Back for a second year by popular demand is the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) Taste of Tourism Summit on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th April 2017 in the Culloden Estate and Spa. The event will provide businesses with an opportunity to listen to the experiences of a range of speakers, who have used food and drink to attract new customers, improve profits and enhance their reputations.
Hear from renowned Irish chef Catherine Fulvio who runs the award winning Ballyknocken House and Cookery School about her experiences and multi-faced career. Catherine is a published author whose passion for local food has helped put Ballyknocken firmly on the food tourism landscape. Married to an Italian, her Irish blood and her Italian heart are a winning combination and with her effervescent charm and personality, Catherine Fulvio shares her support of fresh local produce through all she does. When Catherine is not busy in the kitchen she can be found ferrying her two teenage children around!
Did you go on to further/higher education?
I went to UCD straight from school when I was only 16. I studied Irish and German. During college I took a year out to immerse myself in the German culture and surprisingly this has been a superb choice as I now deliver cookery classes in German in Ballyknocken Cookery School
My first job when I left college was with the bank but after three years I knew I wanted to go into tourism. To do so I needed to specialise, so I went back to college. I undertook a postgraduate diploma in Public Relations which I really enjoyed. This course has helped me most throughout my career, apart from my cookery qualification of course!
How did you get into your area of work?
I was born into it. My mother opened an amazing farmhouse bed & breakfast in 1969. She cooked three meals a day and I helped her in the kitchen and when I wasn’t in the kitchen I was out in the fields helping Dad. It’s no wonder I have such an appreciation and understanding of food production and the importance of local produce. I never actually realised how much I was learning by osmosis.
My postgrad in PR led me to the position of marketing manager for Tinakilly House in Wicklow. My job was to position a country house destination and I loved it. I had a passion for old properties, antiques and food – all the things that Tinakilly offered. This was the perfect basis for taking over Ballyknocken House and opening the cookery school.
Is this what you always wanted to do?
Yes, I absolutely loved working in tourism and after working for a PR agency in Dublin I took on the role of role of marketing manager in Tinakilly House. It had a strong emphasis on food and that is where I organised my very first cookery classes.
Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?
Of course a cookery qualification in my business is essential but I found my experience in PR and marketing has helped me to dovetail Ballyknocken into a niche business and grow it from there. And the experience I got first-hand growing up in Ballyknocken was the best education I could have asked for. My mother was quite the entrepreneur and innovator. She commissioned a set of local maps and went about creating guided walks for our visitors. These are still used by guests today. I learned so much from her including her work ethos.
What are the main personal skills your job requires?
That’s a very big question! In the hospitality business there are so many skills required in order to be successful; openness, kindness, friendliness by way of connecting, talking and dealing with customers (and staff) is paramount. But equally dexterity is important, strong business skills and an element of creativity are vital – oh and don’t be shy of hard work!
What does a typical day entail?
What is fantastic about working in the hospitality and cookery business is that every day is different. In Ballyknocken we glide from welcoming a Japanese tour group for a cookery demonstration one day to transition students another day, or I could be found with my head down researching my next cookbook. At weekends time is spent in the cookery school where we host cookery classes. Many guests stay over so there is usually a fair amount of chat to be had. We welcome guests from all over the world.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of running a country house and cookery school?
The best aspect is the joy I get out of developing our own herb and fruit and vegetable gardens and making fresh farmhouse food for our guests. We cater for a lot of private parties and they really enjoy the freshness and authenticity of what we have to offer. It marries my love of food with my love of meeting and connecting with people.
One of the biggest challenges is trying to be creative in building the off-season business in the house and the cookery school. And staffing is always a challenge, especially when a business is growing.
What advice would you give anyone looking to establish a food destination?
Research your area thoroughly – knowledge is king when setting up your new business. There are so many grants and courses available. It takes time to get to know them all and then believe in yourself. If you have put in the ground work you can succeed, but be realistic and set reasonable targets and goals.
Has travel influenced your style?
Absolutely – I love to travel and food is so much part of the experience. Food travel is my passion.
Of course my Italian connection and being married to a Sicilian has also influenced me a lot. For starters, we host a range of Italian cookery classes, many of which are our best sellers. And of course this is also where I started my TV career.
If you could go back, what is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?
Be strong and trust your instincts. You have your own vision and your passion will get you there. Realise your dreams.
Describe your ideal day off.
A hike in the Wicklow Hills before returning home to gather around the table to enjoy good food and company with friends and family.
Taste of Tourism is sponsored by: Tourism Northern Ireland, Invest NI, Tourism Ireland along with a range of local suppliers. The Taste of Northern Ireland Gourmet Dinner is supported by Bunzl McLaughlin and the artisan food market is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. For further details and to book your space see tasteoftourism.com
or call 028 9077 6635.
- Ballyknocken House & Cookery School, Glenealy, Ashford, Co. Wicklow
Mobile: 086 2257531 Tel: 0404 44627