Woolworths TASTE

ALMOST FAMOUS

Nicola got the call in July last year. She’d been working on a new concept restaurant in Franschhoek, where she is now head chef, but back then it was still in its development stages, so she’d been out of the kitchen for a while.

A major Hollywood movie star and his family were looking for a private chef to cook for them for a couple of weeks in the house they were renting in Hout Bay. “The house was booked through Perfect Hideaways and Margot Janse [chef and former Eat Out Top 10 alumnus] is part of their team, so she recommended me,” Nicola says. “I remember her saying this was her reputation on the line, too.”

But Hollywood movie stars won’t let just any Prue Leith-trained, Margot Janse-vetted chef cook their lunch. Nicola had to audition.

“The brief was healthy, family food – organic, simple, child-friendly”

“The brief was healthy, family food – organic, simple, child-friendly,” she says, “but I also had to be able to step things up when entertaining.” On the day of the interview, “I was living in Franschhoek and had to cook lunch in Hout Bay, so I used a friend’s house in Constantia to prep. I was rushing but I still stopped at Banks to get chefs’ whites and then my friend accidentally locked me out so I was washing carrots under the outside tap!” This is a classic Nicola anecdote. Many of her cooking escapades sound like a crazy MasterChef pressure test crossed with an episode of The Amazing Race.

She made an Asian-style slaw with sticky chicken – reducing the dressing/ marinade of honey, soya, ginger and chilli to make a glaze – topped with sesame brittle. As a side, she served warm maple-roasted sweet potatoes dressed with crème fraîche, sriracha and lime (find the recipe on page 110). She got the job.

What followed was a cooking marathon that plays out like a season of MasterChef, complete with celebrity guest appearances and a surprise finale.

Nicola cooked three sit-down meals for around 12 people every day. The client was Vin Diesel, his family and entourage. After

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