Food writer and TV chef Catherine Fulvio juggles her time between family, filming and managing her cookery school and guest house Ballyknocken House.
As part of the third generation raised on her family’s sheep farm, Catherine is heavily influenced by local produce, particularly Irish lamb raised on the farm where she grew up. Catherine’s recipes also have a strong Italian influence, probably due to her Sicilian husband with whom she has two children. You can catch Catherine on screen in a number of TV series including RTE’s Tastes Like Home and Lords & Ladies. She has also published several cookbooks.
Thanks to both her farming family and love of locally-sourced ingredients Catherine is a true ambassador for home-grown Irish lamb and supporter of current ‘Lamb, Try It, Love It’ campaign in association with Bord Bia with co-funding from the EU.
How did you learn to cook and who was the biggest influence on that as you grew up?
From growing up in a B&B where my mum cooked three meals a day and I was the main helper in the kitchen. I was also influenced by my Grandmother who was a fantastic baker and we have always been lucky that we have access to fresh farm produce.
When did you decide that food would be your living?
Growing up on a farm meant that good, fresh food was never far from me. It was a natural progression that I was going to work in the food industry.
How did you go from there to establishing your cookery school?
My mother sadly passed away quite young and I took over the running of the farmhouse B&B. I went about upgrading it into a four-star guesthouse and guests began to ask me how I made certain dishes and that is when it dawned on me that a cookery school might just be a great idea, so I converted the old milking parlour into a cookery school in 2004.
You now run the cookery school and give filming demonstrations all over Ireland, the UK and beyond. Have you ever considered opening your own restaurant?
I absolutely love teaching cookery and sharing my tips and recipes and it is great fun travelling around Ireland doing cookery demonstrations and talks. It does mean that as much as I might like to, I have no time left to open a restaurant.
An Italian husband has clearly had an influence over your cooking, what’s your favourite thing about Italian cuisine?
I have always been passionate about Italian food and what I love most is the freshness of the ingredients and how Italians relish quality ingredients and great flavours. This is the ethos of the cookery school here at Ballyknocken House and we adhere to it as much as possible.
What’s your favourite Italian lamb recipe?
Braised Shoulder of Lamb with Red Wine and Cannellini Beans – so wholesome and tasty and it is also one of the first lamb recipes I ever printed in a cook book. It’s a great winter warmer.
As someone with a deep insight into the production of food on the farm, what is it about lamb that you love most?
I love the fact that we have such sweet and subtle flavours to our lamb here in Ireland. The fact that our lamb can graze outdoors on fresh grass in the spring, then move to the hills for the summer and return to the lowlands in the Autumn; it gives such sweet and delicate flavour to the meat.
What is the meal you most enjoy cooking for the family?
I am a traditionalist, I love the whole family sitting down together on Sundays to a roast leg of lamb with all the trimmings.
How do you juggle everything? Running a cookery school, travelling and filming, writing books and columns and family life?
I have a great team of people working with me here at Ballyknocken.
Do you get much spare time and what do you do with it?
I try to make spare time and use that time to take the dogs for a walk in Carrick Forest or the Wicklow Mountains or I go into Wicklow Town and walk along the Murrough which a lovely coastal walk and great way to start or end the day.
Having read about your TV series, Tastes like Home, what is your taste of home? Are there any special dishes in your memory that you go back to as a comfort food or that reminds you of home or your childhood?
My grandmother used to make the classic soda bread with raisins and as children we never even gave the bread a chance to cool when we dived in. So warm slices of my grandmother’s soda bread with butter just melting with a layer of my mother’s rhubarb and ginger jam on top was heaven and still is!
Locally sourced and sustainable produce is something you’re obviously very passionate about, where has that come from?
We have always eaten fresh farm produce and because of that I have always appreciated fresh food in season. It is what I grew up on and for that I am very grateful.
And finally, your ultimate lamb dish?
Pistachio and fig crusted rack of lamb with tapenade.
What advice and tips would you offer to someone who has never cooked with lamb before?
Lamb has beautiful delicate flavours so keep it simple. A single lamb chop pan-fried with garlic and rosemary is simply delicious.