I grew up in Sandymount, County Dublin. My mother Doren was of Jamaican heritage, and my father Andrew is from Strokestown, County Roscommon.
My mother died when I was 10, and I don’t have any siblings. So it’s just been me and my dad for a while.
Growing up, I was used to eating baked ham, mashed carrots and parsnips and roast potatoes with Jamaican spices on top. That was what was normal to me. These kind of great Irish ingredients with Jamaican flavors. When I moved over to South America, I started mixing my food— Caribbean and Irish — with Latin American flavors and that’s when it started to take on something else.
I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I can fully express myself through what I do. When I was growing up… I didn’t have those kind of outlets, especially in school. I never really saw myself cooking but it was the only thing that would ever grab my focus and I can fully say what I’m trying to say without actually saying a word.
One of my earliest memories is from Fota Park in Cork. I must have been two or three. We were walking through the park and a giraffe got a hold of our bag of our treats and just chowed down on some fresh oranges.
My proudest achievement… I’ve been in a couple of positions in my life where I just wanted to end it all. As a chef, you’re always asking yourself — why am I doing this? My hands are bloody, my feet are sore, my back aches. Getting over those humps and those moments where I was about to quit, and now looking at where I am… You kind of pat yourself on the back and say, ‘fuck I could have stopped but I didn’t’. Sometimes you’ve just got to dig deep.
I think my greatest quality is, because of my upbringing, it is quite easy for me to see everybody’s argument without being judgmental. Whether it’s hate, whether it’s love, I understand both sides. I think my worst quality is complacency. If it was up to me, I’d probably just be staring out a window for the rest of my life.
The person I turn to most in my life is probably my dad. I am with him a lot. It’s more of a comfort thing.. I’ve got friends too that I have been through it all with. We’ve seen every single side of each other’s personalities and characters. And even if they’re 4,000 miles away, we’ll always have that connection.
The life lessons I would like to pass on — take your time, if you can’t be good, be careful and there’s no mile too long for someone that wishes you well.
The greatest advice I’ve ever been given came from Mario Rosenstock. I was doing my first television show with Lucy Kennedy and I was really nervous. He looked me dead in the eye and said: “It’s only television. No one cares.” It was probably just a passing comment, but the way I thought about it was, I don’t know if much really matters if you’re talking about something that’s true to your heart. Especially what I’m doing with food. I don’t really have to think too much because it’s something I know how to do, and it just comes out of my soul like a small little stream.
I’d like to be remembered as a light — someone you can rely on and just be comfortable around.
If I was given a chance to change something from my past, I don’t think I would — because all the mistakes and all the regrets and all the things I’ve done wrong — ultimately it’s led me to where I am now and I think I’m doing okay. There are habits and stuff I’d like to change, but I’ve my whole life to figure that one out… I am not a person that thinks of the ifs or the buts. I think I am the type of person that I’d be happy living in a cabin in the woods with an old fateful dog with a well nearby or I could be in a gilded tower, equally happy.
The greatest challenge I’ve ever faced is getting over the death of my mother.
My greatest skill? I am a good dancer, I am pretty good at relaxing and I am a good napper. Like a bird of paradise!
What used to scare me in life was not being able to fulfill my full potential. The day I can’t dance will probably be the worst day of my life. And the day I can’t cook something for someone I love will be another bad day.
My goal is to make people fat and happy. There’s too much tension in the world right now. Take a half-hour to yourself to make a nice meal. My vision of the afterlife is something close to the Norse Valhalla where you just sit and drink with all your friends for the rest of eternity.
Nico Reynold’s debut cooking series, sponsored by Tesco Fire Pit, airs Wednesday’s at 8.30pm on RTÉ One. Catch up on RTÉ Player.