I grew up with my mum cooking for people staying at Ballyknocken, our farmhouse guesthouse in Wicklow. I never realised how much I was learning by osmosis for all those years.
Confidence comes with age. When I was a child, I was always the youngest in my class. I was confident talking to people, because we had a bed and breakfast business, but in general I wasn’t a particularly confident person until I got older.
My first memory is of playing in the cabbage field at home. It was the coldest day ever and our cousins had come up from Limerick and I was hiding under these huge cabbage leaves, the likes of which I’ve never encountered since.
I went to UCD when I was only 16, to study Irish and German. The daily commute from Wicklow to Dublin took forever in those days so I insisted on getting a flat.
It was the making of me. I worked in the bank for three years when I left college, but left because I wanted to specialise in something. I chose PR and enjoyed it but jumped at the chance to become marketing manager for Tinahilly House in Wicklow.
At that stage, I knew a lot about tourism from growing up in the business, and, as it turned out, the food in Tinahilly was — and is — spectacular.
I’d always loved the creativity of cooking. I’ve always been creative in other areas too. When I was in UCD I did a dress design course and even ended up making my own clothes for quite a while.
I believe in fate, to a certain extent. I met my husband Claudio completely by chance in O’Dwyer’s pub on Dublin’s Lower Mount Street. He’s from Palermo and was only supposed to be over here visiting for two weeks. It took a few years to organise, but eventually we both settled over here. We’re poles apart in many ways — I adore living in the country but his idea of an ideal day out is more city based.
Becoming a parent makes you so much less selfish. It’s all about the children now. I feel very strongly that one of my roles as a mother is to create wonderful memories for my kids which they can in turn tell their own kids, much as my parents did for me.
I find balancing a business and a home life challenging — Rowan is nine now and Charlotte is 10. The trait I most admire in other people is discipline.
In 1998 my mother passed away when she was only 56. As I get older, I realise how very young she was and how short changed she, and the rest of the family, was by her death.
Once she died, there was nobody to run the businesses, nobody to take over Ballyknocken. So I decided to take a chance and do it. I trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School for a year, had the house remodelled and turned our old milking parlour into a cookery school.
I was pregnant at the time all this was going on. Going up and down rickety stairs to check on the interiors of the cookery school as the whole thing was being re-built when I was five months pregnant was certainly a challenge.
So far, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt in life is to see the bigger picture, and that kindness — simple open warmth and kindness — is vastly under-rated.
Catherine Fulvio will give a lunchtime cookery demonstration on How to Eat Like an Italian, her new book, as part of The Red Line Book Festival, on Friday, Nov 16, 1pm — 1.50pm at Civic Theatre, Tallaght