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October 30, 2022

Conjure Neven Maguire in your mind’s eye. What do you see? An easy-going, affable Neven standing next to a stainless-steel kitchen counter or beaming at you from a roadside restaurant in some far-flung corner of the world. Always smiling with a gentle, measured Cavan lilt. Yeah, me too. Which is why I’m surprised by the image of him spinning the decks and bopping along to ‘90s dance tracks in a sweaty nightclub. It’s not exactly the picture we have of the nation’s favourite, and best-loved, chef and yet it’s very much him.

“People are always surprised to hear that side of me,” laughs Neven, but he’s been honing his hobby since his parents bought him Technic turntables for his 21st birthday and he has a huge collection of 90s vinyl dance records.

“I was asked to play Electric Picnic this year but I was too busy,” he adds, with a sigh.

Neven is funny, talkative and self-deprecating. When he talks, it’s with an air of worldliness and wonder, often gilded with innocent affability and yet he is confident and assured. He also has a culinary CV most chefs would die for. Having cut his teeth at some of Europe’s top Michelin-starred restaurants including Arzac in San Sebastian and Restaurant Lea Linster in Luxembourg, he returned to Cavan to take over the family restaurant in 2001, a role none of his eight siblings relished, but one he never thought twice about despite its turbulent history.

He grew up under his mother’s apron strings and helping out in the family restaurant. “My mum was feeding a family of nine so it was never fancy but it was always simple, delicious food.”

Thirty-three years later and McNean’s is not only the beating heart of Blacklion but draws people from all over the country and around the world.

Chef, restauranteur, businessman, author, TV star — he has packed a lot in his career to date but in his mind the distinctions are irrelevant, success is worn lightly, with a laid-back insouciance of someone who still isn’t sure what all the fuss is about. Of the long-as-your-arm list of accolades that includes 16 cookbooks, some of which have won awards, successful TV shows and demonstrations, it is the restaurant that remains his biggest achievement. Rick Stein once said, restaurants are “so personal” — a challenge if you don’t fit the brief but the measure of your success if, like Neven, it’s your currency.

“I watched mum and dad struggle for years following the restaurant being bombed and through recessions where some nights not a single person would open the door but they were always reassuring and always believed we could make it work. We now have 60 staff and together with my wife Amelda, we’ve made it a success: it’s my home, my family business and I want to keep carrying the ethos we’ve created here forward.”

The explanation for Neven’s enormous success may lie in his ability to connect to the Irish public in a boy-next-door manner. This and his innate kindness that never seems to waver. When I ask him what success means to him, it is not the launch of his 16th book or his new TV Series Neven’s Irish Greenway Food Trail. Instead, he recounts, with great emotion, the story of a woman with motor neurone disease who couldn’t travel to his restaurant so he went to her house and cooked for her.

“She died not long after that,” he says, tearing up slightly. “I guess I like to treat strangers as friends, that connection to people is important to me.”

More Midweek Meals follows Midweek Meals, which won an Irish book award. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?

“Exactly,” agrees Neven. “One thing I’ve seen after Covid is people’s desire to reconnect with food and cooking. This book is split into four chapters: Roasting Tin, Make Ahead, Home Comforts and All-Time Favourites with some of my favourite recipes to cook at home for families. There are a lot of one-tray meals which are quick and easy to assemble and there’s plenty of batch cooking in there too, which means you can make ahead and freeze.”

The book is tipped to be another bestseller. The photography is bright, clean and fresh, instructions brief, ingredients easily accessible and the process simple, offering familiar comfort food that tickles taste buds. In a market saturated with cookbooks, he has managed to puncture the thick industry pelt, his recipes cutting through the ‘noise’ in the same way he does with his boy-next-door charm. What’s the secret to standing out, I wonder?

“You have to keep things fresh and be prepared to change with the times. It also helps that I’m a big listener,” he admits. “I’ve written a lot of cookbooks and people trust in me so the recipes have to be right and I try to really listen to what people want.

“For More Midweek Meals, there’s a lot more veggie recipes and simple, fast dishes like traybakes; people are time-pressed but want to eat healthy food.”

Beef Ramen

recipe by:Neven Maguire

Making ramen at home does not need to be complicated. This easy ramen recipe is ready in just 20 minutes – a quick fragrant broth with noodles and plenty of crunchy vegetables.

