Catherine Fulvio is one of Ireland’s top celebrity chefs, authors and cookery school founders. Here she chats to Marisa Reidy about how she combined her passion for food and teaching to pursue her dream career.
Tell us a little about your background and growing up..
I am the second eldest of four and myself and my siblings Paul, Karl and Eithne, were raised on the farm where we worked and helped out on the farm from as early as I can remember. It changed with the seasons what the jobs were and it varied over the years from dairy farming to more recently sheep farming.
Where did your love of food come from?
Growing up with and close to the production of food, so many of my childhood memories revolve around food, whether it was collecting the eggs or plucking the turkeys at Christmas or just stirring the Christmas pudding. I learnt a lot about the origins of food at a very young age and food has always been part of my very being. But the biggest influence has been access to good quality fresh produce – this is the cornerstone to all good recipes and secondly for me is making them doable and accessible.
Was a career in food always on the cards or did you have another ideas in school or college?
I thought I wanted to be a teacher at one stage growing up… so I suppose I didn’t veer to much from my plans and I definitely feel very lucky that I have managed to combine my two great passions – cooking and teaching into a career.
You run your own cookery school – was that always a dream for you?
I had taken over the bed and breakfast after my mother passed away and people often asked how I made various dishes and I was showing them at the table in the dining room of the B&B… that’s when I had the inspiration and I thought ‘there might be a business in this’.
I opened the cookery school in 2004 and now it is a central to our business and we play host to all sorts of events, from public cookery classes to hen parties and family celebrations. We also did a lot of corporate and team building events which we will look forward to again in 2021 (hopefully!)
You’ve written several cook books – from where do you draw your inspiration?
My latest book, A Taste of Home, is my food story inspired by my upbringing at Ballyknocken House while my Italian themed books are based on my experiences of food in Italy and the Mediterranean way of eating and living. But most of all I get my inspiration from the ingredients around me, wherever I am. So here in Co Wicklow, I am inspired by the many Wicklow producers and beyond that by all the wonderful food producers in Ireland. And when I am on my travels I am inspired by local markets and traditions. All of my books are designed to inspire all levels of cooks making the dishes accessible and doable for all and covering everyday recipes for everyday families with mid week meal solutions being very important.
What would you say to people who say: ‘I can’t cook’?
There’s no such thing as can’t! Keep it as simple as you can and make it doable. I believe that cooking should fun and the benefits of learning to cook are endless. If you share an interest in good food and would like to develop a new skill or improve in the kitchen, I would like to think we have something to offer.
You’ve become a well-known face on Irish tv over the years – How did that come about and do you enjoy it?
I have worked hard on my career and developing my media profile both at home and abroad but I do love what I do and I love sharing my experiences and recipes through my TV programmes, books and food pages.
You cleary wouldn’t be doing what you do unless you loved food and cooking – what do you get from it?
A lot of satisfaction – seeing people come into the cookery school or more recently on Zoom learning a new skill is always so rewarding.
How important is it for families to make time for cooking and eating together?
I think it is hugely important and it is one thing that this year has done is give families time together (whether they like it or not) and so many families are spending more time together in the kitchen – there is a genuine interest and people want to learn. We are getting so many enquiries through various channels on how to tackle various dishes from every day to the more elaborate.
You are passionate about fresh, locally sourced produce – how important is that for you and do you think people think about it enough?
There is definitely a shift towards it with the increase of farmers’ markets, neighbourhood food boxes etc. It is better for us on all levels; nutritionally, environmentally and financially, it is kinder on your pocket. So really there is no reason why we shouldn’t eat more fresh, locally sourced seasonal produce!
When not in the kitchen, how do you like to relax?
Walking the Wicklow hills with our dog. I never tire of Wicklow. I absolutely love it. I think it’s the best place to live. In fact, to be totally honest I think Ballyknocken and Glenealy are the best places to live. I’d stand up and debate that with anyone. Wicklow has everything, gardens, mountains, beaches, great food, great walks…
What are your favourite things to cook?
It depends on the time of year. In Spring, there is nothing like a nice leg of Wicklow Lamb but at this time of the year I would be leaning towards soups and one pot dishes. I love using fresh ingredients from the garden and these days I am exploring the benefits of the many herbs I grow in the herb garden. For example, parsley is packed full of vitamin K which is really good for busting your immune system and reducing inflammation.
I’m moving my cookery school on line – which was on the cards as I needed a way to engage with my US and Canadian audience who cannot always make to the cookery school in person, only difference is for now it is for everyone… so that’s really exciting. I am also working on new work for TV which will rollout out this year and next and I am also working more on speaking events and mentoring so I can give a little of what I have been afforded over the years back
If you are looking for a unique cookery gift idea for the foodie in your life why not gift a personal online cookery class with Catherine Fulvio herself.
Her new online cookery school is about to launch in time for Christmas visit
www.catherinefulvio.com. For a range of gourmet cookery gift vouchers, cookbooks and experiences visit www.ballyknocken.ie
Catherine’ s Individual Black Forest Trifles
Makes 4 to 5 glasses, depending on the size!
It’s not Christmas at Ballyknocken without trifle. Here’s my twist on the classic, inspired by my year spent living in the deep south of Germany, where the freshly made Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gateau) was a real treat. These are simply delicious and moist black forest trifles – yum!
400g pitted cherries in syrup, drained and syrup retained
3 tsp arrowroot, to thicken
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
400ml cream, lightly whipped
kirsch or brandy, to taste
8 slices chocolate loaf cake or brownie, roughly chopped cherries, to decorate
In a small saucepan, mix about 100ml of the cherry syrup with the arrowroot. Place over a medium heat and stir until it thickens. Set aside. Melt the chocolate by placing in a ceramic bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. When melted, set aside half. When cooled, carefully mix the other half with the mascarpone, 200ml of the whipped cream and kirsch or brandy to taste.
To flavour the chocolate cake, mix another 100ml of the cherry syrup with about 3 tbsp of kirsch. Lay the cake slices on a plate and pour this mix over, allowing it to soak in.
To assemble, place some pretty glasses on a small tray. Place 3 or 4 cherries into each glass. Spoon in some chocolate mascarpone cream and add some pieces of the flavoured chocolate cake, followed by a good swirl of the thickened cherry syrup and some of the remaining 200ml of whipped cream and, finally, a drizzle of the melted chocolate. Repeat these layers, ending with whipped cream, then transfer the tray to the fridge.
Remove from the fridge 20 minutes before you want to serve them. Spoon over a little cherry syrup and place a cherry on top of each trifle
This recipe is taken from Catherine’s cookbook “A Taste of Home – the Ballyknocken Cookbook”