And while he’s certainly bringing heat to the kitchen, the Zen chef has become synonymous for his soul food and his incomparably chilled style of cooking.
In a new RTÉ series, All Fired Up, the Dubliner will school the nation on the art of barbecuing and outdoor cooking. Baring all when it comes to his budding career, the saucy star chats naked cheffing and why he lets his food do the talking.
“I mean, there is definitely an RTÉ Nico and a real-life Nico,” jokes the foodie, who regularly appears on Ireland AM, and was previously an in-house chef on Lodging with Lucy.
“When I started doing TV you kind of become over-cognitive to things, but I don’t really give a sh*t now. I just let my food do the talking.”
Since his small screen debut and his time spent charming Alison Hammond on This Morning, there have been plenty of career highlights.
“Action Bronson was up there,” he name-checks the American rapper, “and passing a day with Paul McGrath.”
For fans though, there’s one stand-out moment — and it involves the charismatic TV chef flashing more than just his cooking credentials, when he posed naked while featuring on an episode of Lodging with Lucy.
“Here’s the truth, I was asked to do that and my initial reaction was doubt — I just wasn’t sure. I slept on it and the 16-year-old in me piped up and shouted ‘Lucy Kennedy and Amy Huberman are going to draw you naked — whip it out!’
“I mean, things like that don’t happen in the reality I was living, so I said ‘F**k it, why the hell not?’
“I’ve been asked to do similar things now, but it’s food over me; I want the food to take centre stage.”
Dublin-born, but with a rich Jamaican heritage, the dishy cook attributes his love of food to his grandmother.
“She’s been the connection to a heritage I did not experience every day. As much as I am an Irish man, my Jamaican roots still sprout through her love,” Nico says.
“She taught me there’s nothing in life that stress will solve. That people’s impositions of their reality are a reflection of them, and only your path is true to you. There’s no mile too long for a well-wisher and if you can’t be good, be careful.”
Making her debut alongside her grandson, Mavis is now set to be a star in her own right.
“In one episode, we prepared a Caribbean hot sauce. She was actually really comfortable on the camera, like she’d done it before — no panic, no stress, all calm.
“It was a stand-out moment in my life. A day cooking with her immortalised on film, that’s a treasure. She is super proud and is always in my corner whichever choice I make,” he beams.
His granny may currently be the only woman in the creative’s life, but the good news is you don’t have to be a Michelin star chef to win his affections — though a little culinary flair wouldn’t hurt.
“Cooking is a bonus for sure. It could get bossy in the kitchen from both sides, which could be make or break, although I’m not against a firm and deserved talking to,” laughs Nico. “I like the image of cooking dinners and breakfasts; getting fat, happy and old together.”
The talented cook may have no time for love, but he knows the exact ingredients to a winning relationship.
“I’ve been moving around too much to establish a relationship, but hopefully I’ll have a clearer vision at the end of this year. I’m not convinced anymore I have a type. I like a directness with a sense of play.
“I’ve got quite a flighty and active mind, so someone to ground me and tell me to sit down before I get too amped up and embarrass myself, again [would be good].
“It’s an old cliché, but a sense of humour is really attractive.”
Despite an already stellar career, the laid-back chef admits there has been no clear trajectory towards his success.
“I still don’t know where I am going or what I am doing. I just kind of do things to see what happens. I kind of go with it.
“I have this thing where I don’t know whether it is a hindrance or a help, but if it doesn’t go the way I want, I will still be happy staring out the window at the weekend. I am just fortunate to be in a position to do what I like and be able to enjoy what I do.
“I don’t want to have stress in any part of my life, if you stress too much, you are just going to end up resenting cooking. And if you resent it, that’s the first step towards complete hatred. So any time stress does come in, I just want to take a step back and realise why I am cooking.”
So what can we expect from his new RTÉ six-part series, All Fired Up?
