Cooking up a storm with Neven Maguire

Neven Maguire
Neven Maguire / Photo by Brian Byrne (mariseo) / Flickr
Neven Maguire
Neven Maguire / Photo by Brian Byrne  Flickr

Neven Maguire is one of Ireland’s most well-known chefs, from his appearances on RTÉ’s ‘Home Chef’ to his books, Neven has acquired many fans throughout his career.  In a interview with The Circular, he talks about his inspirations, local produce and his new partnership with Ben’s Beginners to get the nation’s youth cooking.

For many of us, we learn how to cook by watching our parents as kids, and for Maguire it was no different.  Growing up in a family of 9, he learned to cook under the watchful eye of his mum at the age of 6.  Despite being the only one in the family to take it up professionally, Neven’s mother ensured that the whole family learned together.

As inspirations go, Neven’s mum was by far his biggest, as the top chef learned his tricks from working with his mum for over 20 years.  Baking was the particular favourite, as he learned to make everything from flapjacks to bread.  When it came to main courses, casseroles and stir-fries were usually the popular meals.

In one of his latest ventures, Neven launched Ben’s Beginners, a new cooking initiative set up by Uncle Ben’s to encourage parents to get their children cooking.  The programme will also offer families the chance to win €5,000 in cash, with a further €10,000 for their school.  “I think it’s hugely important for children to get cooking early, because it is good for their health, but also for them to enjoy food and to have fun with it.” says Neven, “Cooking together allows for bonding and it also encourages you to eat together”.

On the subject of healthy eating, Neven believes education and using local produce are key to Irish people improving our eating habits.  Speaking on his work with Bord Bia and about the news of the horse-meat scandal, he gives us his insight into the importance of eating Irish food  and why it’s never been a better time to do so “I think knowing where our food comes from is the important thing, because looking at the horse-meat scandal earlier this year, it sent more people back to their local butcher.”

In order to get people into cooking, the Cavan born chef believes tasting different foods is the best way to encourage anybody to get cooking in the kitchen.  It may not be a hit first time round, but a few tries should encourage anybody to get into the habit of making their own meals.  From age 4 to 64, it’s never to late to get into the kitchen or even help with the dinner preparations.

On the topic of student eating, Neven recommends mince meat and vegetables are the basics that anyone should have.  A recipe for a meal like vegetable soup is one of the many reusable ideas for those who want extend the life of their cooking produce.

Talking about the ethos the ‘Home Chef’ star has, meeting the people who make your ingredients is vital to insure what you get is genuine “When you go to places like the Farmer’s Market, you’re meeting the people who are growing the food” says Neven, “Buying within the seasons, cook seasonal food because you’ll get the best taste and the best price.”

The chef also believes we shouldn’t be importing as much, as all sorts of food from meat to dairy are produced here.  “We’ve got such natural produce, and keeping that is very important.”

This year, Neven will also bring his ideas into his new Cookery School, which will be based near his restaurant in MacNean House in Co. Cavan.  The idea is to bring 16 people at time and teach them how to cook, although the food won’t be at chef level of intensity, the students will get to cook hands on with Neven himself.  From Irish stew to breakfast recipes, those on the course will learn to cook the basics before experimenting themselves.

In a world where nearly every meal is also available in packaged form, the ethos Neven has will be brought into the school to show students that they can cook it too.

In his latest book ‘The Nation’s Favourite Food’, Neven compiles 100 of his recipes that he has ‘tried, tested and perfected’ himself.’  The book features pictures of the finished meals, which are accompanied by the guide to make them.  This will also be the eleventh book Neven has written.

Other than his books, Neven also has entered his sixth series of the RTÉ ‘Home Chef’ TV show, which is soon to be broadcast in the US from series one, with the sixth series being broadcast here in January 2014.   In his latest series, Neven also visits recent Michelin Star winning Chef Cormac Rowe from the Mount Juliet Hotel and Estate in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny.  “I still have the same passion after all these years, It’s great that I have so much variety in the line of work I do by meeting other people.”  For those who are unfamiliar with ‘Home Chef’, Neven takes off around the country to cook with chefs and try new recipes

There is also an iPhone app called ‘The Official Neven Maguire Recipe App’, which features videos of recipes from Neven’s catalogue.  The app is regularly updated with new recipes all the time since it’s release three years ago.

MacNean House, Neven’s restaurant in Blacklion, Co.Cavan, is also doing well.  But the star chef is keen to add that the tourism tax rate of 9% is a key factor in his ability to keep staff levels at a high.  “It’s great that there is an initiative  like this, but I think there are more industries that need this also” Neven points out, “I was able to take on 10 more people, which is fantastic for me.  But I was also able to pass that saving onto the customers as they got less-expensive food, so it was a win-win for everyone.”

For more about Neven, visit his website here.

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