Sitting in a car outside McDonald’s, waiting for a plane, TV cooking favourites Adriano Zumbo and Nelly Riggio were both in a jam.
It was Christmas Eve and the tongue-tied pastry legend was struggling to tell his gorgeous girlfriend he loved her. And for once, bubbly Nelly, who shot to fame on My Kitchen Rules, was similarly lost for words.
‘I felt like I was 16 again,’ grins dessert icon, guest MasterChef judge, businessman and author Adriano, 35, who also happens to be Nelly’s boss.
‘We were both trying to tell each other something, but I didn’t know whether to say it or not. It was like being a kid.’
Today, life is sweet for the lovebirds, who met when Nelly, 26, was interviewed for a job with Zumbo’s dessert catering empire last July.
‘I did most of the talking,’ she laughs, sharing their story for the first time exclusively in New Idea. ‘He just sat and listened!’
But Adriano, then single and enjoying his bachelor lifestyle, was quietly impressed by her passion for food, her energy and attitude. Nelly got the gig and promptly relocated from Brisbane to Sydney for work in September.
Soon afterwards, her five-year romance with MKR partner JP Huillet fell apart.
‘There were a lot of rumours that it had something to do with Adriano, but that’s not true. He’s not a homewrecker, he knew I was in a relationship,’ she confirms. ‘But it just wasn’t working with JP any more. We could both tell it was... over.’
Nelly was busy in the research and development kitchen, working long shifts with Zumbo’s assistant, while the maestro travelled overseas. The magic finally happened when they flew to Indonesia on business last November.
‘That was when I fell in love with him,’ says Nelly. ‘We hadn’t spent much time together, but once we did, it was almost instantaneous. It fully took my breath away. I wanted to tell him straight away, but I was like: “No, Nelly! Hold back, it’s too soon!”
‘He was nothing like I thought he would be. I was expecting this arrogant, loud chef, but he turned out to be a really sweet, shy person, which was endearing. He’s very patient, he’s still very patient with me, and he’s a good listener.’
Adriano adds: ‘Nelly keeps me very grounded. Her vibe makes me feel less stressed. I’m able to sit in her beautiful aura and just be relaxed.’
For the full story, see this week’s New Idea – Out now.
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