Chef, restaurateur, television personality and food writer, Clodagh McKenna has journeyed a long way since she first started out on a stall at the farmer’s markets in West Cork, which incidentally she looks back on as being one of the highlights of her career. Over the past 15 years, she has become one of the most recognised faces and brands in Ireland’s Food and Lifestyle sectors. Combining a passion for food with her business savvy, Clodagh has developed her brand into an emerging business empire encompassing Clodagh’s Kitchen restaurants, her television shows, cookbooks and a food column. She speaks to West Cork People about her ‘hunger’ to get ahead and why she always loves coming back to West Cork.
Clodagh, whose father is from Bandon in West Cork, grew up in a household where sharing food around the table was an important part of daily life. “I’m not sure exactly when my love affair with food began…looking back I love how food brings people together to create a special moment.
“My favourite memory is the delicious baking smells that filled our house on Saturday mornings. In particular the smell of the Rock Buns that we would make and of course the utter delight of eating them!”
Clodagh went on to train and work at Ballymaloe before becoming involved with Slow Food and the Farmer’s Markets movement in Ireland and opening her own stall selling fresh homemade pasta, pates and chutneys. She then spent a number of years living in Turin, Italy where, among other things, she lectured at the Slow Food University of Gastronomy. “I learned a lot in Italy — about food culture, cooking, and the importance of food being inclusive. The Italians start planning their dinner over breakfast and I now find myself doing the same thing; it’s about creating a time to give back to yourself and your family. If it’s only for one hour a day, it’s important to make that time.”
Although she has lived in many countries and places around Ireland, Clodagh maintains that West Cork has always been her favourite place to live. She tries to visit as much as her busy schedule allows, about once a year. “I relax the minute I arrive in West Cork, it is an oasis for me — I love the creative bubble that exists here and the incredible farmers markets in the towns.”
The author of five cookbooks, Clodagh draws her inspiration in the kitchen from all over the world. “Everywhere I travel, whether it be in London, or NYC or France, I am always discovering new combinations; you can never stop learning, that’s what is so exciting about cooking.”
Never one to ‘watch a pot boil’, she has just started writing her sixth cookbook. “It is a much bigger book than I have ever done before so it will take some time to complete but I am very excited about it.” She says that holding her first book in her hands was a very special moment in her career.
Clogagh admits that the biggest challenge working for herself is “self-belief and motivation.”
“There are so many challenges when you work for yourself. Someone once said to me to think globally and act locally — I think that is great advice for anyone working for his or herself. And also to never stop dreaming…
“I genuinely love what I do…I am so lucky to work in the food world, there are harder sides to this business but I try not to lose sight of my passion for cooking and discovering my ingredients.”
Setting up and running two busy restaurants and working 24/7 in the first six months of start-up have taught Clodagh important lessons. “It does take over your world, but it is worth it, if you love it; it’s also so important to take time out – I have learned that in recent years. I love cinema, theatre, running, listen to audio books, discovering new restaurants, dancing, and of course cooking!”
Clodagh has launched five very successful cookbooks ‘The Irish Farmer’s Market Cookbook’, ‘Fresh from the Sea’, ‘Homemade’ and ‘Clodagh’s Kitchen Diaries’ and the latest, this year, ‘Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen’.
For more information www.clodaghmckenna.com.