I arrived at MacNean House at 12noon last Thursday to be warmly welcomed by Neven. He introduced me to Zara who showed me around, she then gave me a seat in their drawing room where I was treated to a large pot of tea and some freshly baked pastries. This was certainly a good start to my work experience! Soon after, the head chef Glen Wheeler was out to me with a quick introduction, I donned my chef whites and soon he familiarised me with the kitchen. For that hour of the day the restaurant was buzzing with staff, each with their own schedule of jobs all in their own areas busily prepping. After five minutes in the kitchen a large box of peppers were propped in front of me to char and scrub in preparation for the evening meals. Ever conscious that what I was prepping would be later on a plate as part of a meal in one of Ireland's top restaurants made me quite fearful. I soon realised that I needn't worry as there was constantly someone at hand to guide me with instructions on how to perfect different techniques. Over the few days I learned so many tips from the chefs that will come in very useful in my own kitchen. Even if I was simply chopping vegetables I was always in the heart of work, watching and listening to the professionals. At any opportunity I was scribbling notes in my notepad in the hope of remembering everything that was being shared so generously. I have to say that I was completely overwhelmed by how kind and helpful Glen and his staff were to me. Essentially I was interrupting their day's work, they still had to have all ready for service but each would take the time to explain carefully how food is prepared to perfection at MacNean's. Many times I considered that they would be most certainly quicker doing it themselves but they understood that I was there to learn and at no time did they make me feel apologetic for that.
Neven has such a relaxed temperament and the great respect he has for his staff is evident. His head chef Glen has been working there for the past 8 years. He is highly efficient and similar to Neven he is passionate about good produce and sourcing the kitchen's food locally. He keeps check on everyone's work without being invasive and his friendly nature and good humour is constant. All the staff appear to get on marvellously and in a kitchen that is so busy there is plenty of time for friendly banter. They work in such a close proximity to each other they have no option but to get long but these guys seem to genuinely like each other, to the point that out of work they do sports together and socialise together. This of course is reflected in the meals that's plated as each dish is a team effort. Before service starts at 6pm there is a staff break for an hour where they get to enjoy a meal cooked by one of their colleagues. This along with regular cuppas add to staff moral as personally I think that people always work better on a full stomach!
Neven and Glen are constantly tasting everything to ensure it's perfectly cooked and seasoned before reaching the diners. If they're not completely happy it must be redone but this is always delivered so graciously. What I noticed more over the few days was that each chef was so meticulous about what they were cooking. They are cooking for perfection and this is ever evident when you see the whole dish being created on the plate. I got a little taste of all the different dishes which was just wonderful as some ingredients I had not encountered before.
Naturally service was busy, as each night there were around 80 covers, but still all ran smoothly with each dish leaving the kitchen was overseen by Neven. His perpetual message of using good ingredients and supporting local is firmly evident in his menus. His wife Imelda, who is a real lady, works front of house and was also so welcoming to me. Having spent time with both Neven and Imelda it is no wonder that they are running such a succesful business, they are both real 'people' people so focused on delivering a tremendous experience for each guest and diner. As one of Ireland's top celebrity chefs, author of many best-selling cookbooks and the face of many food events country wide, Neven has no airs or graces. His friendly nature is engaging and I'm sure this has contributed greatly to his success.
I'm now 33 so obviously it's been a while since I've had any sort of work experience but I can still remember where I would leave a placement less than enthused by the prospect of a career in this field. This of course was rarely the job in question but more whoever's experience I was being guided by! I can guarantee that if anyone has an idea that they may enjoy working in a kitchen after a few days at Mac Nean this idea will be nurtured into a reality.
What an amazing few days and I'm so looking forward to a return visit when I will get to sit back and enjoy a meal cooked by Neven and his team!