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Books, a cookery school, TV and 2 kids – and chef Catherine is hungry for more

CATHERINE Fulvio is turning into her mother. The celebrity chef has a dizzying number of projects on the go, but is somehow managing to balance a stable home life in the idyllic Wicklow countryside.

Catherine has plans to develop her cookery school, create a line of food products, line up more TV programmes – and there is also a deadline looming for her fourth book.

The mum-of-two says that, although she appears to be fully in control, she is "flying by the seat of her pants".

"In some ways in my life, I would say I'm a bit disorganised too, but when it comes to work I'd say I'm organised," she said.

"Mum was not so disorganised, but a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of person.

"We often talk about it – we were always the last into mass on a Sunday because Mum would be talking to guests or making breakfast.

"We would always be late for school. We always tore there – we were the fastest drivers on the road in Glenealy. It wasn't so much that she was disorganised. It was that she packed an awful lot in, which meant it was a little chaotic."

Catherine (45) has also managed to pack a lot in so far. The in-demand chef has tried her hand at several careers – a language teacher, a bank teller and a marketing professional – before she settled on cooking for a living.

 

Insatiable

But it was when she took over as 'caretaker' of Ballyknocken House after her mother died that she really felt at home.

Ballyknocken House was a B&B that her mother Mary Byrne ran until she passed away in 1998 at the age of 56.

Catherine says she is picking up some traits from her mother – her insatiable desire to collect and adapt recipes for good food.

"My mum was one of those old-fashioned cooks. She was in the ICA and was one of these cut-out-and-keep people," she said.

"She would cut out the recipes from the newspaper and she had a drawer of cut-outs.

"You know the way some people would have them organised, well, my mum would have them in the drawer. She always knew where they were but, if you pulled open the drawer, all you would see was bits of paper."

The family's white-washed country home, which was originally a rent collector's house built in the 1850s, is also the centre of her business.

Ballyknocken Cookery School has developed in the old milking parlour of the homestead, and food courses with Catherine have increased in popularity with families since the downturn.

"I think people have become more and more concerned with the quality of their food, what they're eating, what they are putting into the meals," she said.

"The MSG, the extra sugar and salt that you don't think about reading on the packet. I think people are much more aware and want to do the best for their children.

"You see now with the cookery school that families – and especially men – are getting more involved. Men are becoming much more interested in cooking because they are seeing it as relaxation at the weekend.

"When you're younger and living together, cooking is very exciting. You can cook together with a glass of wine but, when the kids come along, cooking for the children becomes more of a chore.

"For parents, the fun has gone out of the cooking because, Monday to Friday, your job is trying to get the children fed. But then, when the weekend begins, the enjoyment kicks in."

Ireland's obesity epidemic is at a dangerously high level, and Catherine said she would like to see Irish children learning how to cook in school.

"I would love to see schools teaching cookery, but they would need facilities and I don't know if the Government would have the investment," she said. "I know that AgriAware have Incredible Edibles, which shows kids how to plant their own vegetables – that is a fantastic promotion.

"Bord Bia have the Food Dudes, where they do a different vegetable every day – peppers and tomatoes, things they wouldn't have had at all.

"We need to educate our children about food," Catherine added.

"Obviously, parents want more quality time with their children, want to do something new with their children and so cooking is the obvious activity. It is clear we are heading in the right direction." Traditional Irish recipes are now in huge demand by expats and Irish Americans, but increasingly so with tourists from Europe and beyond.

This week, Catherine has groups of Italian visitors lined up to teach traditional Irish food.

"As you find pockets of ancestral Irish people around the world, you'll find the recipes are very old because they have no influences to change them, whereas we keep changing with the times.

"I'd often put a can of tomatoes in a beef and Guinness stew. We are quite happy to adapt our recipes here in Ireland but, abroad, they tend to stick to the same recipe that their grandmother used to make it," Catherine explained.

"The quality of our raw ingredients is what is best about Irish food. We have this grass and we have our animals out all year round practically, in comparison to other countries where the animals are taken in over the winter months," she said.

"I don't mean just for meat, but also for dairy. That's what gives us lovely butter, cheeses and yoghurts. There is something very special about Irish produce.

The mum-of-two took time out of the madness this week to play with her children in the idyllic Wicklow countryside.

"I had one of those 'pinch me' moments this week. I was playing tag with my children, running through the woods," she said. "I know I am really lucky."

 

demands

The glamorous foodie is married to an Italian – Claudio Fulvio – who works as an accountant in Dublin. Although they sold their summer house in Sicily, the family plan to stay with the in-laws just outside Palermo over the summer.

Their children, Charlotte (11) and Rowan (9), attend local schools in Wicklow, and Catherine said that the challenge is in juggling a career with the demands of being a mother and wife.

But it doesn't prevent her from planning for future expansion – to offer more classes at Ballyknocken and develop her profile in the UK.

"I work a lot from home. We live here, we have the business at home, so that helps," she said.

"I try not to be on the road too much because that's when it gets really chaotic. When you are away from the family, you can't really pop in and check up on the kids.

"I travel around Ireland to do demonstrations, and television work abroad, and I'm working on my cookbook at the moment. But I have lots of help and lots of staff – it's not just me.

"Remember what I said about my mother? I'm her reincarnated," she added.

"Even though I tell you I'm organised, I still have a bit of flying by the seat of my pants."

clairemurphy@herald.ie


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