they were highlighting people of Jewish descent who practice Judaism or consider themselves Jewish in the D.C. area. And having a museum that celebrates the Jewish community in the D.C. area that has been here for hundreds of years, and what they’ve built here and the foundations they have laid for other people, other Jewish families and other Jewish people to live here is worth knowing. … So, when they first contacted me about it, they wanted me to participate, and they did a fabulous food festival before the museum opened. And I was like, absolutely. … The people who run the museum and who are part of the different departments of the museum are so earnest and they’re so excited about what they do, and they really understand that the museum not only tells a story but is also a continued growth of sharing stories and it will be as it ages to become this community center for Jews and non-Jews alike. And I think that that is so important. For me, it’s a gift from the gods to be able to do my show there for a month.

How has your background impacted your life today?

My upbringing, they [my family] basically told me I could do whatever I wanted to, and I didn’t know how to get into this world [of food]. So, I created it. I elbowed my way and said make room, while wearing some very high heels, I should add. And then I did.

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