Saturday 24 June 2017

A day in the life of chef Clodagh McKenna

Clodagh McKenna (39) is a chef, restaurateur and food writer. She trained in Ballymaloe and then started running farmers' markets, where she had her own stall. Born in Blackrock, Cork, she lives in Monkstown, Co Dublin, with her partner, Peter Gaynor

Early bird: Chef Clodagh McKenna. Photo: David Conachy
Early bird: Chef Clodagh McKenna. Photo: David Conachy

Ciara Dwyer

I live in Monkstown, Co Dublin. I get up between 6am and 6.30am. I start the day with a cup of tepid water and lemon. It's great for detoxing. Then I run about three times a week. I usually go out for my run first thing in the morning, down the pier and back. Then I have my breakfast - porridge and dried fruits or yoghurt and granola.

I live with my partner, Peter. He's usually the first up in the house. He is a businessman and he's very private. He's an early bird too and it's great that we're in sync. I have a green juice every morning and then I get going with my day. If I'm not doing a morning TV slot - I do Ireland AM every Friday - I work from home for the first couple of hours. I'm a big to-do-list person and I'm quite anal about it. I make all my lists for the day, with boxes, and I tick them off throughout the day, in pencil. I keep a diary and I like writing everything down. I'm old-fashioned that way.

In my career, everything revolves around food. I have two restaurants - one in Arnotts called Clodagh's Kitchen and then I have another in Blackrock, with the same name, but it's much bigger. It's open almost two years and it's extremely busy. I always go down there for a couple of hours - whether it's to do training or try out new dishes with the chefs. And then I'd be in Arnotts as well.

It might look like I have a lot of strands to my working life but they all come out of the same thing. They feed off each other. I have to come up with new dishes every week and they go on the specials in the restaurants. They would be dishes that I'd cook on Ireland AM, or I'd file them away for my next cookery book. Then I also have Aer Lingus. We developed the Bia menu which is for their European flights. They change every three months.

The restaurants in Arnotts and Blackrock have the same menu. Our food is fresh, local and organic, where possible. We try to keep it healthy and everything is made on site, right down to our focaccia and mayonnaise.

After working for two hours in the morning, then I pop down to one of the restaurants to do some recipe tasting. Then, in the afternoon, I look at the business end of things, sales reports and margins. After 3pm, I link in with the States because that's when they wake up. I'm usually back and forth with people in New York. I never decided to do work in the US but PBS approached me, which was brilliant, and my cookery show is shown in 85pc of states across the US.

I go over regularly to do cookery demonstrations on The Rachael Ray Show which is an Emmy award-winning afternoon show. It's very different to Ireland because everything is so much bigger. If you do one show, you might sell 1,000 books immediately afterwards. People over there have warmed to me and I feel very fortunate for that.

I grew up cooking at home in Cork and then I used to go to France every summer on an exchange. I got on very well with the family, and I used to love helping them cook. Years later, I studied business in New York. Then I came back to Ireland and did the Ballymaloe cookery course. I worked as a chef with them for a while and then I set up my own business. I started running farmers' markets around Ireland. I had my own stall and I used to make my own pates.

Then I spent four years in Italy where I worked with the Slow Food Movement. After that, I came home and set up my own business. Some said I was mad, but I knew that the best time to open any business is during a recession because you get everything at a more affordable price. Sometimes, the business side of things can be tough, but I'm just happy that I'm able to support myself and other people with my own business. I love what I do.

I'm quite organised and I'm quite strict about my day. I'm really good at time managing. Before, I used to waste a lot of time, but I think you get better at your work, and at your time management. You understand that it is work and work comes third in my priorities in life. My first would be me and my health and how I look after myself, the second would be family, and then work.

I usually do cookery demonstrations in Arnotts or Blackrock, one evening a month. People come in, they get a drink and a canape and then I do the demonstration. Afterwards, everybody gets to sit down to enjoy the three-course meal that I've demonstrated. By the end of the evening, I aim that everybody knows those recipes.

Apart from the demonstrations, I try not to work evenings, or weekends, but that will be different with Taste of Dublin. I've been doing it since I started and I love it. The crowd is always in such good humour and there is always great chats with the different chefs who come from abroad. Everybody puts on a signature dish, so it's lovely to go around and taste all the different foods. It's like going to a massive tapas bar.

Sometime during the day, I carve out half an hour to do a food shop. I cook at home every night. If I don't cook for myself, I feel like I'm not being good to myself. Even when I'm very tired, I do something simple. Peter often helps me. Friday is a really long day for both of us, so I love the idea of opening a bottle of wine and having a sip of it. Then I'll have cheese and pates out on the island. We'll be eating them while we're cooking away.

Then I sit down in front of the fire and watch The Late Late. I never go out on Friday nights. I go to bed between 9.30pm and 10pm. I need at least eight hours' sleep. I switch off easily. I turn out the light and I'm gone. My sleep helps me with my work. I always wake up energised the next day.

The 'Sunday Independent' is official media partner to Taste of Dublin, celebrating 10 years this year. Taking place in the Iveagh Gardens from 11-14 June, tickets are available from tasteofdublin.ie

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