Food & Drink

Award winning NI chef Noel McMeel: ‘Believe in your dreams - and take more breaks’

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Northern Ireland award-winning chef Noel McMeel

Chef Noel McMeel wearing a festive jumper whilst checking the temperature of his turkey.
Chef Noel McMeel (Kelvin Boyes)

1. Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

My mornings usually begin with a brisk morning walk with the dog to clear my mind and focus on the day ahead. A nutritious breakfast is non-negotiable and I take a moment to stay informed by catching up on the latest news. This sets the tone for the day, ensuring I’m ready for whatever challenges come my way.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? My breakfast usually consists of day eggs, avocado and greens with wholegrain toast or perhaps rolled oats with fruit with some local Greek yogurt mixed with nuts.

Lunch? When I’m working, I often just have a cup of tea and a wholegrain wrap filled with lean turkey or chicken slices, crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and a dollop of hummus or Greek yogurt.

Evening Meal? I relish the art of cooking at home and there’s nothing I’d rather have for dinner than a Roast chicken breast, potato purée and pine nuts, accompanied by a salad picked fresh from my own garden. I always use a meat thermometer to ensure I perfectly cook my chicken to the recommended 75 degrees Celsius.

3. Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

Nutrition is crucial to me. I don’t take any health supplements. I believe that most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a healthy, balanced diet.

4. Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

My aim is to always try and prioritise a balanced and nutritious diet over any common type of diet. Mindful eating and embracing wholesome foods allow me to maintain a comfortable and natural weight.

5. Weekend treat?

Absolutely; every Saturday night I enjoy a pizza with a nice glass of wine.

6. How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

By eating well and staying active. I try to train my mind with positive thoughts, along with approximately 30 minutes of physical exercise every day as a powerful stress reliever which improves mood and boosts energy levels.

7. Best tip for everyday fitness?

Eat a well-balanced diet for a healthier life. When working out, set achievable goals, drink plenty of water - and put your phone away. Establish a routine that allows you to head to bed on time and think positively for improved physical and mental health. Most importantly, be kind to yourself.

8. Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I loved PE and I’m lucky to have had such a great childhood filled with activities like rounders, tennis, and football.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

I enjoy a tipple now and again. Living in the country, you get used to not drinking as you have to drive everywhere, and as you get older, you realise that you can’t actually drink that much.

Image of chef Noel McMeel in a festive Christmas jumper standing beside a Christmas tree.
Chef Noel McMeel (Kelvin Boyes)

10. Stairs or lift?

Stairs, any day. Except when I’m on holidays.

11. What book are you currently reading?

Apart from reading my own cookery book Irish Pantry, I’m in love with a book that Darina Allen gave me called Grow Cook Nourish – it is simply amazing.

12. Best Netflix or streaming TV?

It has to be Virgin River.

13. Any new skills or hobbies?

You never stop learning. I love gardening and often learn new things when I’m getting my hands dirty.

14. How do you relax?

I love to relax through gardening and seeing the seasons in full focus. I also relax by walking my three-year-old-retriever or just by watching a great film.

15. What would you tell your younger self?

Believe in your dreams. Take more breaks. Be as positive as you can be and keep your mind healthy. Go out of your way to help others as to give is a gift. Trust your gut.

16. What are your goals going forward?

I have had so many goals and dreams that have come true and I find that truly amazing. I’m going to make my new goals in 2024.

17. What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

I have always loved my sleep. By the time I finally get to bed, I am ready for a full night’s sleep. I believe we all need 7-8 hours every night.

18. Biggest gripe or regret?

Not appreciating all the good times that I have had compared to the bad times in my life.

19. Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

What was important in my youth is no longer important as I get older and what’s important today isn’t important tomorrow. So, yes, they are always changing.

20. Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event - changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

Yes, as we get older, we find ourselves facing our own mortality, whether through our own situation or that of someone close to us. Time is the most important thing we have. Forgive, respect, and learn to give without expecting anything in return.

:: Noel McMeel, culinary director at the Ebrington Hotel in Derry, has teamed up with safefood to help promote festive food safety campaign ‘Trust the Meat Thermometer’ to encourage the safe cooking of turkey this Christmas.