As she eases in to a new role as Sunday supplement food writer, Connemara Journal regular Cliodhna Prendergast tells us how her local roots have kept her passion for cookery alive. By Aoife Ní Dhálaigh
FOUR years ago, when Cliodhna Prendergast started her online cookery programme for families, few Irish people had made the connection between children’s involvement in food and their overall health and wellbeing.
The initial episodes of Breaking Eggs – an accessible mix of lifestyle, food provenance and hands-on cookery – soon captured the attention of foodies nationwide, giving this former professional chef a platform to share her passion for early-years food education.
Now, this platform has widened further with a new role as food writer for the Sunday Times weekly lifestyle magazine.
Cliodhna, who lives in Ballynahinch with her husband Patrick O’Flaherty and children Jake (10), Iseult (7) and Milo (5), grew up in Connemara in a family that loved and respected food – and was keen to pass on this passion to her own young family.
The experience of sourcing local ingredients with her children and transforming them in the kitchen got Cliodhna thinking of ways she could help other families work together to create fresh home-cooked food.
‘I was at a point where I didn’t want to work full time as a chef – it means lots of late nights and that doesn’t work well with young children. I could see how much fun my own kids had in the kitchen, and I realised how much I enjoyed cooking with them myself. I felt it was something people were probably missing out on.’
Cliodhna wanted to ‘keep [her] hand in’ with food and cookery, so she roped in friends to film the first six episodes of Breaking Eggs, designed to get families involved in food using a fun, informative format.
A welcome injection of funding through Forum allowed her to expand the series and word spread – soon Cliodhna found herself writing and being interviewed in the national media.
Training herself in other areas, such as food photography, allowed her to diversify her skill set and now she finds herself in the enviable position of ‘being able to take it seriously enough to make it a full-time job’.
‘It all started because I wanted to have more time with my children – but now that they’re at school, I have more time to devote to writing. It all developed very slowly, and my own idea of what I wanted to do certainly evolved.’
Now she has landed the prestigious role of Sunday Times Ireland food writer, filling two pages of the Sunday section each week with her take on seasonal food, foraging, and the best cookbooks.
Connemara, she says, has had a ‘massive influence’ on her cookery style and even now she finds it exciting to cook using indigenous ingredients.
‘I grew up in the kitchens of a hotel with wonderful chefs who were into foraging – this was in the 1980s, so they were way ahead of their time. We’d pick nettles and mushrooms, and they could then turn them into wonderful meals.
‘It sparked something in me, this idea that the flavours of where you were from could be used in different ways, brought into recipes from around the world. So now I like the idea of picking local mushrooms and making an Italian risotto, or using wild salmon or Connemara lamb in cooking from other countries.
‘Getting children involved in this helps them enormously – even if they’re not wild ingredients, taking them to see the beetroots their uncle has grown will stay with them. They still might not eat it, but that experience of food will never leave them. They say it takes more than 20 tastes of something to decide if you like it or not and if you don’t start, they’ll never get there.’
If her passion for food education is undiminished, its focus has widened – a regular on the food festival circuit, Cliodhna also runs the popular Lens & Larder food workshops and has ‘a few other projects’ lined up for the autumn.
Later this month she flies to New York for the launch of an issue of Conde Nast Traveler magazine featuring her food writing and personal guide to Connemara.
Readers of the Journal will still be able to enjoy Cliodhna’s work here, but her enthusiasm and zest for food is one local secret Connemara certainly won’t begrudge sharing.