On the back of an impressive year that has seen him travel the world doing cooking demos and release his eleventh cookbook, Neven Maguire sits down with David Corscadden to talk all things food and the importance of respect for both food and the people around you.
Standing towards the back of Neven Maguire’s cooking demos in Arnott’s and watching the influx of people taking photos of his food and contending to talk to the Irish food master for just a few minutes proves the extent of his popularity within the Irish food scene. Encounters with well-wishers and fans continued throughout the store as he looked for a discreet section to sit down and talk about his true passion, Irish food.
Even though he has just finished a cooking demo in collaboration with Miele and Zwilling JA Henckels, both of which he is a brand ambassador for, there is no hint of tiredness and no drop in energy once he sits down. “I do a lot of demos around the country” he explains. “Last night I was in Drogheda with 400 people then today I was in Arnotts doing this demo. Oh and yesterday I was in Google doing a demo which was amazing and it was live streamed to 180 offices around the world which was incredible.”
While the idea of being live streamed into 180 offices around the world could petrify many people, for Maguire it offered the perfect opportunity to promote his key passion to a large audience. “I am very proud of this because we are trying to promote Irish food, promote the produce that we have. We are a small country but we have fabulous produce on offer and some great chefs in Ireland and some great restaurants too. For me there has never been a better time to be cooking.”
Promoting Irish food globally is something that Maguire has become renowned for. He is just back from a trip to Dubai where he was working tirelessly to showcase the best of Irish food to the global market. “There is a real appetite for Irish food now and people really want it. They know a lot more about it and there is just a huge interest in food and ingredients.” This is an idea that is really beginning to resonate with people he contends, “A lot more people cooking at home now. A lot of people want to support local farmers and I believe as a chef that we have the best meat, poultry and dairy compared to anywhere. It is hard to beat.”
The sentiment that there has not been a better time for Irish food and cooking is extremely true for Maguire. He has experienced immense success in the last year with the great reception his eleventh cookbook offering has received and the milestone achievement of recording his 100th cooking show for RTÉ. On his latest book Fast, his fifth with Irish publishers Gill & Macmillan, Maguire explains this has been his most successful to date. “It has been my most successful book. We have hit on something that is really interesting to me; people want something that is quick, fast and accessible. They don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all day, which is my job as a chef.”
Maguire believes that for anyone who is looking to cook tasty meals at home, be it working parents or students, it is important to get the quality of cooking and ingredients right. If these two elements are present everything else will fall in to place. “Cooking with the seasons is the most important message I can give. To enjoy the food whatever is in season and whatever is fresh. You get the best value and the farmer gets the best value. It is smart cooking and it is sensible cooking.” On getting the best value for meat Maguire believes in a return to tradition and a visit to the local butcher. “Go to your local butcher. There is great value there. Don’t forget about them, supermarkets are not where you will get the cheapest meat, butchers is where you will get it.”
While Maguire’s passion for his cooking shows and cookbooks is electric, his deep burning pride for his Cavan based restaurant MacNean House is unparalleled. Like Maguire’s strong respect for ingredients and food, this an important attribute when it comes to the staff working for him. “I have a lot of staff for a long time because there is a lot of respect and admiration. They are not just my staff they are my family and I am proud of that. We all work hard and we all work together.”
“It is all about the team. My wife is in the team too. She does the books and the wages. She is the boss” he adds with a chuckle. “She is my sounding board. She is a great lady and she will think outside the box. ‘Will this work? Is this good for you Neven?’ It is all about the core values and the brands’ core values.”
A massive achievement for Maguire recently was the opening of his very own cookery school beside his restaurant. “It is something I have always wanted. Something small and intimate, with just 14 people. I am delighted with it. It never opens unless I am there. I want to make food fun for people and not stressful.”
For students and student cooking, an area that Maguire is interested in examining more for his cookery school in the coming years, he believes it is important to keep things simple in the kitchen. “I think the key thing is to keep things simple. If you look at a basic ingredient like mince, it is good value so you can do a spaghetti Bolognese or a lasagne. You can cook it in batches and freeze it. Good food does not have to be expensive food. It doesn’t have to be cheap food, it has to be cooked well.”
Throughout the interview Maguire repeats the sentiment that he “loves his life” and when you meet him in person this is blatantly obvious. This love for life and passion for what he is doing will no doubt only foster his mission to promote Ireland and it’s food excellences both at home and on the global stage.