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Getting to Know You: Nick Reynolds

A series of Q&As with members of the vibrant Irish international community to share their cultural heritage, food memories and stories.

Nick Reynolds (aka Nico De Rey) is a Dublin-born chef who spent years honing his cooking in Buenos Aires and has Jamaican heritage.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I was born in Dublin and have a Jamaican grandmother. A significant portion of my 20s was spent in the Latin American pearl that is Buenos Aires – a creative hub of South America.

My Jamaican granny would bring bottles of scotch bonnet hot sauce by the litre to Dublin that I would in turn bring back to South America and introduce into creative projects with chefs and cooks from around the world .This became the starting point for my recipes, adding them to colourful South American palates. Also, finding different ways to use my granny’s sauce for marinades, sauces, dips and bases became an obsession.

It was mixing these flavours that I grew up with and adding them to these new experiences that had me hooked!

“Caribbean cooking with sprinkles of Latin influences via Ireland “ is how I sum up what is on the plate at my restaurant Lil Portie. A new concept in theory, but I can’t help think of Ireland's place in Jamaica's history, being the second largest ethnic group in the country. 25% of Jamaicans can trace their ancestry from the reverberation of the Irish diaspora.

Do you cook?

I cook almost every day. I don't really ever remember eating a bad meal at home. I never really saw myself cooking for a living or for people outside my circle of friends. My father is a great cook, but I absorbed what I know about Jamaican cooking from my maternal grandmother. Rather than trying to learn her recipes by rote, the flavour and how to replicate it was always my goal.

Cooking was the only thing that really grabbed my focus. I have a flighty enough mind as it is, so anything that can ground me is something I hold onto.

I eat the same thing for breakfast which surprises most people, always a combination of oily fish (frequently sardines), eggs (mostly scrambled) and hot sauce.

I don't have much of a schedule with how the recipe testing will go so I tend to have at least some part of my day in a regime that I at least have a little bit of control over.

What is your favorite dish, and your favorite food memory? Likewise, what is your most traumatizing food experience? (Everybody has one!)

My favourite dish is ceviche. It is something I always try to bring into people’s world; I just think everyone should know about it!

When in Argentina, I lived in an area with a large Peruvian immigrant population and Peruvian food was everywhere. I fell in love with it there. The citrus zests and the bite of seafood and cured fish is a meal that could happily be eaten anytime of the day.

It was always my Sunday meal to hone the weekend off or after Saturdays filled with festivities.

My most traumatic food experiences mostly come from when nothing goes right for you. This something that can happen even if you plan out your best strategy. I've done a few pop ups that have left really bitter tastes in my mouth.

Where do you shop?

My favourite shop by far is The Oriental Pantry on Moore Street.

I tend to go here for my Caribbean ingredients. Caribbean cooking, through the course of empire, has fingerprints and echoes of West African food and culture. Under one roof you’ll find a few nations represented by their food. The selection of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, locally sourced fish and meat is unlike anywhere in the country in terms of variety and selection.

Upon entry you are first greeted by a small but constant queue of patrons waiting for a snack from a Brazilian hot food counter.

If you’re stopped by the sight of a trove of fried snacks, try the “pastel” or “coxinha” (forms of fried dough traditionally filled with meat and cheese), and the Brazilian soft drink “Guaraná” is the perfect complement to wash it all down.

Plantains will always be on the shelves, both ripe and unripe. Botanically similar to the banana, the plantain has a high starch content, which gives it a potato-like quality. However, you cannot eat it raw!

My preference is unripe, thinly sliced and sprinkled with salt. They should be green and hard to the touch, the application is like how you would cook a potato --fried like chips & crisps, boiled, roasted and mashed.

The ripened plantain is sweet, yellow and squidgy. You can make a really tropical puree from this by boiling it in some coconut milk and blending it.

Plantains diced and fried with some roasted meat would take the form of a more traditional meal.

Are you excited about the cuisines of other cultures?

I love seeing new people doing their own thing and exploring a personal passion through a voice they're trying to discover.

I've not seen a serious go at most South American food other than Brazilian, and I'd love to see some Peruvian or Central American places take off.

I've been seeing more sincere food offerings from certain parts of the world that have been genuine efforts to respect the inspiration from the nations from which food is from.

I love the taste that flame gives to food, and any culture that has that at the forefront of its cuisine puts me into a whirlwind of excitement.

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