Saturday 24 March 2018

Our recipe for happiness

Masterchef's Nick Munier walked out of a job after two weeks -- but gained a wife, writes Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Celebrated maitre d', owner of Pichet restaurant and Masterchef Ireland star Nick Munier first came to Dublin in September 1997 to work at Conrad Gallagher's Peacock Alley. The job didn't work out for him, alas, and he left after two weeks -- but not before he had won the heart of the lovely receptionist working there, Denise McBrien.

"I wasn't enjoying it so I went back to London, but I managed to get a wife out of it, which is very funny," he laughs. "We hit it off straight away, and I obviously fell for her personality and good looks, and then she packed her bags and followed me back to London."

There was a slight complication in that Denise was due to get married to someone else the following month, but she called off the wedding.

"There was such a fall-out over myself and Nick getting together that, three weeks later, I moved to London for three months to let the dust settle," she says.

"I really loved the spark that he had about him in work, because he was full of energy and professionalism and had standards that I had never seen before. It was like a complete breath of fresh air and it was fantastic. I used to put my make-up on before work in the ladies' bathroom and Nick used to have a little snooze there. We'd have little chats there, so our romance actually blossomed in the toilets in Peacock Alley. Nick is very warm and patient and encouraging of me, and he doesn't take things too seriously, and I loved his whole outlook on life."

Denise was born in Enniskillen, but grew up in Clondalkin, Dublin, and she started working at the Green Isle Hotel, after which she did a bar apprenticeship at the Clarence Hotel and Cooke's Café. Catering is her passion, and she now works with Nick in their restaurant Pichet, where he says that she is the "backbone of the business". She and Nick were married in Rathgar in 2003 and have three children, Conan, 15, Luc, six and Alex, four.

Nick is from Bermondsey in London, and after starting as a "washer-upper" he worked his way up and worked with Marco Pierre White for 10 years. He shot to fame when he appeared on Hell's Kitchen, where he became famous for his genial manner, and for dropping a few plates and falling over!

He even catered for a Christmas party thrown by Madonna at her London home, where they served an Italian buffet of a lot of pastas and salads and meats. He says that the Material Girl was lovely, and as Denise is a fan, she asked him to take a little souvenir from the house.

"My wife is a huge Madonna fan, and obviously I'm not really a thief, but I did 'borrow' a John Lewis hand towel from the staff's toilets," he laughs. "I shoved it down my trousers, and told Denise I got it from Madonna's bathroom."

When they opened Pichet with Stephen Gibson in 2009, the demands of making a success of a new restaurant meant that they both worked very long hours. The restaurant, recently relaunched, has become hugely popular, but it has involved a lot of hard work and innovation over the past two years.

"Denise works in the office as well as on the floor, so she knows all of the madness," he says. "We're like two ships passing in the night sometimes but it works. I may not get home until 2am, and then I will be up at 6.30am to have breakfast with the kids and dress them, and sometimes they might not see me for the rest of the day. They're well looked-after, and I spend two days a week with them now and some days I collect them from school, which they love because I always buy them things!"

Now that they have a great core management team in place, it makes life much easier for Nick and Denise, who say that their work-life balance has really improved. Nick says he is looking forward to the forthcoming Taste of Christmas event at the Convention Centre in Dublin, at which the Masterchef Live team will present fun little shows, containing cooking and tips.

Always a fabulous weekend, the Masterchef Live segments should go down a treat with those attending. As for Pichet, Nick says that it is going phenomenally well and he is very grateful for that, particularly as they started off during a recession.

"I know that a lot of people are suffering in the current environment, but we're offering a good product in a fun environment and value for money," he says.

"People still want to enjoy themselves, and I touch wood every morning that we are able to continue doing what we do and that people like it. We are employing 42 people and I want to have a laugh when I'm on the floor.

"I know my food is cooked perfectly and I know my staff are performing and the atmosphere is great. That's what gets me up in the morning."

And finally, how do they cope with the stress, given that family life is full-on with three boys and the restaurant is a full-time vocation?

"It's really busy but you just get on with it," he says. "Denise is used to me working hard as I've always worked in restaurants and catering. It's a dream that I've always had to have my own restaurant, and I want to make it work, so we just make it work."

Pichet Restaurant, 14-15 Trinity Street, Dublin 2. Tel: 01 677 1060, Taste of Christmas, the season's finest food, drink and shopping festival, returns to the stunning Convention Centre, Dublin, from November 25-27 and features the first ever MasterChef Ireland Live Theatre Show, Dublin's best restaurants, interactive masterclasses, live entertainment and more than 100 exhibitors. Tickets are on sale now from €15* at (*price excludes booking fee)

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