This chef's got the ingredients to cook up a worldwide storm
The Allen cooking empire is being taken to new heights
Published 09/09/2010 | 05:00
Celebrity cook Rachel Allen has become an international brand, bringing her cooking skills from her Co Cork kitchen to millions of consumers around the world.
At heart, she says, she is a cookery teacher with no head for business who relies heavily on her husband to capitalise on her success.
The 38-year-old Dubliner is now sharing the same international stage as Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and her good friend Antony Worrall Thompson, selling her brand of cooking.
Her cookery programmes, which she produces with a UK-based company, are aired in 33 countries and she ultimately hopes to muscle in on the other Rachel, the American cook Rachel Ray, and take a slice of that lucrative market.
"We have Americanised just one book so far -- that was launched last March -- and will be Americanising 'Bake' next March," she says, to coincide with the television series bought by the Cooking Channel.
It will be the most difficult market for her to conquer but appearances on the 'Today Show' and Martha Stewart's radio programme have already helped to bring her to this crucial new audience.
A household name in Ireland and increasingly popular in Britain, Allen's biggest following outside these markets is in India, where they have enthusiastically embraced her recipes to bake breads and cakes.
India's 'Vogue' magazine recently carried a six-page feature on the blond-haired, blue-eyed Irish cook who has a big Indian following on Facebook. Cooking enthusiasts in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore are also following her television shows.
The busy mother of three young children says she is booked up until 2012 promoting her brand of cooking and trying to make money from her growing success. She has given her face and name to new ranges of dinnerware produced by Tipperary Crystal, a range of gourmet sandwiches for O'Brien's, and will soon launch chocolates under the Lily O'Brien banner.
Her new book on entertaining for dinner parties will be launched this autumn, together with a new television series.
Developing the business side of her cooking is something she relies heavily on her husband Isaac for. "He is the business force behind it," she says. "I don't have a clue."
How to turn cooking into a business is something that is very much in Isaac's blood. His mother, Darina Allen, was Ireland's original celebrity cook who went on to establish the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School with her brother, Rory O'Connell.
His grandmother, Myrtle Allen, is the matriarch, who, with her late husband Ivan, laid the foundations and is still the driving force behind the family's food and hospitality empire in east Cork. Rachel says her husband learned from Darina's experience and applied that formula to his wife's endeavours.
The decision to become a commercial brand was a gradual one, Allen explains. "I never thought 'I am going to become a cook and write cookbooks and go on television'. It naturally evolved, maybe as a result of my lifestyle, being a busy mum. It kind of just happened."
When writing her second book, Allen started to get commercial offers, with one company asking her to design a range of saucepans. "I had never thought of doing that so we rang Antony Worrall Thompson and asked his advice."
He told her to get an agent, while she and Isaac closely monitored Jamie Oliver's progress in the hope of emulating his success.
Today the commercial offers are coming in thick and fast, although Allen claims she doesn't make the millions that Oliver does.
Companies like Tipperary Crystal are now putting what she describes as "serious" money behind her brand and she is careful to select the right opportunities. "We don't do a lot of what comes our way," she says. "We sit down, talk and weigh it up."
Some ventures have been more successful than others. Allen's range of electrical appliances failed to sell in large enough numbers to make a decent return and have now been taken off the market.
That market was "too crowded", she says, and she is developing a range of child-friendly cooking appliances including cupcake makers and waffle makers.
"We think Rachel can target the children and family market in a way that the other chaps can't," her husband says. This range is due into the shops early next year.
It's a hectic life with increasingly more international travel to meet her public commitments but it is something she hasn't planned for too far into the future. "I am always so busy. There is no master plan," she says. But Allen is coming under increasing pressure to think commercially, particularly from her publisher, Collins, who want to know how to promote her new books and build her brand.
Already they have worked with her to develop a new computer application that is geared towards the iPad. Those who purchase it can hear Allen guide them through the six different categories with 10 recipes in each, adding useful tips at each stage. The application can design a shopping list, select wines to accompany the food, and in the UK can even forward the list to the supermarket and arrange its delivery.
It is voice controlled, she explains, so the user tells it to turn the page. This was something Allen insisted on. "You can't turn the page if you have flour or dough on your hands," she explains. "We will see how it goes."
Her business has managed to weather the economic difficulties although Allen says people are buying fewer cook books than last year. "People still want to make their homes comforting and inviting and there is a great interest in food," she says.
Aside from her book sales and promotions, her short teaching courses are constantly full and she can earn more than €40,000 for three days of demonstrations and cooking with large groups.
She has built her international business around her home and her family, she says. Much of the filming is done in her kitchen, where she tests out all of her recipes and she insists on few commitments during the summer months to spend time with her children.
"I don't see myself with the Nigellas. I wish I did," she says. "I prefer to be thought of as a cookery teacher than a celebrity cook. This is my home. It's the foundation from where everything else has come from."