Noel McMeel

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"A great meal is about more than the food and the wine. It is an emotional experience that delivers the very best products of the earth to the table and creates a memory to which you can return, time after time."

So says Noel McMeel, one of Ireland's top chefs and a man who has dedicated his life to the obsessive pursuit of food excellence. If that makes him sound like a culinary recluse, the good news is that he's anything but. Noel encapsulates a wonderful combination of charisma, charm and wit, with a hint of self effacement that makes him instantly likeable, qualities that are backed up by his formidable cooking talent. "My father always said, "´┐Żnever forget the field you were foaled in..." which simply means to never forget where you come from. And I haven't. My roots are still firmly set in the Irish soil of my family farm and the values I learned there about the quality and integrity of foodstuff are probably more relevant to me now than ever before." Mind you, Noel's cooking style has moved on somewhat from the days when he helped his mother make soda farls in the working kitchen.

Today he's just as likely to be found preparing a celebrity gourmet bash in Washington, introducing a new television audience to the secrets of fine food or creating a menu for diners at the Lough Erne Golf Resort in county Fermanagh, where he is head chef. Indeed, with celebrity credentials which include Paul McCartney's vegetarian wedding extravaganza, and no less than five invitations to cook celebration dinners at the world renowned James Beard Foundation, Noel's culinary reputation is now firmly established on the international scene.

It's a reputation that's been built on Noel's insatiable appetite for expanding his knowledge. Training at the Northern Ireland Hotel and Catering College in Portrush, a period with Paul and Jeanne Rankin at Roscoff in Belfast ans a 1988 scholarship to the United States helped open some very prestigious doors. They included the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC, with Jean Louis Palladin, and a stint at Chez Panisse in San Francisco, working with his culinary heroine, chef-patron, Alice Water.

Opportunities beckoned in Northern Ireland and he returned to take up the position of head chef at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel in Londonderry. In the late 1990s, Noel opened his own restaurant Trompets. More recently, he started at Castle Leslie and his efforts helped earn it a ranking among the top ten places in the world to stay.

Not a man to rest on his laurels, Noel has now moved on to Lough Erne Gold Resort where he is bringing his own particular brand of modern Irish cooking to a new and discerning audience. So what then is the McMeel trademark?

"Absolute simplicity and respect for the integrity of the ingredients is paramount. I believe in letting the flavours sing for themselves. My dishes may appear complex, but in fact they tend to be cooked quite simply, with rigorous attention to the freshness and seasonality of the ingredients."

Today Noel's talents as a chef place him in steady demand as a TV performer as he features on BBC and RTE, and he regularly travels the world as a demonstrator, a judge and as a guest chef for special occasion dinners.