Hello, I’m Julie!
It is no surprise to me that my two earliest childhood memories relate to food and drink.
Growing up in a busy Waterford pub, it was all hands-on deck. As a small child I of course was keen to help. My father would on occasion, allow me. A trim man, dressed in a full length brown oilskin apron, shirt sleeves folded back and held in place by metal bands for safety, my father would instruct me when to place the flat serrated bottle cap clenched firmly in the palm of my small hand onto the cap receiver plate. ‘Stand back now’ he would say with great reverence as he firmly lowered the large metal arm down to connect the recently filled stout bottle with the cap, the flat serrated edges now hugging the bottle. Taking huge pride in all elements of the lengthy process, Dad was not going to see the label displaying is family name of Norris’s disappear any time soon. After a dozen or so bottles, he would tell me to run along. He had possibly 80 dozen to bottle that day, one of three bottling days each week. I was happy; I had seen the magic performed again.
‘Suzie’s’ as it was known locally, was a cake shop on Broad Street in Waterford, owned and run by confectioner Suzie Phelan and it was an institution. Visits to Suzie’s were special occasions, long anticipated and prized when they happened, the rich warm smell of pastry, cream and sugar a buffer to any grey winter day outside. Stretching high onto my three-year-old tippy toes to gaze in awe through the polished cake display glass, the worries of my small world on my shoulders as I tried to decide which cake I would choose when my mother finally finished relaying news of her sister to Suzie.
There was every type of cake to choose from, fresh custard vanilla slices with filigree icing, enormous cream sponges, small iced fancies but the ones that fascinated me most were the seasonal ones. Depending on the time of the year and what was in season, fresh berry tarts in summer, mince pies at Christmas, Simnel cake at Easter, it’s toasted almond paste beautifully flat, the 12 almond paste balls carefully gracing the outer edge. My mother would once again explain the religious symbolism of the balls and the 12 apostles. She was good that way. As young as I was, those memories made a lasting impression on me. Food and drink has been an integral part of my life ever since.
I have worked with it in many different guises. Hard as it is to imagine now, Waterford had a vibrant vegetarian restaurant in the mid-eighties. Located in the old Garter Lane Art Centre in O’Connell Street (once the old Library) it was run by Liz and Ollie Dempsey, an innovative young couple who were committed to offering great quality vegetarian food. I worked for Liz and Ollie for many years and still regularly meet people who recall the fabulous food, fresh juices and luscious desserts. In the Waterford of the time, it was way ahead of its time.
Meeting extraordinary people is part of the charm and infectious nature of working with food. Late and long hours are no barrier to working when you share your workplace with people who are passionate about sourcing the best local, seasonal, raw ingredients. Cleaning and de bearding kilos of mussels is a lot more enjoyable when you know they were lifted from the Atlantic Ocean only hours earlier and delivered by the fisherman who caught them. Watching a huge sun set over that same patch of sea as you work is something you do not forget. It is in fact a gift.
Other times were spent working with independent food producers supplying some of the first Gluten free goods into Wholefood shops and restaurants in Dublin. I also had my own seasonal Pop-Up restaurant (long before the phrase was coined) while living in West Clare for many years.
The common thread has been working with good quality, sustainable, healthy food. I believe that the simplest plate of food, sustainable sourced, cooked and served with attention to the essence of that produce and paired with a good glass of wine or beer is as wonderful a pleasure as one can enjoy. The French term Terroir has taught us much about how all environmental factors uniquely affect the character a crop. This is something that was known and valued in Ireland by our ancestors many years ago. That value may have been lost at some point but thankfully it is now more alive than ever and must be nourished.
I have also taken time out from food to work in business. Despite myself, I loved it and spent almost a decade at the desk working in Public Procurement. My love of food and wine never left me however but the kitchen is now my own and my favourite tool, my camera. I am a real fan of Social Media and use it daily to share my passion about food, wine and on occasion other matters. I firmly believe Social Media is a fantastic, free and far reaching tool which can help to promote, inform and possibly educate an audience. I have encouraged many, of all ages to engage with Social Media especially Twitter and have yet had one tell me they didn’t enjoy it to the point of spending far too much time on it.
On returning to live in Waterford some years ago, I was so pleased to see that Ardkeen Quality Food Store was not only still supporting small producers as they had done since opening in the 60’s but that they had grown significantly themselves and were now a real and sustainable presence in the Irish grocery retail sector. I have long been an admirer and supporter of Independent retail. I trust it. I want to support the hard work and commitment in sourcing the best quality goods at the fairest price. Fair for the consumer but also fair for the producer. If the producer is fairly paid, the goods will be better ready for market. I want to lend my support to their commitment to supporting the small and the beautiful as well as the big and the bold.
My young son once commented that I was at my happiest shopping in Ardkeen. He was right. I have now taken up a new role as Wine and Food Customer Advisor. I hope that as those before me have done, I can showcase the wonderful Irish Artisan and speciality Food and Wine that Ardkeen Quality Food Store carefully source and to share my passion and excitement in being able to access and enjoy the best food and wine that Ireland has to offer.
Like the seasonal gooseberries that lay encased in sweet butter pastry in Suzie Phelan’s or the pride that was felt by my father in the quality of stout that rested under his name label, we must stay connected to where our food comes from.
You will find me in the Wine Shop and I hope you will pop in for a chat. Julie