The day had started like any other for Edinburgh mum Nichola Pearce. The usual rush to get kids Callum, Sophie and Angus off to school, running errands and keeping on top of the seemingly never-ending housework before dashing back to collect her children.
It was on the afternoon school run in Bonaly that she took the phone call which would transform her life, a call which would catapult her literally into another world.
It wasn’t unusual for her brother Charlie to ring for a chat from Dubai but what he had to say this time was far from ordinary.
The cast and crew of Star Trek Beyond, the third instalment of the reboot series, were heading to the Persian Gulf to shoot some of the final scenes in the big-budget movie and a private chef was required for Chris Pine, who plays James T Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise, and Idris Elba, the ruthless villain Krall.
Did Nichola fancy it?
Although a chef to trade – she teaches children at the Edinburgh School of Food and Wine at Newliston on the outskirts of the Capital – she was soon boldly going where she’d never been before.
“My sister-in-law Lucy is a private chef in Dubai and the production company had contacted her to try to find a personal chef for Chris Pine,” explained Nichola, 43, who spent eight years working in London and previously cooked at ski chalets on the Continent and shooting lodges.
“She couldn’t do it but thought it would be something I would like so my brother rang me and explained the offer. To be honest I had no idea who Chris Pine was and had never seen any of the Star Trek films but I looked on it as a great opportunity and one I couldn’t turn down.
“I sent in my CV to the production company who then forwarded it on to Chris and his personal assistant. I didn’t hear anything back for a good two-and-a-half weeks but then got an e-mail on the Sunday asking me to fly out the following Saturday. Clearly I was delighted but made sure I watched the two previous movies so I knew what was going on!”
The mouth-watering three-week stint in the UAE came with its own challenges, however, as the mum-of-three explained.
“The start was tough as I didn’t have a kitchen to speak of on the set of the film in Studio City,” she said. “I met the production folk and we figured out what was going to be best. In the end we set up next to where Chris’s make-up [area] was and I had a back door out to his trailer which was perfect.
“I shopped for all the equipment and food on the Monday and Tuesday and Chris arrived on the Wednesday. I first met him at the big press launch at the Burj Al Arab.
“Due to the fire regulations, all I had to cook on was a two-ring, electric hob and an electric grill outside. While I was there to cook what Chris wanted, there were certain things I couldn’t do due to the fact there wasn’t an oven, for example.
“It was great fun, though, as I had to be quite inventive.
“When they were on one of three locations, it was pretty much full-on since I couldn’t cook as the facilities weren’t there. I ended up cooking in the flat of one of the production girls then driving the food to wherever Chris was.
“It was no more than ten minutes but with it being so hot, there was a lot to think about when it came to transferring the food. I was driving and had to find my own may around. Dubai is a mental place to drive so thank goodness I had a GPS otherwise I’d have been completely stuck.
“Logistically it was a challenge but enjoyable nonetheless.”
So what was on the menu for the commander of the Enterprise as he prepared to save his crew from the clutches of the enemy?
“I had to be at his hotel every morning to cook breakfast for him, then I would go to the studio or out on location with him,” added Nichola, who is currently helping out at the newly-opened Boardwalk Beach Club on the Cramond Foreshore.
“Every morning for breakfast he would have coffee, poached eggs and bacon, bread and a healthy juice. You’re not allowed to cook pork in hotels in Dubai but if I was on site it was often avocado, poached eggs, grilled pancetta, marinaded tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and basil with grated cheese. He was very much protein-focused and didn’t eat anything sweet at all.
“It varied from day to day but I’d make things like nice soups, casseroles, lovely salads with New York strip streaks, etc.
“I quickly got into a routine as once filming started it was basically an 11-hour day. If they started at 11am, they finished at 10pm. It basically followed the pattern of filming for six hours, a break for an hour, then filming for five hours. There tended not to be any set times and I just had to fit in around the filming.
“Idris Elba was always needing breakfast really early as he had to go into make-up and he would have porridge, smoked salmon with avocado and an egg white omelette. That was his thing and he would have it as a take-out and eat it in the car on the way to the studio.”
Nichola was able to access the stunning sets but had to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to taking on the role.
She said: “It was fascinating to see how it all worked and the costumes were amazing. I signed a confidentiality agreement and you need that as there has to be a trusting relationship between you and the artist. Over the three weeks, Chris, myself and his PA Erin bonded well and everything went smoothly.
“It was the first time I’d had a job quite like that. It was challenging but equally very rewarding. It wasn’t just about the cooking, it was about having the personality to cope with everything else.”
As a consequence of her stint in Dubai, the mum-of-three was recommended to the Trainspotting producers and she subsequently enjoyed a day cooking for the cast and crew, the highlight of which was Robert Carlyle personally praising Nichola and telling her the food was the best he had enjoyed on the set.
The contrast between cooking for the stars and her current front of house role at the Boardwalk Beach Club could not be more stark, although she’s thoroughly enjoying preparing paninis, servicing tables and working the till.
“I know the owner and his wife as our kids go to the same school,” she said. “They knew my catering background and we talked a lot about the type of food to have at the café and I think they appreciated me helping out to get that side of things sorted.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s been good to be front of house and not in the kitchen all the time.
“It’s a nice relaxed way to work and quite different from Dubai.
“That seems like a dream some times. The contrast between working at the Boardwalk Café and a film set is somewhat different!”
Needless to say, the latest Trekkie blockbuster made for an interesting family day out for the Pearces following its release.
“It was an exciting time for everyone involved and having seen some of the sets, it was really interesting to see the final version,” she said.
“My kids also enjoyed going to watch the film and see what their mum was involved with.
“My husband Glenn and the children were chuffed about who I was cooking for and I’m grateful for their support, and my friends’, as without that network I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”