Saturday 24 September 2016

Family man Neven Maguire: 'I hadn't seen the twins for two weeks and I knew that this wasn't what I wanted anymore'

Neven Maguire (42) is a chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and now he also runs his own cookery school. He lives in Blacklion, Co Cavan, where he was born, with his wife Amelda, and their three-year old twins, Connor and Lucia

Ciara Dwyer

Published 25/05/2015 | 02:30

Neven Maguire: 'I'm not a morning person, I'm a 24-hour person'.
Neven Maguire: 'I'm not a morning person, I'm a 24-hour person'.

I usually get up at 7.45am. My wife, Amelda, is in the house with our three-year-old twins, Connor and Lucia. They don't wake until 8.30am. They are still up a wee bit during the night. I was up with them three times last night. Connor usually wakes and comes into our bed; sometimes Lucia will too. I don't mind this. There will come a time when they don't want to come near us at all.

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I live five minutes from our restaurant - MacNean House in Blacklion, Co Cavan. I also run a cookery school there. I teach two or three days a week. The class starts at 9.30am. Before that, I have breakfast - juice and porridge. The twins love porridge too. We got into juices this year. This morning it was beetroot, spinach, celery, apple and pear. If you asked me a year ago if I liked it, I would have told you that it tasted awful, but now I find juices quite addictive.

I'm not just a morning person, I'm a 24-hour person. I have good energy. My brother said that I have a good engine in me, and with the twins you'd need that, because they want to play with you. Then I go to work in the cookery school. Last week, I did two half-day classes in the mornings, and afternoons with parents and kids. The kids ranged in ages from five to 15, and there were lots of boys, which was interesting.

The school is only open a year and it means being home a lot, which is fantastic. I'm not on the road as much, which is a dream for me, especially with the kids. All they want is your time.

Two years ago, I hit a bit of a brick wall. I was driving back from Cork after a demonstration and I had to stop the car a few times, because my eyes were closing. I knew that this wasn't what I wanted anymore. I hadn't seen the twins for over two weeks. It was scary for me. I realised that I was losing control. I needed to do something about it and so, I had to change. I set up the cookery school - I love to teach. It also brings me back to my childhood, because I really got into baking and cooking while watching my mother. I teach simple recipes.

Whatever I cook in class, be it fish or soup, I usually send it up to the house for the twins. Then I take an hour's break from 1.30pm. I go to the office with Andrea, my PA. Amelda works three days a week, doing the bookkeeping and wages. Then it's back to the cookery school. I get a kick out of it. I finish there at around 5.30pm.

I take an hour with the twins. I either cook something for them, or bring something up from the school. We're blessed that they have a very varied palate. One of their favourite foods is squid. They tasted it when we were on holidays in the Basque Country last year. It's incredible the way their taste buds develop and change. We make a point of eating together, and they always eat what we eat. They watch what you eat, and so, they want the same.

I did a recipe book called The First 1000 Days, which covers meals from the moment of conception to when the baby is two; and this month, I've just published my 11th book, which has baby and toddler recipes. It's about meals you can all eat together. With a lot of the recipes, you can make them and freeze them. I'm no expert on them, but I know what we've been through. After the twins were born, my wife was very ill for about six months. But she made an amazing recovery and, thank God, we have put it behind us. It made me reflect on what I was doing.

It was a reality check for me. I cut back on what I was doing and learnt to prioritise. I started to say 'no' more often, and now Mondays and Tuesdays are my days off. We usually bring the kids swimming, or do something else active with them. They are the best thing that ever happened in my life and I'm so much happier. They are what it is all about.

When they see the white jacket on, they know that I have to go back to work. That's when they ask me to stay for five more minutes. Then I'm in the restaurant for 6.30pm. I do service and then I go and see all my customers. That's really important. We have two sittings a night.

MacNean House is a family-run restaurant. My parents initially opened it in 1965. We struggled with the Troubles, and our house was bombed twice. They closed it and then they re-opened in 1989. Now we have over 50 people employed in Blacklion and we're doing really well. My food is modern-Irish cooking and the restaurant is a fine-dining experience. I worked in many restaurants abroad, including Arzak, a three-Michelin-star restaurant in San Sebastian. I always worked at the top end, and it had a great influence on my life. Those experiences made me the chef I am today. I've always loved my job, and cooking has been very good for me.

My staff aren't just my staff, they are my family. I don't want to open other restaurants. I want to do one, and do it right. I want to enjoy what I have and enjoy the time with my twins. We film my TV shows behind the house, so it's great that I don't have to travel for them.

I'm usually home at midnight. If I'm hungry when I get back to the house, I'll have Weetabix with warm milk and watch Sky Sports for about 20 minutes; I love Manchester United. Then I go to bed. I'm a light sleeper, and even though the twins are in their own beds in the room next door to us, it'd be very rare that I wouldn't hear them.

I'm very content in my life and I'm glad that I hit that brick wall where I had to make a decision to change. Ever since then, I haven't looked back. The twins make sense of what life is about and I enjoy being with them. I love my life, and I feel very lucky.

The 'Sunday Independent' is official media partner to Taste of Dublin celebrating 10 years this year. Taking place in the Iveagh Gardens from 11-14 June, tickets are available from tasteofdublin.ie

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