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Women in Food – Ireland’s Most Influential Women on the State of the Industry

This month we have been looking at the food industry in Ireland, how it has changed over the last few years and how it stands now. We talked to some of Ireland’s most influential women to get their views on food in Ireland.


Sallyanne-Blog1-770x450Sallyanne Clarke opened the restaurant with her husband Derry Clarke in 1989. Under her direction, l’Ecrivain has become a multi award winning restaurant and has held a Michelin Star since 2003.

It’s been a tough few years for the business but what challenges exist in the industry now in a post-recession Ireland?

We are now in a digital age where everything is done online more and more every day. The old forms of advertising are not as effective and if you want to promote your business, you need to get to as many people as possible. Foodie websites such as have become our new form of advertising. They get us an immediate audience with their subscribers and we are delighted with the response. We use to publicise our new menus and website, and in doing this we are able to offer a lucky few the chance to dine at a discount in our restaurant.

Times are still quite tough but we are coming out of the recession slowly but surely, and it is great to see the Irish Dining Public having the confidence to start eating out once again.

What are your hopes for the future of the industry?

I hope the industry gets on its feet again soon and blooms. We work hard, love what we do and we aim to please. It will never be like the ‘boom time’, but do we want to go back to that era of excess?

All our customers from abroad are so appreciative of what we are doing, especially at the prices we charge. I have been to the South of France and to New York in the last couple of months, and it is so much more expensive than Dublin. Not only that, but it is not the value for money we offer here. People seem to spend abroad without question, and then query everything at home. We have the highest minimum wage in Europe in this industry. Our Excise duties and V.A.T. are far in excess of our European neighbours, so we are not on a level playing field.

People need to know the inside track and to know the numbers employed in the Hospitality Industry as a whole to realise how important this is to our economy. Dining out is not just about the people that dine in the various restaurants and the people that work there. It is about the producers that supply us; not just the large growers but the individual farmers, the fruit & vegetable growers, the cheese makers, the small organic suppliers and the wine makers too. The recession has had a knock on effect on all of us involved in the food industry. We are a proud nation and we are delighted when tourists tell us how very good we are. Ireland should be one of the Foodie Capitals of Europe.


Photo Martina ReganJess Murphy is the co-owner and head chef of Kai. Winner of the Best Chef in Connaught at the Irish Restaurant Association Awards, Jess is the only ever female chef to win the regional awards.

Working in a predominantly male environment: do you think it discourages women from working in the business?

Obviously it would be hard for a single mum to run her own business. I can only talk for myself but you do get to a point where you decide, either you have kids or you don’t. I know women who missed the boat because they wanted to commit to being a chef. In Norway, they are signing contracts to not have kids!

I wanted to have a career and be taken seriously but I think women end up missing out on sections of life. I’ve five women in the kitchen, all chefs with no kids. One works four days a week, so it’s possible to be flexible.

Things are changing, kitchens are more collaborative now and they’re more and more supportive for staff. It certainly can’t go on like how it was.

How has Ireland evolved as a food nation over the last ten years?

Things have changed, people are eating what they should have been eating ages ago. You couldn’t sell razor clams before, now you’re selling ten kilos a night. Now we have game in winter and stuff like Oxtail soup but during the boom it was all fillet steak and foie gras, uninspiring, perfect veg and truffles.

I guess it’s the New Zealand creativity in me, I’ve always gone for hogget and mutton instead of the usual lamb. It brings a quirkiness to the menu, you have to be creative.

You get more value for money now, and you have more support for the local community. The Bradys (one of Kai’s suppliers) are like brothers to me, even their mum delivers when they need a break! We get our napkins and laundry done down the road, and our herbal tea from across the road.


Maire FlynnMáire Flynn runs The Tannery Restaurant, Townhouse and Cookery School, in Dungarvan.

Who among your female peers do you admire?

The females I admire are Aisling O’Callaghan, Longueville House, Eunice Power, Caterer, Jenny Green, Ballyvolane House, Brid Hannon, Campagne Kilkenny, Jessica Murphy Kai Café, Carmel Somers, Good Things Café Durrus, Elaine Murphy, The Winding Stair, Peaches and Domini Kemp.

It’s been a tough few years for the business but what challenges exist in the industry now in a post-recession Ireland?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say rural Ireland is post-recession yet but definitely the biggest challenge we have in Ireland now is the shortage of chefs. I worry for the future evolvement of our restaurants and food without young chefs coming through.

