Dylan McGrath’s Secret Service: One time villain chef’s kindness matters more than the catering

TV review: McGrath and the show come from a place of enormous kindness and that, more than the catering, is what ultimately matters

There was a time when the best chef was the shoutiest chef. Whether it was Gordon Ramsay swearing up a streak or Marco Pierre White rustling up f-bombs, ego and aggression were regarded as the hallmark of a first-rate kitchen kingpin.

In Ireland, the role of a culinary villain was once filled by Dylan McGrath. Where other chefs were genteel, with luvvy vibes, he was angry, the chips on his shoulder cooked to perfection. He was an anti-hero for which Irish dining was crying out.

That, though, was a long time ago. The angry young man has mellowed into a more cuddly figure and, in Dylan McGrath’s Secret Service (Virgin Media One, Wednesday 9pm), he’s trying to give something back.

More than give back. He wants to extend a helping hand to individuals from marginalised backgrounds who deserve a break. This isn’t a free lunch: McGrath has set his crew the challenge of getting up to speed in his kitchen in four weeks so that they can then prepare a charity meal.


They are a likable bunch and Secret Service pulls effectively at the heartstrings. It is, of course, a marketing opportunity for McGrath. But he comes across as genuinely motivated by a desire to assist those shut out by mainstream society “You should be given a fair chance,” he says. “You should have an opportunity to succeed.”

The Volunteers are from all walks of life. Fiadhnait is a 24-year-old with Down syndrome. Lisa Marie is a settled Traveller from Finglas. Rosin is in Direct Provision, having fled Cameroon.

They are joined by Luke, who is neurodivergent, and by Stephen, a former baker serving a sentence at Shelton Abbey open prison who received a special dispensation to go on the show.

None is the finished article, kitchen-wise, and McGrath is realistic about the challenges ahead. “I’m nervous as to whether or not it’s going to be something they can do,” he says as he looks ahead to the big charity dinner that will involve the newbies prepping food for 60.

He gets his recruits started by having them help out at his restaurants. They’re enthusiastic, if not quite there yet in their cooking ability.

Fiadhnait, we discover, is full of life but had a difficult time as a teenager, when she was excluded by other children. “She’d walk along the road with her head down, her shoulders slouched,” says her mother. “She was left out and she knew it.” You can only congratulate her for overcoming those obstacles and becoming the confident and bubbly person we see on screen.

Lisa Marie has had a challenging life, too. Her father died by suicide in prison and her older sister has encouraged her to complete her schooling. She recalls being turned down for jobs in restaurants because customers “wouldn’t feel comfortable” around a Traveller. It’s shocking.

McGrath is generous with his time and doesn’t play up for the cameras. With just three episodes to go, the suspicion is that he may have bitten off more than he can chew in terms of turning these hopefuls into kitchen-ready workers. But this show comes from a place of enormous kindness and that, more than the catering, is what ultimately matters.