Meet the chefs & teams of Ireland’s professional kitchens, with Chef Network
The Chef Network community brings together chefs at all levels from all sectors across Ireland. In a Hotel & Restaurant Times regular column we meet some members and hear from them what inspires and motivates them, their career challenges and opportunities, and how they believe we can improve the industry.
In this edition, we meet Maurice Mc Geehan. Maurice grew up in his parent’s baron a rural farm in Co. Donegal. He is currently the Performance Chef for the IRFU where he combines his culinary experience with the science of nutrition. Maurice’s most rewarding job to date was recently launching the ‘Home’ cookbook in association with Aldi, in aid of Barnardos.
I actually got into the industry by accident. Growing up in my parents' bar on a rural farm in Fintown, Co. Donegal, helping out with vegetable prep in our bar’s tiny kitchen doing the occasional local community dinners such as first communions or serving full Irish breakfast all day to the local farmers on a mart day.
I didn’t do well in math’s for my leaving cert, and I wasn’t able to go to third level. But luckily, the principle from my school knew I was interested in cooking, and she contacted the Tourism College Killybegs.
Thanks to her, I managed to get in to my first year of professional cookery in September 1996. I have to say I’ve enjoyed being a chef from the first day with absolutely no regrets with my decision.
What was your path to where you are today?
Two years after leaving college I was a head chef in Donegal; the money was good, but I knew after a while it was too early in my career for this position. I lost the opportunity to develop myself further in many areas, I decided to go and enroll in the first module of the advanced professional cookery diploma and started my advanced pastry in Tourism College Killybegs.
From there I went to GMIT in 2003, where I enrolled in the remaining modules of Gastronomy, Kitchen Management, Advanced kitchen & larder, followed by specialised kitchen & larder and a thesis on healthy eating in the Galway city area.
All the modules were designed to be part time and done over four to five years, but I completed them in one. That was a great experience as I learnt the fundamentals of fine dining, and overall, it provided me with the tools I needed to go into establishments that operate at a high level.
Once I finished, I moved to London, and started working near Windsor for the Eurest / The Compass Group flag ship unit in Britain at computer associates (CA). CA at the time was in the top ten affluent companies in the world, and a sponsor to the Mc Larne F1 team.
The standard of food was extremely high at CA, with the hospitality restaurant at a Michelin level.
After a year at CA, I was offered a scholarship to do a BSc degree in international culinary arts at Themes Valley University, under Professor David Foskett, the leading authority of food in Britain at the time.
After CA, I spent the next few years working in various places in London to get as much experience as I could. I had the chance to work in places such as the Hempel, a five star hotel that was voted in the top ten funkiest hotels in the world, fine dining gastro bars, private dining at the Royal Ascot, The Metropolis bar at the Power house Metropolis recording studios in Chiswick - an exclusive venue for A list artists, high end corporate dinning at JP Morgan, and running the main restaurant at Linklaters law firm.
By the end of 2011 I was starting to feel like I’ve worked in London long enough. My wife Priscila is from Brazil, and we decided that her home country would be our next move, especially as Brazil had just overtaken the UK as the 8th best economy in the world.
We bought a restaurant in the south of Brazil, in a place called Praia do Rosa, in the state of Santa Catarina. There, I used a lot of European cooking techniques with local Brazilian produce. I started to do a lot of curing there, as sourcing good quality bacon, ham, and charcuterie was extremely difficult. While working I started to identify my style of cooking and I really began defining what my food ethos was at this stage, making everything I could from scratch, while cooking with no waste using the biproducts obtained from local season produce.
We moved back to Ireland in 2015 soon, after I got the position of Executive chef for Airbnb’s EMEA office where I had a blank canvass to design a food program. I believed it could be a scalable, sustainable, nutritious, healthy food program with emphasis on planet and people. I incorporated my food ethos into every part of the food program, and nothing went into the bin until we could explore every option of how to use it.
While at Airbnb I still wanted to keep developing myself and I started a masters in applied culinary nutrition at TUD Tallaght. The masters was hugely beneficial for me as it covered a lot of areas in food science and nutrition. And in early 2020 after almost five years at Airbnb I moved onto the position of Performance Chef at the IRFU.
Developing the food program for the IRFU has been and incredibly interesting experience. Working with the performance nutritionists, where my years of culinary experience is combined with the science of nutrition, allowing me to offer each team not just a meal experience, but a nutritionally dense and balanced plate of food, that will improve their performance.
What is the most important ingredient in your success to date?
I think it is without a doubt having a huge interest, love, and a passion for what I do. Knowing how to make good food and doing it right yields results no matter where in the world you are.
But it is also about thinking outside the box and taking chances. I’ve been combining everything I have learned through my experience over the years with new ideas and new ways to do things. To be constantly learning and innovating, and always breaking away from the norm, trying to do things a little different, and a little bit better.
A lot of this is connected to my no waste ethos. The bi products were always there, our cooking techniques have been there for thousands of years and are constantly evolving. We just need to match the bi products to the right cooking techniques to eliminate food waste.
Tell us about the team you work with
I have a small team now, and additional support for the busy periods when we have multiple teams in camp at the same time, like during the Six Nations.
