Let’s set the scene: two chefs take to the main stage at Taste of Dublin, there’s a mackerel dish with a dash of Michelin star sparkle and lusciously layered gourmet burgers, a crowd that’s as entertained as they it is informed, and just to top off the culinary spectacle one of Ireland’s best-loved chefs gate crashes the demo.
The Irish legend is Neven Maguire, the (two) Michelin starred addition is Daniel Clifford, and the third chef in the line up? Simon Delaney. Actor, TV presenter, comedian, Simon Delaney is a man of many job titles, but cook?
As revealed on that very stage Simon is set to take on his latest role, cookbook author. This might not come as a complete surprise to those who tracked his progress on this year’s Celebrity MasterChef, on which he was judged by Daniel Clifford himself along with Irish chef Robin Gill to be more than competent in the kitchen, progressing the final of the show.
A familiar face on our TV screens long before he entered the MasterChef kitchen, Simon has been household name in Ireland since Bachelor’s Walk from the early noughties. Now a presenter on TV3’s Saturday AM, he also regularly frequents the cobbles of Coronation Street, and has appeared on international smash hits The Good Wife, The Fall, and Moone Boy.
A varied career that resulted in more screen time than stove time you would imagine, though the 46-year-old, who grew up next to a farm in Raheny, Co Dublin, reveals that he had little choice but to get to grips with cooking from a young age.
“Both my parents passed away when I was quite young,” Simon says, “so it kind of got to the point where I had to learn to cook very quickly.”
Eager to impress his now wife Lisa Muddiman he was spurred on to sharpen his skills when they moved in together. “And when the kids came along I guess you have no choice but to feed them!” he says laughing.
“You have to learn to cook quickly when you have kids, and we’ve four boys under ten. It’s full on!”
As I chat to Simon over the phone, who’s as charming as he comes across on screen and stage, he’s mid-school run.
“I’m fairly hands on when it comes to school runs, cooking breakfasts, lunches and dinners. It’s all part of the daily routine,” says Simon of the family centered lifestyle the flexibility of his job has afforded him.
“They are typical kids, they love their chicken nuggets and their pizza. So sometimes you end up cooking four different dinners a day. You can have a good few pans on the go! We’ve basically got a mini professional kitchen at home with all the orders coming in.”
Though Simon says he interest in food extends beyond just fueling his family. “I had a strong interest before I got involved with MasterChef. I only watch one type of television. It’s either the Food Network or Good Food. I would happily watch Rick Stein on a loop for twelve hours a day.”
“I’ve been asked to do MasterChef basically ever since it first aired, but just between kids, filming and being away I never got the chance. But last year when they rang I had eight weeks with nothing booked in and I said I want to do this!”
“It was a fairly heavy commitment,” he concedes, “and bear in mind we had baby number four, Lewis, only last June, and then seven weeks later Lisa broke her leg badly so she ended up in a locked brace from her hip to her knee for four months.”
Simon is undulating in his gratitude towards his wife who urged him to keep his commitment to MasterChef despite her injury. These sort of “soppy” sentiments spilled over onto our screens when he dedicated the three course meal he cooked in the finale to her – announcing in the same breath that he’d actually “never cooked a three course meal” before in his life.
“Daniel and Robin were aware of everything that was going on at home and they said this guy must be either mad or brilliant, it’s one or the other!”
They obviously decided on the latter, an opinion that proved justified when he kept his cool in the heat of a professional service at London’s Michelin starred Pied à Terre.
“It was probably hand on my heart the hardest day of my life, and I’ve worked on a building sites, on factory lines, dug holes in the road and cleaned out air conditioning systems, but that was another level.”
“It didn’t help that myself and Oisin (McConville) went out the night before and effectively pickled ourselves in beer before being dropped into the basement kitchen of a one Michelin star restaurant in London. Then to add to it, the sous chef walked in and handed me a full lamb to butcher. My stomach had left the building hours before I got there!
During four hours of mis en place he prepared a main course that comprised of three different cuts of lamb, that each required a different style of stove top treatment when it came to service.
“I sent up 120 pieces of lamb and nothing came back. Nothing was under, nothing was over. My garnishes and presentation were good, and the judges loved it.”“After that shift, I swear to God my hair was hurting me! I had aches all over my body. But it was so worth it.”
“The last time I felt like that in London was when I was standing on the stage making my West End debut. I was tingling from head to toe. It was just incredible. I loved it.”
He says it was always in the back of his mind that if he did well on the competition he might have the opportunity to put his love of food on paper.
“I am tripping over cookbooks at home, I love using them and reading them. So I approached a couple of publishers.”
Drawing from his experience working and eating in the States he conceived the concept of a diner cookbook. “I’ve took the classic diners dishes, like pulled pork, key lime pie, pulled pork, New York cheesecake, mac and cheese, and adapted them for the home chef,” as he explains it.
His hook caught interest, and over the past 7 months he has developed a 200 page cookbook with over 60 recipes, created with the help of Neal Kearns, a friend and Executive Head Chef at Castleknock Hotel and Country Club, who also coached him through MasterChef.
“Once we had finished all the recipes I sent them out to friends, family and colleagues to test them and took their feedback on board.”
The book, Simply Simon’s: The Diner Cookbook, is due for release in October, a creation he has compiled all the while appearing every week on Saturday AM, completing two TV scripts and a film script, running his production company, and there’s the filming of a movie and the next series of Sky’s comedy series Trollied in the pipeline too. “and then there’s the small matter of looking after my four little superheroes too!”
He says his strategy for getting it all done was simple, adopting Sir Alex Ferguson’s mantra for success: surround yourself with the right people.
“I have to give a special mention to Neven Maguire. I had never met the man, but he was watching MasterChef and tweeting me and I suggested meeting up for a cup of tea when it was over. When I told him my idea he loved it.”
“Neven has basically been instrumental in all of this. I did a demo at Taste of Dublin with him. I’m going to be doing demos at Taste of Cavan and Taste of Donegal and that’s all been down to Neven. He’s been a huge support.”
Daniel Clifford also wrote “an extremely kind” foreword for the book, and Simon says both him and Robin are friends for life.
“Between my publishers and the likes of Neven and Daniel in the mix where can it go wrong?” he says laughing.
“I think there’s an appetite out there for this kind of food. I hope there is! We’ll soon find out.”
If the public bites he has plans to immerse himself further this new dimension of his career, with a couple of projects already in development he says there’s talk of a food series on YouTube and maybe a second book.
“My own business is so unreliable, so the fact that the book is there is great because that has given me a foothold and a platform, it shows that I am taking it seriously.”
Is he intimidated about what the naysayers might say his given his inexperience? “Not one bit.”
“I’m in the business where my work is constantly critiqued, I always have reviews written on my performances be that on TV, stage or radio and if you were to listen to critics you’d never leave the house. You can’t please everybody, and some people might not like the book but hopefully more people will like it.”
Simon Delaney has made a career out of his ability to change character, but for once he’s playing his himself, putting a piece of his own personality on a plate, and he’s never been happier.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.