Saturday 24 February 2018

Nick Munier on his marriage breakdown: 'I still love her deep down...but it just didn't work, unfortunately'

He was one half of RTE's MasterChef. Nick Munier bares his soul about the painful break-up of his marriage, as well as "the divorce" of his business, and his two sons, the joy of his life

Moving on to a new course: Nick Munier says he is now in a good place, emotionally and psychologically, having dealt with his marriage break-up and his depature from hip restaurant Pichet. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Moving on to a new course: Nick Munier says he is now in a good place, emotionally and psychologically, having dealt with his marriage break-up and his depature from hip restaurant Pichet. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Nick Munier and his ex-wife Denise McBrien
Dylan McGrath and Nick Munier
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

There's a framed picture of Nick Munier by Jimmy Penollar in his restaurant. On it is written, 'Being Normal is Boring'. Mr Munier's life has been one where boring - or whatever passes for normal - is anathema. The various ups and downs of his personal life (the break-up of his marriage to Denise McBrien) and his business world would make for a compelling reality TV series.

This Friday afternoon, he is padding about Avenue, his new restaurant in Crow Street in Dublin's Temple Bar, like a bespectacled man on a mission. The one-time star of RTE's MasterChef with Dylan McGrath is intense, entertainingly so - glugging back his espresso, with only a few hours to go before he opens the doors to the public who've been flocking to his new venture. Behind Nick's head, his Jackson Pollock-esque paintings are all over the walls of Avenue. Nick's heart meanwhile is all over his sleeve as he sits down to talk for the next 90 minutes.

He lives in a house in the same estate in Dundrum as his ex wife Denise - from whom he is now separated - and their two young children Luc and Alex. He lives there, he says, "to be close to the kids."

He is single, and happy to be so. "I am not in a relationship," he says. "I am not looking and I am not searching. How I get my kicks - I couldn't tell you. I go home after work on a Saturday night and drink a gin and tonic on my own. My life is all about work and my kids." Nothing else matters but his kids, he says.

Beneath his happy-go-lucky persona is a broodier, more philosophical side. The positive side of all this is that whatever was eating Nick Munier for a few years he seems to have been resolved - courtesy of much inner-journeying and much quiet contemplation.

"I was hurting inside. I had to hide it all the time," he says. "My marriage was cracking and my business was cracking."

The business was cracking, he says, because of "differences within the camp in Pichet" - the hip restaurant on Dublin's Trinity Street which he opened with Denise, and others, in 2009, before he sold his shares late last year to leave and open Avenue.

"It is a hard one to explain," he says of the tough period he went through, "because there were two parallels". There was, he says, his marriage break-up "and there was the divorce of my business. And my solicitor said to me: 'I don't know how you are still standing because you are going through two of the hardest things anyone can go through at the same time.'

He says that while the so-called differences in the camp in Pichet were being dealt with by a solicitor - "at the same time then my marriage hit the rocks. That was 2012. Everything fell apart."

Listening to the bookings come in on the phone at Avenue, Nick says he is now in a good place emotionally and psychologically, "finally. . ."

"But it was tough," he says. "I am not going to deny it. Everyone has their own difficulties. And you cope with it. I didn't go down the drink route. I didn't go down the drug route. I was very structured. Even going to work sometimes was painful, because you are going through all that shit in your head. You have to make yourself smile, which helps as well. You have to."

He says that this was made slightly more difficult because of his public profile from MasterChef. He says being front of house in a restaurant is a bit like showbiz, putting on a show, almost. Be that as it may, Nick says he was not the personality type "to spill how I am feeling" to diners. Or pretty much anyone , for that matter, as far as I can gather.

Closed off in general, Nick did however speak about his problems to his parents and his lone pal, and director of Avenue, Enda McCabe. "All you need is for someone to listen and support. Enda has a degree in Psychology at Trinity. So he can actually dissect what I am saying and give me some answers," Nick says, "because it is all about answers. You are always searching for the answer."

I ask him was he this self-analytical when he was younger. (He grew up in Kent where his parents ran an eight-bedroom guest house. "That's where I got the bug for the catering business. I used to cook the breakfasts in the morning. My parents always said, 'Don't go into the business.')

"Yeah, I was always analytical," Nick says answering the question. "I always liked to know the answer. Everything happens for a reason, or a purpose, at the end of the day."

What was the reason for the break-up of his marriage? "The reason is, we were just too different people, ultimately. Denise is great."

In September, 2010, I met Denise and Nick at a backstage soiree prior to U2's show at the Stade de France in Paris. They certainly seemed all loved up that evening in the City of Light. Sadly, the light was soon to dim on their romance.

Nick says that he and Denise "tried to" put their marriage back together, "but it just didn't work, unfortunately. It was just unrepairable, I suppose. I still love my wife, you know? I still see the kids in her, on their faces. It is still her."

Does he think they could sort it out and get back together again? "No, I think it's [over]. Not that I have given up, I just think the length of time, the separation, has been too long now." Nick says that he and Denise have been apart "since 2012. But within that, 2012, 2013, we tried to reconcile but I think if it's not compatible then it's just unfortunate circumstances."

He still loves Denise? "I still love her, yeah. Deep down." He adds that they speak now only through "email or text."

