Inside this catering supremo's neo Georgian home with expansive grounds and six bedrooms
There was a time when every Irish home boasted either a picture of the Sacred Heart or a statue of the Infant of Prague, but that time has passed, and it's rare now to see any religious imagery at all.
However, the Infant of Prague has a very important position in the home of Waterford woman Eunice Power, and he's not a discreet little figure - it would be impossible to miss him. Eunice, who happens to be one of Ireland's leading caterers, wouldn't be without the Infant - after all, they say that if he's buried in the garden, the weather for a wedding will be good. As weddings are a huge part of Eunice's business, she's not taking any chances.
"He's very important. Wedding catering - very important. He goes out the night before," the engaging Eunice says. "He's not mine, he was my grandmother's, but we keep him and put him out in the garden so we'll have nice weather. He did very well last summer; we didn't have a single wet wedding. We've had some bad ones in the past, but not since we employed the Infant of Prague," Eunice says, slightly tongue-in-cheek.
Marquee weddings are pretty seasonal - summer, mainly - so there's much more to Eunice's catering business. She runs her company from her home in Dungarvan, and she and her team travel the country doing christenings, communions, and confirmations, as well as corporate events.
Her main corporate client is the 3Arena - she does all the catering for the concerts there. Steely Dan, U2, you name the band/event at the 3Arena, and Eunice and her team have provided the food.
"Last year, we catered for one of the biggest dinners in Ireland ever - 2,240 people in the 3Arena. An Irish company called Odyssey International brought in a huge incentive event called the Circle of Champions event," she says, adding, "We thought it was a Born-again Christian event, but it wasn't, it was an awards. It was a dinner. Christina Aguilera entertained the guests after - it was a great success."
If all that wasn't enough, Eunice is a founder/director of one of Ireland's most innovative and successful events - the West Waterford Festival of Food, which starts next week on Friday, April 26 and runs until Sunday, April 28. It features tapas trails, castle dinners, chocolate masterclasses, and hundreds of food stalls.
One of the fascinating aspects of Eunice's career is that, as a cook, she is completely self-taught and actually got into cooking and catering relatively late in her career, having trained first in hotel management at the Shannon College in Co Clare. "It's a brilliant course, it really teaches the art of service," she says.
Her training involved interning in hotels both in Switzerland and Ireland. Once qualified, she went to London, and first worked for the Forte Hotel Group, before opening three restaurants with chef Stephen Scuffle. Then, in 1996, she decided to return to Ireland, and took up the position of general manager of Beaufield Mews, one of Ireland's oldest and most prestigious restaurants.
Soon after that, she met her husband, a farmer, in a pub in Dungarvan. "Edmund is a dairy farmer," she says fondly. "He's an old-fashioned, principled type of farmer. He likes to do things for himself; he's into animal welfare; he places huge value on husbandry - for example, we only lost one calf this winter, that's very unusual."
Eunice, the eldest of four, is the daughter of a farmer herself, and she and Edmund hit it off immediately. "Our first proper date was at the Galway Races. It all happened very quickly; we were married within the year," she says.
The couple lived in a little cottage to start, and Eunice had their first two babies there - Micheal, now 20 and studying at UCC; and Jerome, now 18, and doing his Leaving Cert. (The third arrival, Kieran, is now 15.) The couple decided the cottage was too small for the family and in 2000, they built a neo-Georgian house with a view to incorporating a business into it. Despite being from an agricultural background, Eunice didn't fancy working on the farm, and jokes that she always avoided it.
"My mother told me not to show my hand too quickly," she says with a laugh, adding: "I wanted my own independence. I wanted my own job, and there weren't any restaurants in the area."
Instead, she got the idea that she would open a guest house and restaurant, and they built the house to accommodate both, with expansive grounds, a stately entrance and six bedrooms.
And she wasn't one bit daunted by the fact that she had no training in food. "I had always cooked at home. My mother had been a home economics teacher before she married, so I grew up with a great cook. She is a very principled cook, by which I mean a cook who sticks with the basic rules, and so, can do anything. For example, if you're making a casserole, you brown the meat, and then the onions and garlic, and after that, you can go in any direction. So I learned a lot from her," Eunice explains. She adds: "I'm also really visual. I like bright, bold colours, I like to buy seasonal and local, and I'm also very, very organised."
Given the dynamo that is Eunice, the enterprise was a success, and the restaurant got great write-ups in all the papers, both local and national. "I actually think the fact that I'm not a chef helped me. I see everything as being full of possibilities. I just did it," she says.
There was one fly in the ointment. "We discovered something important. My husband and children hated having people in the house. As soon as they could speak, the children started asking, 'What are all these people doing here?'" Eunice says with a laugh "So I went back to the drawing board." And that's when the idea of catering was born.
As with every catering company, she has had her catastrophes. There was the time the marquee fell down - the groom and his friends got it up again and Eunice got on with things.
"Another time, the family puppy got at the wedding cake and took a bite out of it, luckily I was able to patch it up," Eunice says, adding with a laugh, "There were probably loads of disasters in the early days, but I've blanked them."
In no time, that business took off, and she now has five staff in the kitchen full-time and two in the office. She has nearly 100 people on the payroll, who work part-time at all the events and weddings.
And she will have even more staff very shortly when her latest enterprise - a fish and chip shop, called And Chips, opens in the centre of Dungarvan on Good Friday. "I saw an opening for a nice chip shop. I'm a great ambassador for Dungarvan, and I decided to nail my colours to the mast, so I bought a place on the quay. I've got great local support so far," she says.
And judging by the menu - fish straight out of the sea; chicken and avocado in brioche buns; home-made chips; home-made mayonnaise and relishes - it will be thronged.
Despite providing food all day, every day, Eunice loves to cook for the family too, and bemoans the fact that the boys really watch their diets - Micheal runs for Ireland and Jerome is fanatical about point-to-point. A nasty riding accident four years ago, which resulted in a head injury and a year's absence from school, hasn't put him off riding - in fact, all three boys like to ride horses, as does her husband.
However, Eunice loves to cook a big meal for family and friends on Sundays - her beloved parents are always on the guest list. "My dad loves desserts, my mother kills me for feeding them to him," she says with a laugh, adding, "My mother Eithne is brilliant, she's always a huge support. When we're doing weddings, we always have edible flowers in the middle of the sharing platters and mum looks after them," Eunice says.
She adds that Eithne is a wonderful grandmother, too. "One of the boys had a few drinks too many one night and I was cross, but her reaction was, 'Isn't he very adventurous?'" Eunice says. "She sees the positive in everything."
The family dinners are held at the long refectory table in the kitchen - the family kitchen; the catering kitchen is at the other end of the house.
The family kitchen is part of a light-filled extension, which was added on five years ago, and it's warm and welcoming, overlooking a garden full of herbs and flowers, and, when a wedding looms, a statue of the Infant of Prague.
The 12th annual West Waterford Festival of Food takes place in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, from Friday, April 26 to Sunday, April 28, and all the local restaurants,cafes, pubs
and food producers are involved. The whole town is participating and along with a festive atmosphere, there will be many events, including a family farm bus, and a food trail cycle.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine