Al Nicolson started his role as Executive Chef in 2013, and has been one of the main reasons for our success over the last five years. Apart from Al’s food, which is excellent, he has everything a remote hotel needs – confidence, care, enthusiasm, serious work ethic, ability to fix stuff, a family (to keep him on the straight and narrow), and a love of fishing. He also grew up in a place smaller than Lord Howe, so he deals with the complexities of our small community like a Zen master.
Al doesn’t talk much (that’s one strategy for surviving the Lord Howe grapevine) and he always helps at fundraisers, nippers and the markets (another survival strategy). But underneath the strong, silent and helpful persona lies a kilt-wearing Scotsman who can tear up the dancefloor and sing karaoke like a Japanese salaryman – often not quite in sync with everyone else, which is part of his charm.
Chefs can be a messy bunch, from long hours of work, late nights, dinners of Vegemite on toast, and a long list of substances to help them relax (and then pick them up again), but not Al – he’s clean as a whistle.
Where are you from? I’m from the Isle of Skye on the north west coast of Scotland. I was brought up in a small village called Flodigarry which had 13 houses, and a pub. It now has 16, and a pub. My dad had a small farm and my mum was the teacher – my teacher – at the local school. She taught myself, my sister and 10 other children. Lord Howe can sometimes feel a bit crowded.
Where did you go to high school? I went to high school in Portree, also on Skye, about an hour’s drive from home.
What did you do for fun as a teenager? I spent a lot of time fishing in my teenage years. My uncle owned a lobster boat, and I would spend many hours at sea. This continues to this day – my wife and children couldn’t be happier.
Where did you go to university and what did you study? I went to Strathclyde University in Glasgow where I studied Material Science and Mechanical Engineering.
What did you do in your spare time at university? During my spare time I would work as a chef to pay for rent and beer. I met my wife, Danielle, while we were both working in a hotel.
List the countries you’ve visited: Iceland, France, Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, Monaco, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Austria, Switzerland, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, New Zealand, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, USA
Which countries have you lived in for longer than 6 months? I have only ever lived in Scotland and Australia for any length of time.
What languages do you speak? Despite being able to order a beer in 27 different languages, I only speak English proper.
Tell a story about an unforgettable travel adventure you’ve had: Our trip through Africa lasted for 3 months – it was actually our honeymoon. There are many stories and highlights from that trip, from meeting the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, bungee jumping over Victoria falls, hot air ballooning over the Serengeti, and fixing our overland truck with some garden hose, a bottle of coke and some electrical tape. One story that really comes to mind is arriving late at the Zimbabwe border. The power got cut off at 6pm and no one could get processed until it came back on in the morning. So we camped out next to a four-meter, razor wire topped, bullet ridden border wall, with about 200 truck drivers, goats, cattle and chickens. They had all missed the cut off. We bribed two border guards to keep watch on us. Sadly, they went off and spent their windfall on a couple of bottles of local brew, and we then had two drunk border guards, carrying AK 47s, ‘looking after us’. A couple of the girls inquired “where are the toilets?” The guards answered in perfect, slightly slurred, English “just walk around the wall – the toilets are on the other side”. None of us had noticed that the wall was only about 100 metres long and all the locals, truck drivers and children just walked around it. We decided that a group bush wee was much safer.
Tell me three things that other people find interesting about you? I think people are interested in 1. my left eye lashes are a different colour to my right; 2. I’ll work a 60 hour week and then get up at 4am to go fishing; and 3. my middle name is…. I’m not going to tell you that, most of the staff don’t know it either – they only find out when I get a letter from the ATO in the mail box.
Meet our staff – Tennille Schell