Christmas Sparkles Early
As we prepare for Christmas 2021, celebratory bubbles began flowing a little earlier in the Hennessy household. Caroline Hennessy, fresh from the international launch of her beautiful new book, The Official Guinness Cookbook, won Online Food Writer of the Year at the 2021 Irish Food Writing Awards, sponsored by Pestle + Mortar and judged by UK food broadcaster Andy Clarke.
(image: Irish food writing awards)
Caroline Hennessy with her Irish Food Writing Award for Online Food Writing
Christmas Sparkles Early
“I was very proud to have been shortlisted in such a strong category and I still can’t quite believe I won the Award,” she says. A total of 27 international judges worked their way through over 200 entries in 17 categories.
“Well done to Irish Food Writing Awards organisers Suzanne Campbell and Paul O’Connor who took a lockdown idea and turned it into a celebration of our crazy industry!”
One of our leading contemporary food writers, Caroline’s career is steeped in the food business, cookbooks, recipes, organic farming and hunting down excellence in every ingredient. Her inimitable voice has won over legions of fans for her website bibliocook.com where she fascinates, entertains and educates us effortlessly.
Her warmth and intelligence are as palpable reading her words as in speaking with her. Her remarkable career has been marked with success, setback, success and is as interesting as her website.
She generously shares her food trend forecasts for 2022 as well as giving us some welcome advice for Christmas but first she fills us in on her background.
Discovering New Territories
In the rarified world of food writing and the even more specialised area of online food writing, which interest, food or words, led to the other? Caroline laughs, “I’ve always been a bit of a nerd for both! In the early days of my career as a journalist I was appointed editor of the food section for RTÉ’s inaugural online Arts, Culture and Entertainment (ACE) website.
At the time RTÉ was so far ahead of the curve, even launching one of the first news websites back in the late 1990s, and we had enormous freedom to do our own thing. It was such an exciting period, we felt as if we were the Pioneers back in the days of the Wild West, discovering new territories.”
With Caroline leading the way ACE Tasty became the first online food website in the country focusing on wines, recipes, cookbook reviews and interviews. “And then the dotcom bubble burst, bringing in a severe period of retrenchment.”
Life and love brought her to New Zealand where in 2005 she was run over by a truck, resulting in multiple fractures including her skull. “I have no memory of the next 24 hours,” she says. “I lost my words.”
(image: Sean Jefferies)
Caroline Hennessy Baking with her Daughters at Home
“Food blogs were just starting in those days but it wasn’t easy to get something off the ground unless you knew a lot about the back end of website. A techie friend from my bookclub said “now’s the time to do it!” Primarily as occupational therapy, although I didn’t realise it at the time, she set up bibliocook.com and I just started blogging.
“I knew my own online platform would be very valuable to me in breaking into the world of food writing. I had years of experience with RTÉ but to have my own space would give me my own voice. This was years before social media but the limitations of platforms like Twitter and Instagram lie both in the risk of losing all your work due to a change in the algorithms and in their brevity. An editor wants to see long form journalism. My own website and blog allowed complete freedom of expression and the ability to practice and refine it.
“I had been so stressed trying to find work and now had no option except to completely slow down, sit around and do what I loved best, read cookbooks. The libraries in New Zealand are wonderful. Away from Ireland I began to appreciate its uniqueness and the value of what we have and do here. I collated a library of recipes and indeed found a new resonance with any book by Irish authors, letting me introduce dishes like Irish soda bread to my New Zealand family. I have always loved Darina Allen. When she started with Simply Delicious I was delighted to see an Irish chef on TV, and the fact that I could buy any necessary ingredient easily in the local shop. Her fondness for butter was a big thing for me too. I love butter and dairy!”
Life in Ballymaloe
“I started doing short cookery courses in New Zealand and enjoying them very much. I dreamt of going to Ballymaloe but there was always the issue of time and expense. In 2007 my SSIA – remember them? – meant I could finally do it. On the first morning in Ballymaloe it turned out there was a whole group of us that were there thanks to our SSIAs!
“At this stage I had gone freelance and was able to immerse myself in the whole culture of Ballymaloe. The importance and value of the land, the ethos of organic, of growing the food you will eat. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. There’s also a wonderful community that springs from Ballymaloe. People from all walks of life who are passionate about food and want to change direction go on to innovate in such exciting ways. The vibrant food culture in Ireland is very much rooted in Ballymaloe.”
Fortunate to live on a half acre in the Co. Cork countryside, Caroline is surrounded by innovative, superior quality food producers.
“Covid helped people to value their local suppliers and the local food industry has flourished. My predictions for food trends in 2022 are largely based on this growth and the innovations this has allowed. For example Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms Farm has developed a range of mushroom teas. All of these are immune boosters, grown and produced locally and they’re delicious.”
(image: insight editions)
The Official Guinness Cookbook will be published in March
“Fermentation has gone totally mainstream and this year will become firmly embedded. Kombucha is now in your local garage forecourt shop sauerkraut and kimchi is available in supermarkets and kefir is becoming easier to access. It’s great to see gut health taking a priority. We all benefit.
“I think this year we could see potato milk coming to the fore. I’m a huge fan of dairy but, if you’re looking for something different, I’d like to see potato up there with the imported alternatives. We’re good at growing things like potatoes and oats, both of which can be processed into milk. Potatoes would certainly give a really unique creamy flavour!”
After a hectic year producing The Official Guinness Cookbook, Caroline and her family are looking forward to Christmas. “It was intense,” she laughs, “but greatly fulfilling. I’m so delighted to see the book published and well received, and honoured to have been the recipient of such a prestigious Award. What an end to 2021!
“I’ve never cooked Christmas dinner in our own house. Instead, we move lock, stock and barrel to my parents’ house which is just 25 minutes away. We go the day before Christmas Eve. I’m one of five, so my siblings travel from Singapore, Canada, New Zealand – and Midleton! – to be here if they can. All the work gets shared between us. It’s a little like cooking by committee! Even after all these years Mum and I still argue about what time the turkey should go into the oven!
“Santa means that we’ll be up early with the girls so that’s one problem solved – I’ll look after the turkey. Christmas is a time for gathering together whether with friends or family. My advice is share the workload, and share the fun. Give up any assumed idea of perfection. Christmas dinner is not meant to be photogenic, it’s about gathering around the table with your nearest and dearest – and trying to keep rogue Uncles from the Gingerbread House until after dinner!” She laughs.
The Official Guinness Cookbook (Insight Editions) will be published in March. Follow Caroline on Instagram (@bibliocook) or at bibliocook.com.
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The newsletter, issued every few weeks, will contain interesting and entertaining news, articles, and interviews. As well as sharing our own news, we will be linking you with top Chefs, marketing specialists, and other leaders in the Irish and international food industries. Showcasing career journeys and focusing on issues like sustainability within both our dynamic industry and others we connect with.