• @fussy_vegan_in_galway


Updated: Mar 7, 2019

Sodexo & NUI Galway Chef Maria Mc Neela is set to showcase Irish cuisine across America as part of Sodexo's World Cuisine Initiative.

Sodexo Chef Maria Mc Neela - National University of Ireland, Galway.

Maria Mc Neela has pursued her love of food and made a successful career as a passionate chef for the past 30 years.

However, her career choice was by no means an accident. Maria grew up on a large self-sufficient farm where her passion for food stems from. Her mother passed on a passion for cooking and raised three siblings whom pursued the same career.

As a keen forager, it was of no surprise when Maria joined the Slow Food Movement as a member in 2012, later to lead the largest convivium in Ireland (Slow Food Galway) as chairperson for 2 years in 2013/14.

Having completed her masters in Strategy, Innovation & People Management at NUI Galway in 2013, this gave her the confidence to open her own successful business; Rustic Grub. A restaurant which showcased local artisan food in a modern yet casual chic setting, nestled in the back of a country pub, situated in the heart of Clarinbridge in Galway.

Maria pictured at Rustic Grub restaurant.

Maria has made a hobby from her love of food by sharing her recipes through her blog posts, cookery demonstrations and also as a food stylist.

Today, Maria works with Sodexo at the National University of Ireland in Galway City at An Bhialann Restaurant. This bustling 720 seat restaurant in the centre of campus caters to over 17,000 university students. The student body are youthful, multi-cultural and open-minded, allowing Maria to express a creative flair.

Speaking with Maria she tells us,

“We’ve put together a team of high quality chefs and experienced front of house staff to bring students the best possible offering available. We try to put some personality into the service at every touch point and I think that shines through in our service and in our food.”

Students have more choice now than ever before, with more than six hot options for lunch each day including two rolling concept counters that change throughout the year to match students needs, not to mention the barista style coffee bar at Aspretto, the artisan salad bar prepared fresh daily and fresh sandwiches and sub roll choices at Sub Central. Her hopes are to create a working environment where innovation & learning coincide with sustainability at its core.

Her commitment to reducing waste & use of plastics has paved the path for other vendors within the university campus to follow suit. Since Sodexo’s introduction to the university all disposable coffee cups in An Bhialann have been changed to biodegradable and compostable substitutes with the option to use ceramic or travel mugs affording the customers a discount for saving on single use plastic & waste, all plastic cutlery has been removed and replaced with plant starch alternatives, plastic straws are now banned and paper straws live happily in An Bhialann while all waste generated in the unit is not sent to landfill, instead it is converted into energy to power thousands of homes across Ireland.

The newly refurbished recycling pod which is encouraging students to make waste management part of their daily routine.

Today, Maria is set to take on a new and exciting challenge, to spread the taste of Irish Cuisine & Culture across the USA with the prestigious Sodexo World Cuisine initiative. Maria will venture to the United States on a two-week tour of select cafes and dining halls in which Sodexo provides food service.

"World Cuisine" is an international chef residency that brings Sodexo's top chefs from around the world to different countries in order to share authentic cuisines and cooking techniques with Sodexo's customers. Sodexo uses the World Cuisine Program to showcase its culinary talent from operations in 80 countries around the world while also bringing a unique dining experience to guests.

Maria pictured at one of her live cooking demonstrations at An Bhialann - NUI Galway

“We couldn’t be happier that Maria has been chosen to represent An Bhialann, NUI Galway and Ireland itself in America. We’re very lucky to have such a talented team of chefs here in An Bhialann and we have no doubt Maria will do us all proud on her tour of the states. She has always been passionate about local produce and sustainability, so I know the students of The University of Albany and SUNY Oneonta, in New York will have an authentic West of Ireland culinary experience. She will be the perfect Irish food ambassador for America”

Jamie Costello: Student Experience Manager – Sodexo NUI Galway.

Maria will embark on a US trip that begins at the University of Albany, an internationally recognized public research institution where she will Guest Chef her very own authentic Irish menu to the masses of students. She will end her tour of Albany university by cooking a Gala Dinner inspired by the West Coast of Ireland for a host of local dignitaries.

During her downtime Maria will enjoy a trip away to see one of the spectacular natural wonders of the world, Niagara Falls.

From here she will continue her travels towards the beautiful SUNY Oneonta Campus, nestled in the hills of New York where once again Maria will bring a fresh taste of Ireland to the staff and students of SUNY Oneonta university in the way only she can.

To end her travels, Maria has been asked to visit the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), where she will meet the inspiring future chefs of the world.

We can’t wait to welcome her back and to see the knowledge and experience she gained, shine through in her food here in NUI Galway. (Also we’re just going to miss her smiley head rushing around An Bhialann)


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