From farm to fork - celebrating 25 years of bringing the freshest food to Cork city

It’s 25 years since the doors of Nash 19 opened on Princes Street, Cork city. CHRIS DUNNE talks to owner Claire Nash about her adoptive home, giving back to the city that she loves, and how she never does ‘mediocre’.
From farm to fork - celebrating 25 years of bringing the freshest food to Cork city
Kay Harte, Farmgate restaurant and Cafe, and Claire Nash, Nash 19 restaurant, who received Honorary MComm from UCC. Claire said it was one of the highlights of her career to-date. Picture: Richard Mills

THE farming fraternity is very much part of the Nash 19 family.

“We are all her children,” says assistant manager Carol Maher, who is part of the team at the restaurant Nash 19 which is celebrating 25 years in business.

“Claire is like our mother hen!”

Award-winning Restaurant Manager, Mairéad O’Brien, grew up on a dairy farm in North Cork. Her family enjoys a long tradition with Mitchesltown creameries and the IFA.

Claire Nash, the proprietor, hails from Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick. A pupil of the Ursuline sisters, her late father, Sean, was a creamery manager. Claire spent her school holidays with another family of farmers.

“I was raised outside,” says Claire. “I spent my teenage summers at Ballymaloe House under the watchful eye of Myrtle Allen.

“I loved it. Myrtle ignited my passion for food and I got my ethos from her. I’ve always admired her.”

Claire’ entrepreneurial spark was lit early.

“I ran a coffee shop the old lodge gate at home,” she says. “Tourists called in for tea and cake.

“At the age of 10, I was helping at home in the kitchen, making the Christmas pudding and the Christmas cake. My grandmother and my grand-aunt handed down the recipes.

“Dad travelled all over the world with his interest in breeding dogs. He had a keen interest in gun dogs in particular. He studied their pedigrees and he was an authority on the subject which went back to my great-grandmother.”

Sean was a good neighbour.

“Dad, a creamery manager, advised farmers on the milk quota and he organised to get them when there were none.”

Canine friends are still very much part of the family.

“My mother, who is 83, and who lives near me in Kinsale, still has dogs,” says Claire. “We all moved to Kinsale.”

Georgie enjoys the great outdoors with his owner.

“I run regularly every evening with my Newfoundland Retriever,” says Claire, who is a keen golfer as well.”

Claire, who values the restaurant’s close proximity to the English Market, where she sources all fresh food from local suppliers, has forged a new relationship with farmers further afield.

“Moving ahead with the times and ahead of ourselves in time; we are developing a new food business of biodynamic foods sourced from co-op based farmers in the Amazon and South America.”

So we can expect to see Chia pudding, protein balls, and kiefer, a pro-biotic drinkable yogurt among the Nash 19 shelves?

We are already familiar with the chunks of Gubeen cheese, slivers of Hedderman smoked salmon, and crunchy granola made from organic oats.

“Yes,” says Claire. “We use Chia seeds in our recipes and they are an option to serve with our morning porridge,” says Claire.

“The Kefir drink is sourced from Drumshanbo,Co. Leitrim,” says Claire. “The natural flora in the drink is particularly good for gut health and it is very good for you.

“It is the healthiest food you can put down your neck. Our gut is more receptive to natural foods.”

Claire had a gut feeling about her restaurant, which has become an institution among the shoppers and workers who go about their business in the hub of Cork city.

“I came home from the States in 1990 where I studied Business Management in Georgia University,” says Claire.

She worked and trained both in Ireland and in Atlanta. Like Darina Allen, Claire was a former pupil of Cathal Brugha Street, achieving her HDip in Hotel and Restaurant Management.

“I had gone to the USA on a J1 visa and I met great people and I had a great time.”

Sadly, Claire lost her father before she opened Nash 19 on 19, Princes’ Street.

“My dad had passed suddenly away due to a tragic road accident. He never saw the name over the door.

“I went into the restaurant business with eyes wide open. My enthusiasm was never dampened. And I got good advice from people that I respected.”

She listened to her own advice too.

“‘Mind your own business’ is what I did, literally,” says Claire with a smile. “I minded my business.”

So her finest hour was when she opened the door of Nash 19 for business?

“Yes that was a great day,” says Claire.

“And another proud day was when I received an honorary degree from UCC in 2010.

The Queen’s visit to the English Market in May 2011 was another memorable day.

“Miriam O’Callaghan and I did the commentary together,” says Claire.

“It was the best day ever for the market traders. Cork was at its finest.”

Claire is proud that Cork is her second home.

“Cork has been very good to me,” she says. “I give back a lot to this city.”

Claire is a director of the Cork Business Association. She believes that the City Council can do amazing work to influence the growth of business through being creative about parking and measures necessary to bring visitors to the city.

“I am in the heart of the city and I am affiliated closely to the business community,” says Claire.

She supports the OPW’s proposed €140 million Flood Defence Plan.

“Sure, we are all trying to save Cork,” says Claire, who has been flooded several times. Like numerous other businesses in Cork, she has no flood insurance.

“It is in my own best interests that my staff be protected and that my 40 suppliers can deliver every day.” Claire has kept her head above water in stormy waters and during recession years.

“I come in here every morning with ‘the glass half full’ attitude, never empty,” she says.

“I never dropped quality and I never changed the prices.

“Anyone can get fish from the bottom of a freezer. My fish is landed every morning and comes from Castletownbere. Simple food cooked honestly is my mantra.” The Nash 19 shop was launched in September 2008. The Sternview Gallery furnished with the Long Table, hosts solo art exhibitions and thematic-based group exhibitions.

“It is a lovely space in which to exhibit artists’ work,” says Claire.

The shop has since evolved into an extensive range of home-made and in-house selections as well as ranges from other good food producers around Ireland.

“We offer a coeliac-friendly menu too,” says Claire, who likes to cater for everyone.

The team starts work early.

“Our pastry chef starts baking at 6am,” says Claire.

“The bakers make fresh bread, scones and pastries. Our scones are made from organic butter-milk from Macroom.” It sounds like a match made in heaven.

Is Claire married to the job?

“I often describe it as a controlled madness,” says Claire.

“I strive for perfection. I like to work with a good team behind me and help teach them what I know. Mediocre is not me.” Claire teaches in another capacity.

“I enjoy spending time with my adorable nephews and nieces,” says Claire. “I taught one of the boys to play golf. I’m a rugby fan too. My brother used to play rugby.” Does she take time out?

“I like to holiday in Italy and France,” she says. “When I was in Dubai, I was fascinated by all the spices on offer at the souk market. It was a feast for the senses. I played golf there too.”

 The girl from Limerick has become a staple in the city of Cork. She’s not going anywhere.

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