Cooking's Mr Nice Guy

Neven Maguire speaks to Emma Jane Hade about awards, Justin Bieber comparisons, and his twins' "wee taste buds"

HE CAN count the Taoiseach amongst his legions of fans and he was recently crowned the chef of the year, but celebrity chef Neven Maguire's feet remain firmly planted on the ground.

The 39-year-old has it all - a beautiful wife, two-year-old twins and a career that's only on the rise.

And despite the fact that his culinary magic has captured the imagination and stomachs of foodies all over the country, the Cavan native remains incredibly down to earth and is regularly heralded as "the nicest man in the business".

RTE presenter Ella McSweeney recently compared his popularity on the Irish culinary scene to that of popstar Justin Bieber.

And Neven's response to that accolade?

He laughs and says that he "can't sing or dance".

Asked about his various achievements, the modest TV chef says: "I always look at every award as my first and last."

"When I won the award for chef of the year, I sat down with my team and I said 'I picked this up on all your behalf, you are part of my team and I couldn't have won this without you'."

The businessman currently has 55 staff on his roster at his Co Cavan restaurant and cookery school, MacNean House.


He says the team at the top eaterie, in Blacklion in the foothills of the Culcagh Mountains, are like "family" to him, which is why he chose to celebrate his recent award win with them over a meal.

"We had a nice dinner and we had a celebration, and I got them all a little celebratory drink. And that's all the staff, and not just the kitchen staff.

"It's very much like they are my family and that's the way I look at them, so I am very lucky.

"I am only as good as the team I have. I am very lucky I have a great team who are very loyal and who work hard. To win the award is a great thing, I am very privileged.

"There are so many great chefs, and to win something like that is great, brilliant," he added.

Born and reared in Blacklion, the talented young chef could have worked anywhere in the world as the bright lights from cities like New York and London came calling.

However, the home bird stuck to true his roots, and today his popular business is thriving in his hometown.

"Blacklion is my home, and I am proud of that. I am proud to run a business and do it right. I enjoy what I am doing," he says.

An old saying which applies here is that 'behind every great man, there is an even better woman' and Neven describes his darling wife Amelda as "a huge support".

He says: "She would run the wages and financial side of the business which is very important. She has been absolutely fantastic.

"She has been a huge support to me and the business, and I am blessed, lucky
to have her."

Neven is now working with the Taste of Cavan festival, launched during the week by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The event is due to be held in early August - something he is very passionate about.

"This is the third year we have had it, and every year it is getting bigger and bigger.

"There is a huge interest now in people meeting the producers, and every county should be proud of what to have to offer food wise."

His home county has plenty of rising stars in the culinary world, including 22-year-old Adrian Martin - tipped as the next Donal Skehan - who worked under him for six years.

However, Neven insists that the competition on the food scene remains friendly, and that Irish chef's work together to promote and cook "nice, honest and simple food".

"We all have our business and whatever to do, and I think the most important thing is that we get people enjoying food and celebrating the great food that we have in Ireland, and that's what I try and do."

So what's next for the accomplished man, who has a string of television series', radio slots, columns and books on his belt?

"I have a new book coming out in September, and this will be my 11th one, and it's called The Nation's Favourite Food, Fast," he says.

"It's all recipes that can be done in about 40 to 45 minutes. That's the way I have changed the way I cook at home with my twins.


"People are changing the way they are cooking, and it is just an interesting time now in my life."

The devoted dad has adorable toddler twins Connor and Lucia, and he said they are "brilliant" and that he loves to see them enjoying "their wee taste buds" on "wholesome fresh foods".

But for now the happy man is just focusing on his cookery school.

And for any foodies hoping to grab a seat in his restaurant, join the long, long queue.