Throughout all the pain, Nick says he has "become more humble, and more honest with myself."

What did he learn about himself in that process of becoming more honest? "I learned that everyone has issues, everyone has problems, and sometimes you have got to find yourself again, because if you are in a relationship for a long time, you sort of lose yourself. You lose yourself."

How Nick Munier lost himself, he believes, was through working all the time - "because you don't actually think about yourself. It is work, work, work, family, work, family, work, family, work, work. And it takes its toll. And something has to break. Because you don't maybe spend enough quality time with your partner."

Would he say that he put his work before his marriage?

"I would say that."

Is it a regret?

"It is a regret," Nick says, with an honesty that is nothing but characteristic.

"But you know when you have a dream," he continues, "that's what you go for, isn't it? And sometimes you fall off balance. I am much better in balance now. And that is because I am working for myself," he says meaning Avenue. "I don't have anyone to answer to. That's not an ego thing. I just had to prove to myself."

I ask him to elaborate by what he meant earlier when he used the word issues.

"I was just saying that other people might judge you when they don't know you," he explains. He says that while some might say "that I was an egotistical person because I was on TV and I craved attention. But for me, it wasn't about craving attention; it was about doing something else, having another feather in my cap, because I am a creative person. I like to do different things.

"Like the art," he says pointing at his art-work on the walls of Avenue. "It is a distraction from the day-to-day mechanics of working in a restaurant. You need something to de-stress yourself with. I loved doing TV because it was another thing to do. It was a creative part of me and it was doing something different to the normal thing.

"I am more much relaxed now," he continues. "I feel I have been given a new opportunity. This is my new path, with all the shit I went through. To be able to have 8,000 square foot and call it my own is quite an extraordinary feeling. I am working towards a legacy for the kids. That's it."

When his life was upside down in 2012, Nick would go once a week to the church around the corner from Pichet, St. Teresa's on Clarendon Street. Nick isn't religious, but "if I needed an answer to something that was going on, I would sit there for half an hour and talk to my grandparents," he says referring to his late grandparents on his father's side, Ernest and Reine.

"I would close my eyes for half an hour and go and be completely refreshed afterwards, regardless of all the stresses. I was very close to the French grandparents. They were a huge influence on me growing up," Nick says, adding that he would visit them in the 19th Arrondissement of Paris where they lived. "So I would ask them for advice, because my grandmother was a very strong woman.

"Whatever works for you, I suppose - that's the key for getting through any hardship. It had huge benefits [going to St. Teresa's], because I don't have any friends, right? I'm a bit of a loner," says Nick who has an older brother, Pascal, who lives in France.

"What happens in life is: you come over from England," says Nick who was born on August 4, 1967, in London, "you meet your wife [Denise], she's Irish, she has an entourage of friends already set up. So you've come in with just your suitcases, basically, and so then you basically have the same friends as your wife does.

"So then I work for Patrick Guilbaud [where Nick worked when he moved to Dublin in the early 'Nineties] and I work 10 shifts a week. So you only have one day off. So it is very hard for you to go and get friends or make real friends."

Nick reiterates how happy he is within himself in Avenue. The restaurant is not without controversy. Head Chef Tom Walsh left the restaurant a month after the opening. "Now I have a dynamic new crew in the kitchen doing amazing things."

In terms of TV for Nick - who was the maitre d' of ITV's reality show Hell's Kitchen and co-presenter of MasterChef Ireland on RTE ­- he says he would love to do more telly, and has ideas, but at the moment he is concentrating on Avenue. "Masterchef has obviously been axed due to not being able to get another sponsor." Nick and Simon Delaney have written The Idiot's Guide To Wine, which they have submitted to TV3 "but these things take time. So that's what I'm doing really," he smiles. "Bits and pieces. I do The 7 O'Clock Show and a bit on The Today Show. That's how bad it's gone. I'm only joking!" he laughs.

"All I want to do now is make Avenue a success and look after my children," he says referring to Luc, 10, and Alex, 8. Asked what does he think they have inherited from their father, he says, "Oh, a sense of fun anyway. That's for sure. I feel like Alex wants to be in this business, because he loves cracking eggs and stirring and being involved in the kitchen. While Luc's more into football, obviously at that age.

"Every time I am with them it is all about the essence of fun and what we are doing, father and son. That's all I can do. They understand the concept [that their parents are no longer together], even though we are separated; we are in the same area. But children are very resilient. Even my boy Luc actually said to me, 'Daddy, you need a hug.' It was heartstrings stuff. So I never bring it up. We are always about fun. So I might bring them in here until 6pm."

Do they have the lobster and then send it back in favour of something more age-appropriate like beans-on-toast?

"No," Nick says, adding that one food critic "apparently thinks it [the food] tastes like sawdust!" Nick's glasses positively rattle with laughter. Avenue's many customers would, presumably, beg to differ.

To celebrate Bastille Day, Nick Munier partnered with the France Ireland Chamber of Commerce to host a French food and wine event 'Vive La Gastronomie Francaise 2015' in Nick's new restaurant Avenue by Nick Munier, on Crow Street, Dublin. Avenue by Nick Munier, has recently become the newest member of the France Ireland Chamber of Commerce (FICC), Ireland's third largest bi-lateral trade association, which promotes the expansion of trade and business links between Ireland and France

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