Chef Interview Part One: Cooking in the French Alps
One of The International Kitchen’s favorite new cooking vacations of the year is in the Rhone Alps region, long famous for its amazing food. Nestled in the Savoie area of the French Alps, this scenic cooking vacation offers dramatic landscapes and delectable French cuisine, everything one could want in a culinary trip to France.
What is your first memory of cooking?
This has to be from the age of 8, on school holidays with my cousins and my Auntie Lizzie on the farm. Auntie Liz baked the best cakes ever, had a huge messy kitchen, a big pantry full of surprises, chickens running around the garden and access to farm fresh milk and eggs. It was also my first time using a Kenwood mixer, l felt so grown up standing on a wooden stool mixing ingredients together and l will never forget how good those first sponges and chocolate cakes tasted, made from my messy fingers and shared with the family. l loved the process of creation – it was here my passion for baking began and continued to flourish with the patience of my Mum, making all the cakes for the weekly lunch boxes for school.
I was then hooked on watching cookery programs on TV, getting Mum to buy the ingredients and then l would practice and practice on producing the evening meal for the family, which lead to me cooking dinner parties for Mum and Dad at the age of 13.
I would even make my little sister and her friends after school sit around the kitchen bench and listen to me pretending to be the TV presenter on food.
Where or from whom did you learn about cooking?
This is a big question and has many elements of influence to it, self taught along the early stages, then developed through courses and life working experiences. I learnt the basics of cooking by watching and helping my Mum from a very early age, using seasonal produce from the garden, soups & casseroles for winter, fish & salads for summer.
My God Father Uncle Eric did not teach me how to cook but he had a huge influence on my palette and opened my eyes to the world of food. He would take me to a restaurant once a month from the age of 10, l would love every minute of this learning experience. I learnt how to roll spaghetti with only a folk, to use chop sticks, to spin a pizza base, to throw a plate in celebration. He was lightly educating me on Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Greek cuisine under his watchful eye. He will never know how much he has influenced me on my journey to understanding and experimenting with food.
l had a neighbour who ran a catering business, and at 13 I was helping her on the weekends prepare finger food – we would go to the markets and purchase fresh produce and then cook all afternoon, great pocket money and a good foundation on pre-dinner presentation.
I then spent 3 years doing the “Hotel Management and Catering Diploma” at William Anglis Catering college. I had a handful of French chefs teaching me about food, it was here l learnt the textbook basics of what is right and what is wrong.
I then left for France at the age of 21 and have never returned home to live since – l have worked hard and learnt continuously over the past 27 years – it’s always been about hospitality, about food or drink on Super yachts, in hotels, running bars or chalets.
Intrigued? So are we! Learn more about Chef Nikki in our Friday blog post, which will feature part two of our chef interview. Or, meet her yourself on our Cooking in the French Alps culinary vacation.
By Peg Kern
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