'Chef' was her career goal from childhood
Chef Nicole Barreira has spent better than half her life working in kitchens around the Granite State, and in her bright pink chef’s coat, she has helped shape the menus at several local restaurants.
Barreira, 30, is the corporate chef and marketing manager for Great New Hampshire Restaurants, which owns T-Bones in Manchester, Salem, Hudson, Bedford, Laconia, and Derry; Cactus Jack’s in Manchester and Laconia; and The Copper Door in Bedford.
But Barreira is more than just a chef — she’s a bit of a celebrity. She is regularly featured on local television shows and in magazines, and has her own blog at www.chefnicole.com.
“My kids know me either as ‘mom’ or as ‘Chef Nicole,’” she said. “I think they believe Chef Nicole is my real name.”
She’s also one of the featured chefs for the third annual New Hampshire Restaurant Week which begins Friday. During Restaurant Week, more than 150 local restaurants around the state will be serving special three-course prix fixe menus, giving food lovers a chance to try different venues and experience the creativity of local chefs.
Barreira began her career in the kitchen as a young child, helping her parents put together family meals.
“My dad is Portuguese and my mother is Sicilian so cooking was something you did whether you liked it or not,” she said. “My sisters hated cooking, but I loved it. I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
At 14, Barreira decided what she wanted — needed — was a pager of her own, but when she told her father that she needed one, he kept his wallet tucked safely in his pocket.
“He said, ‘go get a job and you can buy whatever you want,’” she said. “So I did.”
She began by busing tables at a local buffet restaurant, and moved her way into the kitchen, where she did prep work. In school, she focused on home economics courses, “because they were the easiest way to get out of math.” At Alvirne High School, she decided to pursue culinary arts and continued on to get her bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and a master’s degree in organizational leadership at Southern New Hampshire University.
Combining the love of cooking with a strong background in management was important to Barreira’s life goals.
“I wanted to be a chef. I didn’t want to own a restaurant, because I know how much of your life goes into that,” she said. “And I knew I would want to be a mom at some point.”
Nine years ago, Barreira began working for Great New Hampshire Restaurants and has been able to achieve all of those goals. From spending weeks with the staff from the restaurants working on new menu items in the company’s test kitchen, to cooking with her own children in the family kitchen (while skirting their Great Dane), Barreira has created the life she wanted.
But she admits she’s a work in progress and proudly said she always will be.
“I get bored easily so I’m always reading, always trying to learn new things, and that’s what I love about food,” she said. “No matter how much you know about food, you’ll never know everything.”
As for the signature pink chef’s coat, Barreira said she found it when she was looking for a way to stand out in a crowded kitchen.
“I’m only 5’ 1” in my clogs, and in the kitchen I’m always surrounded by all these tall men,” she said. “When I saw the pink coat online, I said ‘I must have this.’”
Once she put on the pink, she knew it was a perfect fit and set her apart from the other hands in the kitchen. But it’s her love of food, she said, that truly sets her apart.
Chef Nicole Barreira’s Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls
20 egg roll wrappers
8 cups marinated chicken tenders, grilled and chopped fine
1 cup celery, chopped fine
1 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup scallions sliced thin
6 oz mixed shredded cheese
6 oz buffalo wing sauce
6 oz blue cheese dressing
4 oz water for wrapping
1. Grill marinated tenders until cooked through. When cool, fine chop the chicken.
2. Mix together the celery, carrot, scallions, cheese, buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing in a bowl.
3. Add the chicken to the mixture and mix well.
4. Place egg roll wrappers on a cutting board, 5 at a time, so they look like diamonds. Towards the front point of each, lay 2 ounces of the buffalo mixture.
5. Roll by folding the first corner point over mixture and then painting with water, then lay over the left and right corners to create the shape. Point the roll with some water and then roll until sealed.
6. Repeat until 20 rolls are complete.
7. Drop egg roll into fryer for 6 minutes, until golden and crispy.
8. Plate with a pile of shredded lettuce topped with shredded carrot and a sprinkle of scallion.