Beef ramen

Preparation Time

15 mins


  • 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

  • 5cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

  • 1 lemongrass stick, trimmed to 10cm and crushed

  • 2 x 400ml cartons fresh beef stock

  • 2 star anise

  • 4 tbsp soy sauce

  • juice of 1 lime, plus extra wedges to garnish

  • 2 mild red chillies, 1 whole and 1 thinly sliced into rings

  • 20g fresh coriander, leaves picked and stalks reserved

  • 200g ramen noodles

  • 100g shitake mushrooms, sliced

  • 500g baby spinach leaves

  • 2 baby pak choy, finely sliced

  • 100g sugar snap peas, halved

  • 225g lean beef escalopes, thinly sliced

  • 25g fresh beansprouts

  • 1 x 40g packet toasted nori seaweed crisps, shredded


  1. Put the garlic, ginger and lemongrass in a pan with the stock and add the star anise, soy sauce, lime juice, whole red chilli and coriander stalks.

  2. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat and cook for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse. Strain into a clean pan. This can be covered with clingfilm and kept in the fridge or is perfect for freezing.

  3. Add the ramen noodles and shitake mushrooms and simmer for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Stir in the spinach until just wilted.

  4. To serve, divide the ramen among warmed bowls and top with the beef, pak choy, sugar snaps and beansprouts. Scatter over with the coriander, chilli rings and seaweed. Garnish with the lime wedges to serve.

His go-to meal when he’s in a hurry is a chicken curry or the bacon chops with glazed root vegetables and apple syrup, a traybake recipe he says, is “his new favourite” recipe. Would it make it on to his death row meal menu?

The mere mention of his ‘last meal’ and he’s off on a passionate flight of fancy involving a nine-course tasting menu with chestnut and wild mushroom soup, scallops, smoked duck done three ways, turbot, beef or lamb fillet, a pre-dessert taster, a cheese selection with matching wine and a warm chocolate fondant with peanut ice cream.

“Oh, and some delicious homemade petit four chocolates to finish me off. I want to die with a full belly and a smile on my face,” he adds, chuckling.

Chocolate is his guilty pleasure, apparently, along with McDonald’s. Yes, you heard correctly.

“I always say McDonald’s is the most consistent restaurant in the world,” he laughs before assuring me it’s not ‘that’ often. He loves Saba restaurant in Dublin and recently had some of the best meals of his life recently in Chapter One and Uno Mas, also in Dublin.

At a time when eating locally is not just in vogue but environmentally essential, he is ahead of the pack. His recent TV show which explores the food producers around Ireland’s greenways, champions local producers, whom he says served up some of the best food he’s eaten in a long time.

“We were at a food truck in Dungarvan that served the best churros I’ve ever eaten.”

But then, his restaurant has always leaned into local produce, supporting the wealth of talent and producers the country has to offer.

As someone who has remained on top of the food business for the last 20 years, he has seen the rise and demise of food trends that I wonder if he’s wearied by any in particular. His glass-half-full person and can-do attitude means there’s very little he dislikes or that irks him. “Well, put it this way, I never made banana bread in lockdown.”

Then, when pressed further: “People who don’t enjoy food I suppose. But Irish people’s palettes have changed a lot and they are much better at appreciating the time that goes into making something and different flavours,” he adds, diplomatically.

There was a time in the restaurant when every meat order would be well done, he says me. Nowadays its mostly rare or medium rare;a sign of the changing times.

Twenty years in the business yields some wisdom, so what might he say to his 20-something self should he have the chance?

“Go to London,” he sighs. “I don’t have many regrets but I wish I had lived and worked there. I didn’t travel as much as I’d have liked to.”

Perhaps this longing is the reason he made a career of travelling the world with a camera in tow. His recent Portuguese Food Trails show for RTÉ has proved to be the most popular show to date. It also happens to be his favourite holiday destination with his wife Amelda and twins Conor and Lucia (11). TV is another genre that comes naturally to Neven but is not without its challenges. He recalls a scene with Marty Whelan involving a plum pudding that resembled a ‘wet mess’ and the gas running out while cooking duck. There’s nowhere to hide with live TV but, like most things, it doesn’t to faze him. Even criticism is taken lightly on the chin.

“It’s so important to hear criticism in order to better yourself. We try to give the best experience at McNean’s but sometimes we get it wrong and we’ll be the first to hold up our hands and say we made a mistake and ask how we can make it better. We’re open and honest with people. A man I met recently who told me that I was a lot smaller in real life than on TV. I told him that’s the wide-screen TV,” he laughs uproariously.

“I like to have the banter and don’t take too much of life seriously,” he adds.

