This much I know: Oliver McCabe, chef

Oliver McCabe

Oliver McCabe says that he got his passion for cooking from his mother.

My father died suddenly of pleurisy when I was four. I started comfort eating to fill the void of sadness and by the age of six I was already 10 stone.

Back then the family business, Select Stores in Dalkey, was a general store and greengrocers that sold everything from bikes and moss peat to turkeys and ducks. When dad died, mum was thrown into the business six days a week, 16 hours a day.

There were no spinning classes or Slimming Worlds back then so my mother’s solution to dealing with my weight gain was to bring me into the kitchen and start to educate me about food. 

She was a bulk cook — she’d send me down to the shop to fetch the fresh veg and I’d help her cook up soups and stews to keep us fed all week. I learned to cook healthy food through helping her and the weight simply fell off.

I’m actually quite a shy person. I’m the baby of the family. My earliest memory is of entering a fancy dress in Laytown one summer as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. 

When they announced I got second prize it brought out the diva in me and I think my mum had to pay off the other mother to let me get first place instead.

This much I know: Oliver McCabe, chef

After school, I went to IADT to study communications and television production and then I lived in Australia where I worked in the hospitality business. I always had a knack with food, making it taste good and look good. 

After a few years, my mother came to visit. She was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and asked if I’d come home to help run the business which was just a rundown greengrocers by then, only kept afloat thanks to my brother Leo’s fuel merchants. 

Her visit was a memorable one, not only because I said yes, but also because that’s when I came out to her. She had a bit of a fainting moment.

That was 16 years ago and it’s when my journey with nutrition and health truly began.

I trained with Carmel Somers of Good Things in West Cork and became passionate about the independent health food sector. I was on a mission to change and refurbish Select Stores. 

Once we started the Juice Bar in 2004, things started moving for us and they really took off when we did another refurbishment in 2013 and launched Fuel food. These days, my two sisters Hilary and Maread work with me too.

I live in Glasthule with my partner [fashion designer] Niall Tyrell. I usually get up at 6.30am and am into work by 7.30am. I try to get to the gym four times a week. It does wonders for my mental health.

My biggest fault is drinking wine. No that’s not true — it’s not telling Niall that I love him, every day.

If I could change one thing in our society I’d encourage parents to get children cooking from a young age. Kitchens should be seen as positive places by kids. 

They should be encouraged to prepare food and to experiment and ask questions. It could be as simple as starting them off mashing the potatoes or boiling an egg.

The best advice I ever received is not to rely on anyone except yourself.

My biggest challenge so far was when my mum died in 2012. That was the catalyst for me starting Fuel Food and writing the cook book and so on. It was her voice I heard telling me to keep going.

I don’t attend church but I do believe in God. I’m more comfortable with the notion of death in general since I lost my parents. I believe that the essence or soul of a person never dies, it continues on somehow although I’m not sure how.

And I believe in serendipity. I met Niall through a mutual friend who told me she had a high success rate with introducing men to each other. We’ve been together for nine years, ever since.

So far life has taught me to be thankful for everything that comes my way.

  • Oliver McCabe’s ‘Fuel Food Cookbook’ by Mercier Press is on sale nationwide in bookshops and independent health food stores. He will be appearing at ‘Taste of Dublin’ June 17 & 18 at The Iveagh Gardens and at ‘Taste of West Cork’ September 8-17. Oliver is the Ambassador of the Irish Association of Health Stores 



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