In 1970s London, buzzing with bell bottomed hippies and safety pinned punks, I was cooking director’s lunches in tiny galley kitchens. The principal ingredients were brandy and cream. I fled the sybaritic seneschals and spent the best part of a year exploring the food of the Middle East and India. When I came home to Ireland my first job was in a fishing lodge where my elderly and very rich boss spent much of his time trying to catch the cook. Trying to find a replacement cook, I discovered that there were no practical cookery schools in Ireland at the time, except for the City and Guilds Cookery Courses at the Vocational Schools, many of whose graduates were masters of spotted dick and meat and two veg with cornflour gravy. A new career beckoned.
I opened my cookery school in Castletown House, Celbridge, an enormous Georgian mansion saved from dereliction by Desmond Guinness, who was my landlord. Sometimes great chefs would take over my cookery school kitchens for balls in the rooms above. In fact I had no idea what (or where) Fray Bentos was till Sean Kinsella from the iconic Mirabeau Restaurant left my school littered with empty tins of the Argentinian tinned processed beef.
I soon realised that I needed to be in Dublin, but in those days business leases were limited to three years. I had a wonderful space in The Academy on Pearse Street, and then moved into Harcourt Terrace, the old home of Michael Mac Liammoir. Three years later once again picking up my pans (cookers, freezers, mixers, knives, chopping boards….) I moved to Kensington Hall in Rathmines, which was far too big for my needs. I let the top half of the building to another business who unfortunately were not great at paying rent. Interest rates ended up at nearly 20% in 1992, when George Soros was gambling with the Irish currency and, as I was also looking after my two young children, I sold the building and concentrated on giving Evening Cookery Classes in the cavernous original kitchen of my 1840s house on Waterloo Road. The cast iron range was replaced with Miele ovens, and I created 10 cooking workspaces. And that is where I have been for the last 30 years. Though there are now over 90 cookery schools in Ireland I am reminded of the old adage “Often copied, never bettered!” Come and see me here and learn some new dishes!