Grass doesn’t grow under the feet of Nicole Barreira.
As corporate chef for Great NH restaurants T-Bones, Cactus Jack’s and The Copper Door, Barreira is creating new dishes in the test kitchens. As marketing manager, she is meeting with the executives and the menu team, tweaking seasonal menus and aligning concepts for the disparate restaurants, and creating her “In The Pink” healthy choices section.
As developer of her own Chef Nicole brand (perhaps you’re familiar with her signature pink chef’s coat), Barreira has a comprehensive website, www.chefnicole.com, with recipes for amateur and experienced chefs, young and old, a blog, and her own Simply Posh chef sets, signature seasoning blends, and more.
As a food educator, she has recently launched an interactive exhibit at the SEE Science Center for very young chefs. And as mother of Chloe Grace, almost 4, and Gabriella, 2, and partner of 10 years to Nathan Langford, she is creating healthy meals and nurturing a love for cooking.
She does public appearances, radio, TV and special events, and (wo)mans the Facebook page. In her spare time this year, Barriera will also churn out a children’s cookbook.
Not bad for just 30 years old.
Barreira, of Manchester, is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Her days are packed with culinary adventures, but her focus is always finding ways to offer healthy alternatives at the restaurants entrusted to her, and educating families on creating good habits and good family time.
“I’m really excited to offer ‘Science In The Kitchen With Chef Nicole!’ to the community,” Barreira said. The idea for the interactive exhibit, where children can learn about the fun and science behind cooking, came about simply enough: Great NH Restaurants CAO Lisa Allen was at the Manchester center, and sent Barreira and CEO Tom Boucher with the musing “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a Chef Nicole display here?” Barreira agreed.
“I love food and science, and I knew the pink Chef Nicole branding would lend itself to the center,” she said. “Tom laid out a budget, and we met with The Scribbit (marketing design company). I told them I wanted to link food science for kids. I wanted it realistic, not toy-like. Then we pitched it to SEE’s Douglas Heuser.”
Great NH Restaurants picked up the tab for building the exhibit, which includes sketches, culinary ideas and fun food facts, all branded in signature Chef Nicole pink. But it’s not a kiddie playground. “They have my Posh Kits, and Melissa and Doug realistic food toys. It’s not just fun playtime; kids can learn how to use (age-appropriate) knives and real equipment, and learn about real, different fruits and vegetables they may not be familiar with,” Barreira said. “For example, kiwi. Maybe if kids are exposed to something new at the exhibit, they’ll ask their parents to try it.”
Barreira said there are interesting facts all over the display, on the fridge, stove, icebox, etc. “There’s a cartoon Chef Nicole, talking about freezer burn facts,” she said. “And why do we cook food? There are facts about the science of cooked food, like how that makes us different from other animals on earth, and how cooking releases more nutrients to make our brains larger.”
Educating her kids and others is a major mission. “Food is such a huge part of our lives. I hope kids visiting the exhibit go from playing to learning the importance of healthy food choices, and how it affects your body,” she said. “When I spoke at the launch, I equated it with brushing our teeth, or why do we go to the doctor. I tell my kids vegetables are good for you; but don’t just tell them – tell them why. I tell my girls why I choose olive oil over butter for cooking: ‘Because it grows long princess hair.’ I connect it to things that make sense to them. Like, ‘green vegetables are what superheroes eat.’”
Barreira is quick to point out that it’s not all kale and perfection at her house. “If you think my kids don’t see the Golden Arches and want to stop, or don’t eat cookies and treats, you’re wrong. But I do say, eat this first.” She also makes sure her girls’ meals include a variety of healthy choices now, in their formative years – whether or not they make it to their tummies. “I don’t care if they only lick the asparagus,” she said, “as long as they see it. They’re used to seeing it, and it’s not foreign.” Barriera said she has met grown adults who aren’t familiar with the plethora of vegetables they could be enjoying.
Great NH Restaurants are doing their part to provide healthy options to diners in their establishments. “We were inaugural partners in the LiveWell program,” Barriera said. “I flew to D.C. and spoke at that conference.” The program was launched by the National Restaurant Association, to include more nutritious options for families dining out.
“They’re USDA-certified meals. Each has strict carb, fat and sugar restrictions,” Barreira said. “It’s a complete meal, with protein, vegetables, plus a beverage. It’s a cool national initiative, with a couple thousand restaurants on board. Parents can see online what restaurants participate. (CEO Tom Boucher) is involved in the National Restaurant Association, and the program matched our core values. Each Great NH Restaurant location has three kids’ LiveWell meals.”
Obviously, Barreira understands the time constraints of being a working parent trying to juggle the scant hours available for bonding and healthy eating. “When you get home from work, you have like 2 hours before your children’s bedtime,” she said. “And you have to help with homework, make dinner, get them ready for bed. I wanted to develop recipes that turn family time into cooking time, to promote sitting down and eating together as a family.”
Barreira hopes with her upcoming cookbook, she’ll be able to help families find a way to balance their time together, without resorting to drive-thru fast food or PB&Js. “It won’t be like other ones, where they’re simple recipes just for kids to make,” she said. “It will have things like grilled pork tenderloin: ‘this part the grown-up does, this part is what kids do.’ To create the meal together.”
As long as nobody licks the asparagus.