I know how to make cooking fun. I’m not a trained chef. I fervently believe that after a very small amount of knowledge, a lot of cheffy rules are actually counter productive to cooking at home. As long as the flavour is there, that’s the main thing. You don’t have to do things like a chef, that’s all a myth.
My first memory of cooking is helping to make a cheese cake with lemon jelly and Philadelphia cream cheese, which was the height of fashion back in the 1970s when yogurt and ready meals were still novelties.
My father was a beef farmer and my mother was a teacher. They did a lot of entertaining. Watching Mad Men recently, it all looked a bit like that — plenty of orange crochet — but they were serious about how things tasted and whatever we ate had to be properly cooked.
My father was a French man in the body of an Irish man — he was a hedonist who loved his food. He would make the Sunday roast.
I grew up in Antrim during the Troubles. Northern Ireland was not the best place to grow up in those years. Socialising was hard. It was simply understood that I would move away when I left school. I did a degree in French at Edinburgh University.
I spent a lot of time in France and was more or less adopted by several French families. I met my future husband, a French man, in my final year in Edinburgh and moved back to France with him and became absorbed by his large, foodie, family.
I never decided to make cooking my career. I’d been working in PR and marketing and had three boys. When I was taking time out at home after the birth of my fourth child, I was shocked at the speed with which my husband started asking me where his socks were.
So I started my own business selling ingredients and equipment to home cooks in 1999 at the start of the foodie wave. I was doing a demo for the company when and I got spotted by Hachette who were looking for new authors.
My first book was very accessible to a wide readership and it was an instant hit. It was fantastic, I was full of ideas and we were ahead of the curve. Like a lot of zeitgeisty successes, luck had a lot to do with it.
In my first television series, I got to share the bill with Paris and France, which certainly helped ratings.
I don’t see cooking as competition. I’m pleased to see an Irish woman in the final of Masterchef though.
By the time I was doing television, my marriage was breaking down.
Performing in public didn’t come easily to me and the emotional distress of coping with marriage breakup didn’t help. Now I can manage speaking in public quite well. My advice to anyone who suffers from nerves is that preparation is the key.
My idea of misery is being a line cook, stuck deep in the depths of a massive hotel kitchen churning out poor quality food.
My biggest fault is using too much butter.
If I could be reborn as someone else for a day I’d be one of those amazing pioneering women like Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Theodora Fitzgibbon or Edna O’Brien.
My biggest challenge so far has been navigating getting a separation and divorce in a foreign country. It was a rude awakening. I was told I had to toughen up - it is almost like having to train yourself to act in a certain way — but I am who I am.
My two eldest children are in Paris, one is in Bath and the youngest is living here with me in Schull, West Cork.
The trait I most admire in others is difficult to discern, I like people who are genuine and who don’t posture.
So far life has taught me that you need to think carefully if something seems simply too good to be true: be very wary, because if that’s the case, it usually is.
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