How do you feel Ireland measures up to International standards of cuisine?

I think Ireland measures very well. I know that when we are chatting to European visitors especially, they are very impressed with the standard they meet every day. Especially small independent cafés which serve great food. Galway is particularly fortunate to have so many great places including the gorgeous Kai café. Good Food Ireland has done great work in providing a network of places with a great standard.


Birgitta CurtinBirgitta Curtin established the Burren Smokehouse with her husband Peter in 1989. They now supply a range of smoked delicacies to local and international customers. They were recently awarded the Destination for Gastronomical Excellence and Sustainable Tourism Award by the Eden Project.

How has Ireland evolved as a food nation over the last ten years?

When we started out it was food tourism, we opened it specifically for the tourism boost, to create tourism in the area and to capture the tourist highway outside the door. We wanted to showcase local food produce in the local area as people are going for unique and geographical things.

We’ve had growing support from Fáilte Ireland and Bord Bia and food tourism has really become a concept now. Agencies are really putting money into these movements like Slow Food.

Ireland has some things that nowhere else has, clean soils and clear waters, to come to the Atlantic and find nothing in the seaweed that isn’t supposed to be there is amazing.

It’s been a tough few years for the business but what challenges exist in the industry now in a post-recession Ireland?

Some are the same, we learn a bit every day. Distribution, pricing and margins, and general management. I’m educating myself in management and social media because it’s consistently moving.

With food production, as you grow, you always have to have very high standards. If you expand there are more challenges: Health and Safety, management, all your sampling. There has to be continuous improvement, reinvestment in the business, or else you stay as you are. If you have the potential to do things in other areas, then you should be building opportunities for the future.

We are investing in the website, it is very important as it’s the vehicle for our international sales. You have to keep up with technology.

We’ll be changing our premises too, we have to keep it fresh and exciting for regular visitors. We have just created the Burren Storehouse between the pub and the Smokehouse. It will be for events and things, it can probably seat 200. It’s current, really out there for the west of Ireland.


Domini KempDomini Kemp runs several successful food companies with her sister Peaches including Itsa, Hatch & Sons, Feast Catering and coffee shop Joe’s. She is also an accomplished food writer and has released four cookbooks.

Working in a predominantly male environment: do you think it discourages women from working in the business?

It is a tough business when you have children. The hours required absolutely clash with home-life. But when women are older, they do much better in kitchens. They achieve a sense of perspective and calm and they are not as burnt-out as their male counter-parts.

It’s been a tough few years for the business but what challenges exist in the industry now in a post-recession Ireland?

For the businesses who have survived, they desperately need to be able to re-invest in their businesses. If minimum wage goes up, without PRSI reductions, businesses will simply shut. The sector is extremely fragile. Not as fragile for new entrants, but for businesses that existed before, during and after the recession, they have taken a lot of pain.

What are your hopes for the future of the industry?

That VAT stays put, that price hikes aren’t the only way to deal with increased costs and that artisan producers are still encouraged to grow their businesses. And that costs of doing business are given serious consideration. Between PRSI, VAT, rates, local taxes, water charges and FOG licenses… it is madness! The RAI need to be congratulated for keeping the VAT rates down. It’s crucial.


Joy BeattieJoy Beattie is the owner and head chef of The Hot Stove on Parnell Square. She trained in DIT Cathal Bruagh Street before developing her career in Michelin Star restaurants and with Michelin Star chefs like Ross Lewis, Michael Brough and Julian de Vite.

Who among your female peers do you admire?

I have to say I admire anyone who excels in this industry as it is a tough path requiring a lot of stamina, mental and physical strength. I often get comments of how great it is as a woman to solely own and run a successful restaurant, I think it is a great feat for a man or woman to achieve this.

More and more females are now excelling in this industry, heading up successful kitchen teams, evolving food culture, succeeding in business and building empires.

Some of which are Clare Smyth from Northern Ireland, Chef Patron at the 3 Michelin star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. The Allens, Myrtle, Darina and Rachel have been instrumental in progressing great local Irish food. Domini and Peaches Kemp also two very successful women in the food business. The list goes on…

How do you feel Ireland measures up to International standards of cuisine?