Baja Fish Tacos

recipe by:Neven Maguire

These classic Mexican-inspired fish tacos served with purple slaw, pickled chillies and a generous drizzle of Baja sauce. Cod is the best fish for these tacos as it flakes beautifully into lovely chunks but of course you could also use another firm fleshe

Baja fish tacos

Preparation Time

15 mins


  • 1 red onion

  • 1 small red cabbage, cored and very finely shredded

  • 100ml apple cider vinegar

  • 50g caster sugar

  • 4 red chillies, sliced into rounds

  • 8-12 small corn tortillas

  • 675g skinless cod fillet

  • 2 tbsp fajita seasoning

  • rapeseed oil, for cooking

  • For the sauce:

  • 1 garlic clove, peeled

  • 10g fresh coriander, extra leaves to garnish

  • juice of 1 lime

  • 1 tsp fajita seasoning

  • 50g natural yoghurt

  • 50g mayonnaise

  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. To make the slaw, put the red onion and cabbage in a bowl. Sprinkle over a teaspoon of salt, then add the lime juice and toss to combine. Leave for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  2. To make the sauce, put the garlic, coriander, lime, fajita seasoning, yoghurt and mayonnaise in a Nutri bullet or mini food processor. Blitz until smooth and season to taste. Pour into a jug and add a splash of water if necessary to make it the consistency that can be drizzled. Cover with clingfilm and chill until needed.

  3. To make the pickled chillies, heat the vinegar, sugar and 100ml of water in a small pan. Add the chillies and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool. Cover with clingfilm and chill until needed.

  4. Heat a griddle pan over a medium to high heat. Griddle the tortillas on one side and then wrap in tin foil to keep warm.

  5. Dust the cod fillet in the fajita seasoning, shaking off any excess and then brush the griddle pan with oil. Cook the cod for 4-5 minutes on each side until nicely charred and tender – you may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan.

  6. Using a fish slice, transfer the cod to a plate and flake it apart with a fork. Place the cod flakes in a serving bowl and season with salt to taste. Garnish with the coriander leaves.

  7. Serve straight to the table family style with the tortillas, baja sauce, purple slaw and pickled chillies. Have your favourite hot sauce to hand.

Neven knows too well the perils of the work-life juggle, navigating the TV workload with his family and the restaurant. There’s no pause button, it seems, on the Neven machine. Does he ever manage to step off the treadmill?

“Since Covid we’ve made the decision to close the restaurant on Sundays, we only do one sitting now and we close for two weeks at Christmas and it has been the best decision I’ve ever made for both myself , my family and the staff,” he says, gleefully.

Unsurprisingly Sundays have become his favourite day when he gets to play football with Conor, hang out with Lucia and cook dinner for extended family.

“I’m good at getting up in the morning. I have a small gym in the house so I’ll do some training and then take the dogs out for a walk but I’d like to do some more cycling. I have a bike in the back of the car since filming the greenway series and everyone must think I’m a mad cyclist,” he sniggers.

“The truth is I’ve been too lazy to take it out of the car so I really do need to get back into it.”

Ill health is his biggest fear. He admits he has a long way to go but is ‘taking it one day at a time’.

Authenticity is what makes Neven so likeable and compelling; what you see is what you get. Even when asked to offer some tips to budding chefs his answer is kind and encouraging.

“Don’t overcomplicate things,” he offers. “Pick one recipe and practice it, keep it simple. And, remember, mistakes make you a better person.”

It’s as as though he’s right there holding our hands. With that the nation’s favourite chef is off to sign some books, test some recipes, followed by a nice cup of tea and possibly a cycle, or a spin of the decks.

Chicken and Leek Sourdough Gratin

recipe by:Neven Maguire

Use the leftovers of a sourdough loaf to make a delicious cheesy, golden topping. Serve with a salad or any green vegetable of your choice.

Chicken and leek sourdough gratin

Preparation Time

15 mins


  • knob of butter

  • 400g skinless and boneless chicken (thigh or breast)

  • 2 small leeks, trimmed and sliced

  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed

  • finely grated rind of 1 lemon

  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil

  • 1 x 400g tin of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

  • 100ml hot chicken stock

  • 100g crème fraiche

  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard

  • 175g sourdough bread

  • 50g freshly grated Parmesan

  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • soft green leaf salad, to serve


  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF/gas mark 6). Use the butter to grease the roasting tin and add the chicken, leeks, garlic, lemon rind and thyme. Drizzle over the half of the oil and season generously. Toss with your hands until evenly combined.

  2. Roast for 15 minutes until the leeks are softened and the chicken is just tender.

  3. Meanwhile, tear the sourdough into small pieces and place in a bowl. Season and drizzle over the rest of the oil, tossing to coat.

  4. Tip the cannellini beans into the roasting then and pour in the hot stock, stirring gently with a spatula to combine. Fold in the crème fraiche and mustard. Scatter over the bean mixture and sprinkle the Parmesan on top. Bake for another 10-15 minutes until crisp and golden brown.

  5. Serve straight to the table with a separate bowl of salad. Any leftovers can be kept according to guidelines

  • More Midweek Meals by Neven Maguire (Gill) is available now.

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