Dame du Jour: Nichole Clark

by Maria Isabella

What happens when a young woman’s dream is to work on the French Riviera for a 3-star Michelin chef? But in order to do so, she has to take a series of skill tests to compete for one sole coveted spot on the line alongside more than 50 other chefs, all male. If you’re Nichole Clark, you ace it—which is exactly what she did!

Nichole spent the next entire year working for the legendary Chef Roger VergĂ© at the posh Le Moulin de Mougin in the south of France.  She came equipped with plenty of ambition, as well as formal training from both the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts and the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners.

How did this passion come about? It all started when she was only 11 years old. As a latchkey kid among many others on her street who got money from their parents to buy food at the corner store, she had a brilliant-beyond-brilliant idea. She started cooking and selling homemade meals for the neighborhood kids. She even went so far as to set up a chalkboard on her porch with her menu.

“After getting busted by my parents,” explains Nichole somewhat sheepishly, “I had to start paying for the ingredients. However, I still kept the business going and kept on experimenting with new recipes.”

This passion for cooking came from her mother, whose family used to make homemade blood, rice, and Slovenian smoked sausages—and who encouraged her young daughter to join in and help. After all, her mother insisted at the time, “If you’re old enough to tie your shoes, you’re old enough to tie sausage.”

“My mother taught me the importance of family tradition and being creative,” beams Nichole. “She believed in me and encouraged me to try new things and find my way.”

As for what drove her to a career in food, she explains it like this:

“I loved the fast-paced kitchen atmosphere, the kitchen talk, the sweaty T shirts, and the crisp white chef coats. I loved racing the clock to finish prep before service and precision cuts for fine dining. I loved the rush that came with filling the ticket rail and the high that came with putting out the last dish. I loved the organized chaos of cooking and plating dishes. I loved the efficiency of a kitchen and the adaptability it required. It was an outlet for my creativity and attracted crazy, likeminded individuals, all with passion and a story.”

Her advice to others just starting out in a culinary career is to “have fun, travel, and train while you can! Cooking is an adventure. The detours and mistakes are just as important as the plan we started out with.”

As the current Associate Store Team Leader for Whole Foods Market Cedar Center, Nichole now enjoys spending time with family and entertaining outdoors over an open fire. She also enjoys trying new places to eat during her travels. The best experience she’s had during her travels was at the Matunuck Oyster Bar in Rhode Island. “They raise their own oysters in Potter Pond,” she says. As for the best food during her travels? “It was definitely at the restaurant, Vedge, in Philadelphia. All I can say is wow!”

As for what she enjoys most about being an LDEI member? “Meeting women who inspire me!”

Learn more about Nichole as she shares some fun and interesting insights about herself.

What’s your favorite restaurant and what do you usually order there? The cuttlefish at Club Isabella.

What is the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten? The Cricket Lickit. My son and I dared each other to eat it. It was so gross! I ate the head.

What’s your favorite snack? Hummus, pita, and veggies.

Do you have a signature dish? Bouillabaisse.

What’s your go-to, quick-and-easy dinner? Taco Night with all the fixings. Great for both vegetarians and carnivores!

What’s your favorite dessert to prepare? Berries and cream. I don’t really have a sweet tooth or enjoy baking…too much measuring.

What’s the biggest cooking mistake you’ve ever made? During my apprenticeship, I was working at the Renaissance Hotel downtown. I had to help cover a call off and grill fresh halibut fillets for a banquet. I didn’t check to see if the grill was hot and put about 25 pieces on the grill. It had just been turned on and all the fish stuck. I tried so hard to get them off in one piece, but they were ruined and I was so embarrassed.

Any favorite indulgences? I have a plant-strong diet, so I guess cheese would be my favorite indulgence.

Name 3 things that are always in your refrigerator. Garlic, hot sauce, and fresh greens.

Name 3 kitchen gadgets you can’t live without. Mandolin, peppermill, and Vitamix.