Alan is a great chef, who has been with me for many years before at Airbnb. Jeremy, my porter, has a keen interest in food and without a doubt we could not function without him. Then we have Billy, a young trainee chef from GMIT with an enormous hunger for knowledge as well as an amazing work ethic.
They are motivated and take pride in what we produce at the IRFU. Every day is a different menu made from scratch, which gives Billy more exposure to different types of food and different cooking techniques which keeps things interesting for him.
Have you seen a negative side to the industry?
I have seen my share of it. I’ve witnessed some extremely negative incidents happen, and I was often on the receiving end of them early in my career, as did many other chefs. Starting off back then we all considered it the norm, just part of being a chef. Looking back at it now, I know it was pure abuse at times.
I have seen a huge change, especially over the past ten years. There is a lot more respect between co-workers now; more of an understanding of what managers get from a happy and motivated team in comparison with a team working in negative environment.
Sure, it's always going to be stressful at times in kitchens with the hours, volume of work, the heat, work-life balance and even the salaries. But eliminating negative behavior in the workplace can get your team to look forward to coming into work every day, and from there, the team can flourish with better engagement, collaborative thinking, ideas and innovation, high moral, motivation and increased productivity.
The Chef Network Kitchen Charter aims to create a positive and nurturing work environment in kitchens, which point(s) on the charter do you feel are most important and how do you implement these in your own kitchen/business?
For me, giving equal respect to every is crucial, the way we treat each other determines how the culture will be, and this usually starts from the top down.
Sharing knowledge is important and, as a mentor, I am fortunate that the guys around me are always asking questions. I find that answers can sometimes lead to ideas, so it is important to be open to them and it's good to keep that momentum going with the creativity.
It’s great to bring the lads altogether in the kitchen to acknowledge achievements after a busy day, and passing on the feedback from the various rugby teams.
What is the most important lesson you have learned about being a leader in the kitchen?
A good leader must have the confidence in the team and themselves to succeed. I need to bring the people with me on the journey, and I am only as good as the people around me.
Be transparent, put my hand up to say I make mistakes too, and to own them. Good active listening skills and creating a positive energy in the kitchen are key.
Maurice pictured with Ireland rugby players Johnny Sexton,
BEING A CHEF
What I love most is…To be continuously learning, specially about things that I am obsessively interested in, to be able to create different ways to minimize our food waste.
The biggest challenge is…How can we, as chefs, spread the message and help others understand that the way we are consuming right now is not sustainable. Small changes in how we think about food, the way we source food and how we eat, will have a positive outcome.
What makes me most proud is…The difference we make to the people that we have helped along the way. Be it mentoring and training or charity work or even just by making someone’s day better with a delicious and nutritious plate of food.
The most difficult thing I have had to face is….Trying to communicate to my team properly in the early days and in my restaurant in Brazil, where most didn’t speak English. But also trying to finish a service with a full restaurant with a power cut.
The most rewarding thing I’ve done is…The launch of the Home cookbook, in association with Aldi, where I included some of the favorite recipes from the IRFU players, in aid of Barnardos. I think that chefs have a unique advantage when it comes to fund rising because everybody loves a good meal, and food is a tangible return on their donations
I have learned that…You need to push yourself and take risks to get results!
The key skills or traits to have in this job are…A good work ethic, creativity, and being able to take tough feedback. Willingness to learn, genuine passion and interest for food and to be able work with a team.
We can create a better workplace by…Treating each other with respect and always lookout for each other.
One small change I would make is… I need to learn to switch off from work when I’m at home
We can make our businesses better by…Collaborative thinking to generate more ideas.
My advice to chefs starting out is…Take care of your health, stress levels. Keep learning and pushing yourself. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, they make us better if we learn from them.
My advice to chefs trying to progress their career is…Try to get as much experience as you can in good establishments early in your career. The good habits and great knowledge will be with you for the rest of your career. Be determined, enthusiastic and have a great attitude to learn.
My advice to any chef opening their own place/setting up a business is…Start off small and only go so far as you financially can without getting into debt. As the money comes in you can build from there. Know your customers, and don’t over staff.
My greatest mentor has been...Louis Smith from GMIT was a great mentor to me.
My biggest inspiration is…My biggest inspiration are my children. Coming up with zero waste techniques, ways to be more sustainable and have a positive effect on our planet is the legacy I want to leave for them. My kids are always in my mind when I come up with something, because we are responsible for what the future generations are going to grow up with. I want to make it the best place I can for them, and I don’t want them to inherit the mess and mistakes that ours and past generations have made.
My favourite job ever…I have to say that I am definitely in it now
My favourite place to eat is…The Lemon Tree in Letterkenny Co Donegal, Etto in Dublin
My favourite thing to eat is…I’m a sucker for Asian soups especially Pho.
My favourite dish on our menu is…There is an udon noodle dish that I make with gochujang, nori and sesame I serve with Bulgogi and Kimchi.
My favourite piece of kit is…My dehydrator… and my fermentation jars.
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Originally established by William Tallon Snr. during the 1960s, today his sons William and David carry that legacy and a significantly grown family business forward. From father to sons, total commitment to Quality of Produce and Service, both within the business and from their suppliers are pillars central to the Ready Chef ethos.
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