NicerChef: How Dylan 'Mr Nasty' McGrath Quit Being Hellish in the Kitchen; Humbled by a Taste of Failure, the Top Chef with a Fearsome Reputation for Arrogance Shows His Softer Side as a Judge on the Irish MasterChef

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Byline: by Patrice Harrington

WITH moist eyes and a lump in his throat, Dylan McGrath lovingly places an apron over the middle-aged man's head, gently intoning, 'You've done yourself very proud today and you deserve this. Good man. Good man.'

Overcome with emotion, Richard, 43, an audio and video manager, thanks the celebrity chef for deeming him and his pan-fried venison worthy of a place on Ireland's very first Master-Chef, which debuted on RTE2 this week.

'I thought you were going to cry there,' quips fellow judge Nick Munier, when Richard has left the set.

After all, isn't this the same man who provoked an outcry three years ago on RTE's The Pressure Cooker for screaming obscenities at staff in the cramped kitchen of Mint, his Ranelagh haute cuisine restaurant?

His arrogance prompted a massive response from viewers disgusted at how he fired a waiter on camera and shouted things at his chefs like, 'Hurry up, ****head!'

One critic even described him as 'an obnoxious Ramsay-knockoff desperate to win a Michelin star'.

Even worse, McGrath made no apologies for his outrageous behaviour, shrugging, 'I feel I've put in the work and now I'm entitled to the judgment.' As if to vindicate his position, he won his coveted Michelin accolade shortly afterwards.

So watching him this week politely dispatching contestants who weren't up to scratch - 'I do think you have ability but you have to start tasting your food' - and effusively praising those who made the grade - 'I think you really, really, really deserve this, Mary' - was all the more eyebrow-raising. It begs the question: Have we witnessed the reinvention of Dylan McGrath?

The global MasterChef format is all about nourishing rather than devouring budding cooks, so producers Screentime ShinAwiL must be convinced he has turned over a new leaf.

McGrath beat off stiff competition for the job from 50 other hopefuls, including well-known chefs such as Neven Maguire, the Tannery's Paul Flynn, itsabagel's Domini Kemp, Gary O'Hanlon of Viewmount House in Longford and Olivier Meisonnave of Dublin's Dax.

'The intensity Dylan puts into his work may come across as arrogant but ultimately he's just trying to be successful,' says his TV sidekick, Pichet co-owner Munier.

'He's not moody at all. He talks from the heart and sometimes that doesn't wash with people. Chefs are like artists or actors; there's an intensity there.'

Has winning that Michelin star for which he so yearned softened him?

Or was it his last relationship that knocked his corners off?

Nutritionist and Mount Anville past pupil Erika Doolan still works with her 'best friend' at his new, unfussy restaurant Rustic Stone on Dublin's South Great Georges Street, though they are no longer an item.

News that their three-year relationship was over only came to light last month when McGrath was photographed with a mystery blonde in a branch of Burger King.

Perhaps this restyled McGrath has a new girlfriend to thank?

'He's a very different man to what he was a few years ago when he was running Mint,' confirms Mail columnist and food writer Tom Doorley.

'He has simply mellowed. He was young and immature at that time, and youth and immaturity combined with a degree of genius and an unwillingness to compromise is a very heady mixture. Mint came to an end rather suddenly and it gave him an opportunity to reflect on what he was doing and he began to think in terms of simplifying without letting up on quality and detail. Now, he's still pretty intense and he hasn't started lying down with the lambs - but I think he just became a nicer human being to be around.'

Former Dubliner magazine editor Trevor White, who chose McGrath for their Chef's Chef award in 2008, agrees. 'He seems to have calmed down a bit. I imagine the experience in Mint was chastening,' he says. …