I believe not only are we up there with the best, we are surpassing most. We are known as a food Island, a culinary holiday destination, known for the quality of our produce from start to finish. From the quality of our grass for feeding to the dedicated farmers to the skilled cheese makers.

Countries around the world not only import our produce but shout about it.

Another example of us leading the culinary way is the International win by Mark Moriarty in the San Pellegrino young chef of the year where he show cased Irish ingredients and innovation.

What are your hopes for the future of the industry?

I am very positive about the future of the Irish culinary industry, the calibre of chefs opening restaurants is outstanding.
I hope more young people will get into the industry and the training which they receive at collage level will evolve and progress to a higher level to stand up to the talent that we have in Ireland. The future of Irish cuisine is in safe hands.


Catherine DundonCatherine Dundon runs Dunbrody Country House Hotel alongside her husband Kevin. She manages the cookery school, spa and the sales and marketing for all three aspects of the business. She is also the President of Ireland’s Blue Book.

Working in a predominantly male environment: do you think it discourages women from working in the business?

No, certainly in the kitchen, that is male dominated but in the rest, no. In hotels there’s more women than men. You can see it in sales and at trade shows. It must be about 65% -70% women.

I’m not sure whether it’s just sales and marketing attract women more than men but it’s very sociable. There’s lots of travel and it’s very safe, you’re not running solo. It’s a community of girls, even the blue book committees are all women. Of course that’s not across the board, kitchens are not the most glamourous areas to work in!

With travelling and sales shows you are away from home a lot, front of house hours are much more antisocial than the kitchen shifts. Kevin is usually out much earlier than me! Stand alone restaurants are totally different though, the staff can all clear out as soon as the customers are gone.

How has Ireland evolved as a food nation over the last ten years?

People have become, they are quite happy to spend but they want to be ethically correct. They want to know the food is from a local artisan producer so they are supporting small industry and business. Customers are demanding organic, slow food and local produce. They are happy to be seen spending on family run places, not big chains and businesses.

People have also become over the top now, with all the food allergens, wheat intolerance etc., they have become precious. Nobody understood the allergens on menus, but it’s totally over the top now. There is so much added work load if you do an allergen menu but we do our menu every day so it’s not feasible.

Customers are far more likely to engage with servers when you don’t put the allergens on the menu because they ask questions and have a conversation. Everything is cooked to order here so all dietary requirements are easily looked after. It means people can have the same meals, just adjusted.

It’s been a tough few years for the business but what challenges exist in the industry now in a post-recession Ireland?
The recession isn’t over in the country, our challenge is still midweek. We’re trying to drum up more corporate business. Even the cookery school which was traditionally midweek, is now all on the weekend so that’s our big challenge right now.


Kate LawlerKate Lawlor is the woman behind Fenn’s Quay Restaurant in Cork City. Having worked there for seven years, Kate took over the restaurant in 2008 and now manages all aspects of the business. She is on the council of the Irish Restaurant Association and Euro Toques.

Who among your female peers do you admire?

Jess Murphy is always bringing something new and Joy Beattie is just phenomenal.

It’s been a tough few years for the business but what challenges exist in the industry now in a post-recession Ireland?

People still want value for money for food but all the costs are rising. The cost of meat is still going up but people want to pay the same price for the dish. Gubbeen chorizo costs more but is more enjoyable for the customer so I pay the higher price.

Keeping wine at a decent price. It’s so hard because of the excise duty. Wine is the difference, after the recession, people’s attitude to wine has changed along with their spending.

It feels like we are still walking on ice. We are so aware after going through tough times that we are afraid to put prices up in case we go under. We are in an old building here, it requires constant maintenance, replacing the flooring etc. There’s all these hidden costs that people don’t realise.

You have to just be true to yourself and not getting carried away.

What are your hope for the future of the industry?

I’d love to see the continued support of small, local suppliers by larger companies and the government, so they won’t be undercut. Euro Toques is great for supporting producers.

It’s all about traditional methods like farmers markets, keeping it local and promoting local jobs and businesses. That’s the ethos of Fenn’s, it always has been. We’ve got the biggest larder ever, the English market right on the doorstep.

We have to keep singing from the rooftops, it needs to be talked about, how good Irish food is. Food is our future, food is our tourism.
Mark Moriarty is brilliant, so humble and talented, he’s putting Irish chefs out there after winning Young Chef. It gives us hope to be a food nation and an international destination.

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