CELEBRITY chef Neven Maguire was the first boy in his school in Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim, to do home economics. He is reminiscing about those days with his teacher Mairead McMorrow — “she was an inspiration” — who, in turn, is clearly proud of her famous student.
“He had flair,” she tells Feelgood. The boy would go on to open his own restaurant and sell over 120,000 cookbooks — and he “broke the ice” for others, she recalls.
Even at the time, he laughed off the teasing — “it was like water off a duck’s back” — because he knew cooking was his passion. “I was very bad at the sewing though; I made a shirt once and my mum and dad used it to polish glasses in the restaurant.”
These days, there’s nothing unusual about boys doing home economics, but Maguire believes it’s time to go further and to take the subject out of the classroom. “Just as teachers encourage parents to help in the development of their child’s reading and writing at home, shouldn’t we, as parents, also sow the seeds for a love of cooking?”
There is no better skill you can give a child than teaching them to cook simple, honest wholesome food, he says.
Yet, despite the increased focus on health and wellbeing, the Cavan chef believes there is a lost generation out there who don’t know how to roast a chicken. “We lost sight of what’s important — cooking for your family and friends. We have the best ingredients in the world so now let’s get cooking.”
His new book, Home Economics for Life, is designed to help people to do just that. It is a book for everybody — children, teenagers, students, adult improvers, and those who have pigeonholed themselves into the ‘can’t cook, won’t cook’ category.
“This is my 16th cookbook and I think it will be my best-used cookbook. I think there’s a huge need for people to go back to the basics,” says Maguire.
He says one of the questions he is asked most frequently is how to cook the perfect steak. He answers that in detail in a book that brings readers on a step-by-step journey to help them master 50 essential recipes.
Maguire’s promise: If you master just one recipe a week, you’ll be confident and competent in the kitchen in a year.
“And,” he says, “you’ll save money, you’ll be healthier and you’ll know exactly what goes into your food. That’s very important.”
The go-to recipes will differ depending on age. For instance, children love to bake. Neven and his wife Amelda’s six-year-old twins Connor and Lucia love food and are already aware of what goes into it.
The important thing, says Maguire, is to get them interested. The first things he made with his mother Vera were flapjacks and shortbread before graduating to savoury dishes.
For students about to leave home, he recommends they master a few simple and adaptable dishes that will see them through their college days. Ask him for his top five and he provides the following list: A simple ragout, a stew, a stir fry, a simple vegetable soup, and scrambled eggs.
“Eggs are the most versatile ingredients that you can use. Students are all into health and it’s the way to go,” he says.
But you don’t have to be a student to want to hone your cooking skills. How many of us baulk at doing poached eggs or produce rubbery scrambled eggs along with a saucepan that needs power-hosing afterwards?
Maguire has gone right back to basics to encourage everyone to cook more, waste less, and get a lot more pleasure from the time they spend in the kitchen. He starts with the equipment — another concern among home cooks — and spells out in great detail what you need.
After that, he takes readers through the basics of making a good tomato sauce, dressing a salad, roasting techniques, the art of making perfect scrambled eggs, formulas for sauces and soups, and, of course, some sweet treats.
As he says himself, it’s never too late to start.
- Home Economics for Life, by Neven Maguire is published by Gill Books, €22.99.