We're cooking up memories
There is the odd fiery moment in the kitchen of the food firm run by Anne Bradfield and her son Alan but those rows are soon forgotten amid the sound of laughter and smell of success
'We're both Leos, so there's two lions in the den, which means that we have the odd fiery moment," says Anne Bradfield, describing what it's like working alongside her son Alan in the family food business, Taste a Memory. "We can blow our fuse and two minutes later it's forgotten, but we generally get on very well together anyway and can have a good laugh."
"I think you can fight much easier when you're family," agrees Alan. "We're always discussing things and deciding what to do. The thing is that we're coming at things from two different angles. Anne has lots of life experience and I went to university, so we have different perspectives, which is good for the business. We get on really well though."
Anne is from Douglas, in Cork, and was the second-youngest of eight children. Her late father, Liam Kennedy, was a photographer and her mum, Ciss, looked after the home. Anne always loved cooking and, when in primary school, she entered many cookery competitions and always won. However, domestic science was not taught at her secondary school, so she never thought any more of a career in food after that. She didn't go away to college, as her late mother had a stroke that year and she didn't feel it would be right for her to live away from home.
Instead, she did a commercial course and worked in various administration positions, mainly in accounting firms. She married Barry Bradfield, an accountant, although they actually met at school at 17 rather than at work. They ended up moving to Cross-haven and had four children -- Caroline was born in 1979, Alan in 1981, Ian in 1982, and then a little surprise popped up when Richard was born in 1990.
"We said 'No way' when we found out that Mum was pregnant," laughs Alan.
"I was nine at the time, and we really didn't believe it until Dad brought us to the hospital to see the baby."
Anne says that while Caroline and Ian were placid babies, Alan was much more energetic and demanding as a small child. She did bits of part-time work when they were small, and went back to work when Richard was four -- in an industrial canteen in Ringaskiddy, where she starting off with washing the pots.
It was here that she discovered that she still had a flair for food. She decided to pursue it as a career, even though she was in her 40s. She went on a 16-week catering course and got work with a catering company at weekends. They catered for outside events, and when the chef couldn't turn up for work on the Sunday of the first weekend, Anne had to cook everything herself and realised that she loved the experience.
She then embarked on a professional chef course, and became very interested in the nutritional side of food preparation.
"I got a major buzz out of being a chef," she says. "I absolutely loved it, although it's a very physical job, and I wasn't getting any younger. I couldn't imagine myself working at anything else, as I had a passion for what I was doing." Wanting to earn a living, she "realised that the only way forward would be to start my own food-related business, but at the time I still wasn't sure exactly what area I would work in."
At the time, Alan was studying for a degree in IT at CIT, and was living away from home. When Anne visited him while he was a student, she realised that he was buying a lot of prepared ready-meals.
Anxious to save him money and improve the nutritional content of his diet, she decided to start making pasties and cottage pies for him. This went down so well that she starting producing them for farmers' markets in 2006, working from her brother-in-law's industrial kitchen. Thus Taste a Memory was born.
Things got serious when a couple of independent shops asked her to supply them, the first of which was Urro in Bandon, and she started producing for retail. This has now evolved into a range of delicious low-fat, low-salt and mainly gluten-free ready meals, pasties and dinners, and they are now stocked in various branches of Supervalu, Spar, Mace and Super-quinn stores nationwide, and other independent stores.
The reaction to the wholesome products has been very good, and as a testament to the quality of the food, Taste a Memory won a gold and silver in the inaugural Blas na hEireann Food Awards in 2009, for its lamb and feta cheese pasty and traditional beef pasty, respectively.
While Alan went to work in IT in Dublin for four years, sharing a house with his brother Ian, he ultimately decided to join the business, which gladdened his mother's heart. "We would both be very particular and a bit fussy, and while Alan is great on the business end, I'd be really passionate about the food side and the recipes," says Anne, who jokes that Alan is "the boss". "Alan was proud of the product from day one. The name came about because when remembering my mother's home cooking, using all natural ingredients, the taste buds got going, and I was all but tasting the memories. Now having my son working alongside me in the business makes me feel so very proud."
On the personal front, Alan is single, while Anne's marriage to Barry ended in 2007. She and Alan say that while it can be hard to switch off the work talk when they get together, a couple of new additions to the family have given them a whole new subject to discuss. Anne's youngest son, Richard, became a father to baby Faye in January, while Caroline, the eldest, gave birth to Jack in February, so the past few months have been full of excitement and Christenings and getting to grips with having two bundles of joy around.
So what's it like for Alan becoming an uncle twice in two months? "Actually, it's very nice having two babies around," he says. "Nicer than I thought it would be!"
For information or to check out where Taste a Memory food products are stocked, see www.tasteamemory.ie
Sunday Indo Living