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Image / Living / Food & Drink

Head chef at Neighbourhood, Naas Gareth Naughton on his life in food


By Sarah Gill
05th Dec 2023
Head chef at Neighbourhood, Naas Gareth Naughton on his life in food

Here, we catch up with Gareth Naughton to chat about everything from his earliest memories of food to his favourite flavours and culinary inspirations.

Born in Sandyford, Dublin, Gareth Naughton boasts over 15 years of culinary experience, developing his own unique style through years spent working in various Michelin star restaurants across Ireland and overseas.

Having played rugby for Leinster for years with hopes of playing for Ireland, an injury led Gareth off the pitch and into the kitchen, where his passion for cooking was quickly ignited. In 2019, Gareth opened Circa Restaurant in Terenure, which earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand within three months of opening!

Now head chef at one of Kildare’s finest restaurants, Neighbourhood in Naas, there is a definite focus on quality ingredients and providing an exceptional dining experience. Having recently taken home the title of ‘Restaurant of the Year’ from the Irish Food & Hospitality Awards—just 10 months since opening their doors—it’s clear that this is a man whose understanding of food and flavour cannot be overstated.

Here, Gareth Naughton shares his life in food…

Gareth Naughton, Head Chef at Neighbourhood, Naas

What are your earliest memories of food?

It’s a bit of a stereotypical chef thing to say but my earliest memories of food are of watching my grandmother bake. She used to make the most amazing brown soda bread and the smells of her kitchen used to blow my mind as a child. I still use her soda bread recipe today, and hopefully it’s something that I will continue to pass down to my family.

How would you describe your relationship with food?

It’s definitely one of love, for sure. I think loving what you do is incredibly important, and especially so with food. I’m a firm believer that you can taste when a chef is having a bad day or isn’t enjoying cooking their food, and it all goes hand in hand with enjoying and being passionate about what you do.

What was the first meal you learned to cook?

The first thing I properly cooked was chicken Teriyaki for my whole family when I was about 14. It was a huge deal for me at the time, and forcing my mum to try and find Mirin and Sake 20 years ago wasn’t as easy as it would be now! It was one of the first moments where I saw what happiness cooking a good meal brings and it was something that stuck with me even to this day.

How did food become a part of your career?

Food was something I just naturally fell into. I went for a chat with the Head Chef in a really great restaurant after secondary school knowing I wanted to be a chef. Luckily he gave me the opportunity and I just instantly fell in love with it. I felt at home in a kitchen and somehow ended up running the pastry section after only 3 months of being a chef.

What’s your go-to breakfast?

When I’m working it’s usually a flat white and roulé aux pommes from Bread 41 which is a beautiful apple pastry but when I’m off it’s usually egg based dishes – toasted brioche with creamed mushrooms and tarragon with poached eggs is a particular favourite at home.

If you’re impressing friends and family at a dinner party, what are you serving up?

Usually something shareable and easy to prep, I cooked for my partner Aoife’s family recently and we did a tapas style dinner with a baked rice with chorizo and saffron, patatas bravas, grilled prawns and pan con tomato with lots of cheese and hams. For me, what’s important about cooking for people is making everything as delicious as possible with as little fuss as possible.

Gareth Naughton, Head Chef at Neighbourhood, Naas

Who is your culinary inspiration?

There’s so many chefs that have inspired me – Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White, René Redzepi, Daniel Humm, Alain Passard… I could list hundreds more. Instagram and social media are wonderful tools to give chefs inspiration and ideas on a daily basis. The thing that gives me the greatest inspiration nowadays is the produce we have in Ireland. Being able to walk into a market and touch and see the wonderful fish, dairy, meat or vegetables produced on this island inspires me so much.

What would your last meal on earth be?

An absolutely gigantic steak, with a bowl of béarnaise sauce, a few different potato sides, like some chips cooked in beef fat and a pomme dauphinoise with a creme brûlée afterwards – which I would have to find some room for!

What’s your go-to comfort food?