“Every single recipe has been cooked over fire. We didn’t go into the kitchen once, and we didn’t cheat,” Nico explains.
“We did an episode on how to do a Sunday roast over a BBQ and cooking for two; things that look familiar but are elevated with different flavours.
“I’ve had so many disasters — cuts, bruises, burns, you name it. But I am pretty cool around fire, so I haven’t set anything on fire.”
For anyone planning to use Ireland’s tempestuous weather to rule out cooking outdoors, the chef has this to say: “I am not taking that as an excuse anymore.
“I would have maybe three years ago, but during Covid I saw people outside in the sleet waiting for pints, and piling into beer gardens in the pissing rain.
“We haven’t solely focused on meat, there is fish and vegetarian too. I haven’t seen anything like this on TV, not even in the UK.”
So what’s next for the rising star? “I want to travel over the summer. I could give you a bunch of reasons, but ultimately I just don’t want to wear socks anymore — I just want to wear sandals.”
Ingredients (serves 3-4):
■ 3 lemons
■ 2 limes
■ 400ml tin full fat coconut milk, chilled
■ 3 ripe bananas
■ 2 tsp vegetable oil
■ 3 tsp icing sugar
■ 20g unsalted peanuts, chopped
■ 3 tsp honey, to garnish
■ A few mint leaves, to garnish
1. Before making this dessert, make sure your grill is nice and clean — a halved lemon is great for this.
2. Remove the skin and pith from the lemons and limes and freeze overnight.
3. Next, skim any set cream from the top of the coconut milk. Pour into a blender, add the frozen citrus fruit and blitz for a few seconds. Keep chilled until needed.
4. Leaving the banana in the skin, slice down the length of the curved
side of the fruit and open up.
5. Brush the banana with a little vegetable oil and sprinkle with icing sugar.
6. Over medium heat, grill the banana skin side down for about 4 -5 minutes. Then turn over to caramelise the other side for 30 seconds or so.
7. Transfer the banana into a serving dish, cut side up. Top with citrus cream and some chopped peanuts.
8. Drizzle with honey and a few mint leaves and enjoy immediately.
Ingredients (serves 3):
■ For the jerk chicken
■ 6 skin-on bone-in free range chicken thighs
■ Jerk marinade (see recipe below)
For the jerk cauliflower
■ 1 cauliflower, sliced into steaks
■ 1 tbsp olive oil
1. For the jerk chicken, start by scoring the chicken skin with a sharp knife.
2. Coat the meat with half the jerk marinade (saving the other half for the jerk cauliflower), ensuring it gets into every little crevice.
3. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes, or preferably overnight, in the fridge.
4. Grill the chicken thighs on indirect heat with the lid closed for 40 mins, or until cooked through. Check with a meat thermometer if you are unsure.
5. Finish cooking over direct heat for a few minutes to crisp up the skin.
6. In the meantime, prepare the cauliflower by cutting it into thick steaks.
7. Mix the remaining jerk marinade with some olive oil and smear over the cauliflower steaks.
8. Place the cauliflower onto direct heat and grill for 5-6 minutes on each side.
■ 1 onion
■ 5 scallions
■ 6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
■ Thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
■ 3 tbsp dark brown sugar
■ 100ml dark soy sauce
■ 3 tsp ground allspice
■ 1 tsp ground cinnamon
■ Small handful of fresh thyme leaves
■ 1 scotch bonnet/red chilli, deseeded for less heat
■ 250ml distilled white vinegar
■ A few sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
1. Begin by making a thyme vinegar for the marinade. In a small pan on a hob, gently heat the white vinegar with the thyme.
2. Bring to boil, then remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
3. Meanwhile, place all the other ingredients in a blender and blitz until fine.
4. Next, add 50ml thyme vinegar to the marinade mixutre and blend thoroughly.
5. Use the homemade jerk marinade to give a spicy kick to chicken or vegetables. It will keep for up to three weeks stored in an airtight container in the fridge.