With a career spanning 24 years globally, he has worked with some of the most internationally renowned chefs, including Conrad Gallagher, Liam Tomlin, Laurent Manrique, and Richard Corrigan, all of whom have been awarded two or more Michelin stars for restaurants they have managed and owned.
South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, India, China, New York, Finland, Sweden & Germany is where he shined with his F&B and Culinary Operations skills, later also adding on consultancy to his experience where he took up projects in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Tanzania.
Armed with a Diploma in International Hospitality and Professional Cookery, from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, a Zodiak Business Finance & Strategy Certification, a Black Belt Certification in Management of Profitable Food & Labor Cost Targets and Margins, coupled with his judicious decision-making skills makes him an astute leader.
His core strength includes skills such as Kitchen and Restaurant Design, Menu Engineering & Implementation, People Development & Performance Management, Planning & Budgeting, Development of New F&B Concepts and Environmentally Friendly & Sustainable Menus, Product Feasibility Studies & Market Research.
Smalberger has also expertly headed several promotional events such as Chefs Table Event hosted at The Palace of the Lost City; International Food Festival held at the Convention Centre in Cape Town; 26th International Trade and Commerce Festival hosted by South African High Commission in the Taj Palace, Mumbai, and Delhi; Chinese Food Festival at the Ritz Carlton in Shanghai, etc..
Besides managing mammoth events he has also handled herculean tasks of looking after the Head of States, Official sponsors, Worldwide International Teams whilst South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup. No mean play here.
Adding to that he has on his portfolio bespoke meals created for a selection of celebrities, most notably Oprah Winfrey, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charlize Theron, Michael Jackson, and Marco Pierre-White.
How different was it cooking for them vis a vis cooking for a general audience? “The expectation is obviously very high when cooking for celebs, and if u mess it up you’re a goner, so research into what they like and dislike before feeding them is always good,” he cautions.
Getting nostalgic he recalls how Michael Jackson would look forward to only an omelette made of egg whites and steam veggies every day. “For Oprah, it was Spaghetti Bolognese, simple comfort food,” he continues, also remembering her launch event at the Palace of the Lost City where 220 celebs flew in on their private jets and the tables were laid with a six-course dinner menu.
Speaking of his personal best, he believes it to be the one he cooked for celebrity chef Marco Pierre White for his book launch event at the Bateaux Dubai. One can see his chest swell with pride as he replays the praise he received from the master cook himself. He remembers every word as he echoes it for us, “How the heck did u manage to pull off a quality meal like this in a kitchen gully as small as Bateaux Dubai kitchen. Pure Genius.”
Chef Nicolas has also aired on TV shows like BBC Food and the television reality show, Conrad’s Kitchen. The show was an eight week series with one episode aired per week and had the TV crew following the chef brigade everywhere they went filming them in real kitchen scenarios. “Reality it was indeed – they spent 1.5 years filming us in real kitchen scenarios, good and bad, as it unfolded naturally,” he tells us.
Smalberger also has within him an entrepreneurial streak where he co-owned two restaurants – ‘Geisha Wok’ and ‘Noodle Bar’ in Cape Town city. To all F&B entrepreneurs, he advises, “Do proper market research and have a SOLID business plan before jumping in senselessly. If u have a business partner TRUST is the main thing. Don’t expand too fast and make sure your brand is established before growing it.”
Speaking of his personal preferences he tells us, “An a-la-carte freshly cooked meal is way better. I think buffets are grouse.” We agree too chef!
Presently he is part of the UAE Executive Chef team along with Chef Luke Johnson at Emirates Cuisine Solutions, a joint venture between the Emirates Flight Catering commonly known as EKFC and the Washington DC-based Cuisine Solutions (CSI) to become the UAE’s sole distributor of Sous Vide products. Telling us more about Cuisine Solutions MEA Chef Nicolas says, “We are the masters of sous vide since 1971. Our chief food scientist Bruno Goussault invented Sous Vide with Joel Robischon back then. Bruno still around, is our chief food scientist, and continues to better the sous vide technique and the line of products for a huge market globally.”
Chef Nicolas has two kids, a son, and a daughter. His son like him is a chef and his daughter has recently completed her degree in child psychology. He is in awe of his wife of four years who was a Chef at the iconic Burj Al Arab, and now a training manager for Expo 2021. For himself he candidly admits to being a perfectionist with OCD - “It’s the two worst and best characteristics any chef can have.”
He wants to leave behind a legacy of excellence and knowledge, training young minds and bestowing on them all his experiences that he has gained over the years. In these extremely challenging times, where things are not going to be the same even when the pandemic has passed, his recipe is to “never give up” no matter how tough times are, or may get. “Support local markets as much as possible, whether it is suppliers, service providers, or employment. Follow your passion, stay true to yourself,” is his counsel to the entire fraternity.
As for the future, he wants to retire with his wife somewhere in Asia, running a quaint little ‘bed and breakfast’, where she will manage the front of the house and he will be happy making pizzas all day. The couple is already looking for property in the Philippines islands where they can retire to a life full of fun, frolic, and food.
Image Courtesy: Caterer Middle East, Hotelnews me
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