Definitely cheese in all forms, there’s something incredibly comforting about sitting down with a cheese board and a glass of wine after a long week.

What’s the go-to quick meal you cook when you’re tired and hungry?

Pasta, usually linguine with a Cacio e Pepe sauce – it’s such a wonderfully satisfying thing to be able to throw together in 10 minutes with a single pot and just 3 ingredients. It’s the perfect dish – simplicity personified.

What is one food or flavour you cannot stand?

Olives, I’ve tried to like them and I do now more than I used to, but I just can’t see the hype, olive oil on the other hand I adore and couldn’t live without.

Hangover cure?

Large amounts of tea and lots of bacon with Brennans sliced pan and Kerrygold butter.. .the only cure!

Gareth Naughton, Head Chef at Neighbourhood, Naas

Sweet or savoury?

Savoury, particularly nuts of any kind.

Fine dining or pub grub?

Both! But mood depending, there’s genuinely nothing I enjoy more than a Sunday roast from FX Buckleys, but I also love the theatre of getting dressed up and going to a Michelin restaurant for dinner.

Favourite restaurant in Ireland?

To be perfectly honest I haven’t had a huge amount of opportunities to go out for dinner since Neighbourhood opened! Some of the best meals I’ve had in recent times were in Bastible in Dublin and Campagne in Kilkenny.

Best coffee in Ireland?

Cloud Picker – I absolutely love their coffee. I have to give a shout out to PS Coffee Roasters in Naas, who’s coffee is really delicious and somewhere I’ve spent a lot of time the last 6 months, and they’re such nice people who really know their coffee.

Go-to beverage accompaniment?

I’m not sure if this counts or not but a toasted ham and cheese sandwich with a pint of Guinness!

What are your thoughts on the Irish foodie scene?

From my perspective as a chef, I think the Irish food scene is the most exciting it’s ever been. I think it’s great that Irish people’S eating habits have changed so vastly in the last few years.

What’s your favourite thing about cooking?

The happiness it brings people, there’s something about cooking for people on a first date, a birthday or a wedding anniversary that in turn makes me incredibly happy. The fact that people have chosen the restaurant as the place for them to create a memory is something I don’t take for granted at all. It goes back to that first time I cooked for my family when I was 14!

Gareth Naughton, Head Chef at Neighbourhood, Naas

What does food — sitting down to a meal with friends, mindfully preparing a meal, nourishment, etc — mean to you?

Oh it means so much to me, especially when it’s for people I care about. It’s almost like my way of showing them I care about them. I’d actually like to think I’m almost putting a small part of myself into the food I cook for people.

Food for thought — Is there room for improvement within the Irish food/restaurant/hospitality scene?

Yes definitely, of course it can always improve. Hopefully the scene will keep evolving and attracting young passionate cooks, waiters, bartenders and growers and every other cog in this huge wheel that continues to move the industry forward.

Chef’s kiss — Tell us about one standout foodie experience you’ve had recently.

I was recently at a pop up dinner in Orwell Road in Rathgar by Dan Hannigan and Conor Halpenny from the Square in Dundalk. It was just such a good vibe with great food. It was great to see young Irish Chefs working together like that and doing fun things, and I know Dan very well and have organised to bring Neighbourhood up to Rathgar for a night at the start of July, which will hopefully be the start of us doing fun stuff like that.

Compliments to the chef — Now’s your chance to sing the praises of a talented chef, beloved restaurant or particularly talented foodie family member.

This is a pretty good opportunity for me to praise all the staff who I have the pleasure to work alongside with in Neighbourhood both front and back of house, who’ve all made the last 6 months a very memorable and worthwhile experience.

Secret ingredient — What, in your estimation, makes the perfect dining experience?

The service makes all the difference I think. If you go to a restaurant where the food is knock out but the service is lacklustre, I think id be unlikely or definitely hesitant to return – but if the food is just ok and the service was incredible, I would more than likely go back.

Imagery via Gareth Naughton and Neighbourhood, Naas