Cork-based food writer and founder of marks a decade in business

A regular contributor to The Echo and columnist with WoW! ,KATE RYAN reflects on the 10th anniversary of her business - the highs, the lows and where she’s at today
Cork-based food writer and founder of marks a decade in business

Columnist Kate Ryan at her home in Ballygurteen, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

A LOT can happen in ten years.

In 2012, Ireland was still in the teeth of a seemingly endless recession and every other day a fresh scandal seemed to hit the headlines.

Enda Kenny was Taoiseach and Michael D Higgins had just begun his second term as President of Ireland. There was excitement in the air, too, as a new Olympic year dawned with London as the host city, where Katie Taylor would go on to win gold.

Things were maybe finally starting to change for the good, and it seems those winds of change didn’t pass me by, either.

Food has always been a huge part of my life. My family grew a large proportion of our own fruit and veg, and we kept two ducks for fresh eggs. Mum cooked from scratch daily, but we all had our own speciality. Grandad had his Monday night Bubble and Squeak and his famous beef pies with the shortest, melt-in-the- mouth pastry. Dad cooked amazing fluffy roast potatoes and the best hand-cut chips. My sister made bread and butter pudding.

 Columnist Kate Ryan at her home in Ballygurteen, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Columnist Kate Ryan at her home in Ballygurteen, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

As the youngest, I watched everyone cook or was sent out to the garden to pick veggies for dinner. Mum and grandad were gardeners, and I was at my happiest with them, learning names of plants, or when something was ripe for picking.

As a young woman, I watched a new generation of cooks on TV that made food look exciting and trendy – something to aspire to in my own kitchen at weekends: the likes of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson.

I loved cooking, becoming ever more enthusiastic and confident – although not always successful! At 21, I met the man who would later become my husband, whisk me away to Ireland, and introduce me to a love of fish, seafood, and the ocean. When we had a little money in our pockets, we dined in restaurants and travelled, always with good food on our minds.

Arriving in West Cork in 2005, it wasn’t long until I realised it was the food mecca of Ireland. There was a whole new food culture to explore, and I relished it spending hours cooking with new ingredients, learning new skills, and how to build great flavour into dishes. 

I began hosting dinners for friends; the excitement at hosting my first ever Christmas feast!

Kate Ryan, set up ten years ago. Picture Dan Linehan
Kate Ryan, set up ten years ago. Picture Dan Linehan

Food was never far from my thoughts, and increasingly on my phone, too! People were posting photos of food on their social feeds, and in April, 2012, I posted my first food photo to my Facebook page of a Wild Mushroom Risotto. Friends commented, asking for the recipe, and with this one simple post, a new food adventure had begun...

It was my husband who suggested - it was perfect – obviously about food but could be anything to do with food, from recipes to news, from craft-makers of food and drink to gardening and foraging, and more besides! We set up a blog and I started posting.

In 2013, I began hosting Supper Clubs in my home. I’d post an event on Facebook, people booked a seat at the table, and turned up with other like-minded intrepid foodies to dine on a surprise menu of my own devising. It was a new concept back then, and my supper club was one of only two in Cork at the time, and one of only a handful operating in Ireland. It ran for 18 months before it outgrew my kitchen table and I looked for a new home.

In April, 2014, I launched food tours. It began with a walking food tour of Clonakilty – my adopted home town - and grew to include tours all over the county with groups big and small, from Ireland and all over the world.

Guided walking food tours were still in their infancy then, now they are everywhere. How times change! I was commissioned to write my first article that year, too, about my local farmers’ market in Clonakilty, and I fell in love with writing immediately.

Kate is a regular contributor to The Echo and has a monthly column in WoW! called WoW! Bites.
Kate is a regular contributor to The Echo and has a monthly column in WoW! called WoW! Bites.

In 2015, I took my Supper Club out of home and started working with great local chefs to create pop-up nights, each one more ambitious than the last. I created pop up restaurants in barns, pubs – a castle once, too! Just before Good Day Deli moved in, I hosted a night in the garden café at Nano Nagle Place for Taste Jazz, working alongside the brilliant chef, Pamela Kelly.

By 2016, things were going great. Freelance writing was going really well and my food adventures, (tours and pop-ups), were sell-out events. It was time to cut the apron strings. 

I handed in my notice from my full-time job and decided to take the leap into self-employment!  Time to see if I would sink or swim… I swam… ably, in fact, for the first nine months of that year, 2017, even getting a commission to write my first book called the Artisan Food Guide.

I launched the educational food initiative, Eggsellent Breakfasts, with two amazing women, and food adventures continued to sell well.

But then came September… It started with a car crash that I was lucky to walk away from, then, just two weeks later, I learned my dad had been diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, everything went from hero to zero overnight and I sank into a deep depression.

When I look back to what I achieved in 2018, my list is empty. Yes, I was writing; food adventures were happening, but I had fallen off the crest of my wave. 

What I had in fact achieved that year was survival, and I came very close to not even achieving that.

With the support of some amazing people, I was dusted off, built back up, and and my dad made a full recovery.

Kate at home in Ballygurteen.
Kate at home in Ballygurteen.

2019 was the year I got back to business and good things started to happen once more. I was voted in as a new member to the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and nominated by Network Ireland West Cork for their Businesswoman of the Year awards in the Small SME Category.

I had a recipe published in the Clonakilty Blackpudding Black and White Cookbook and signed up to go back to school by enrolling in the Postgraduate Diploma in Irish Food Culture at UCC.

We all know what happened in 2020. While Covid put a stop to the food adventures, my studies continued, and my love of writing increased. 

Having no other distractions, I could dedicate all my time to writing, and my studies gave me confidence to write about food from different perspectives. 

I could still create recipes, but I could also put my pen to farming, fermentation, biodiversity, gut health, veganism, and climate change, knowing they are all part of the overall discussion we need to have about our food, where it comes from, and how it’s produced.

2021 was like a whole year of finest hours: elected as Secretary of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild, nominated for three awards at the Irish Food Writing Awards, I completed my studies, and gained Irish citizenship. But I think I was just warming the tyres…

It was February before I realised 2022 marks a whole decade of my online persona,

I love milestones, and looking back. It can be easy to lose track of wins and achievements when busy in the business of the business! 

And it takes fortitude, to look back and acknowledge the tough times too and see how far I’ve come away from the dark into the light again.

I’m a firm advocate of lifelong learning, recently returning from completing a week at Ballymaloe Cookery School. I booked a spot during the in-between-y days of Christmas without realising it would coincide with my ten-year anniversary of, so it turned into one of those happy coincidences.

Also in my anniversary month, another milestone: my first long-form article published in the UK all about the Irish tradition of blood pudding making, and I returned to that topic when I delivered my first ever lecture on the subject for the Myrtle Allen Memorial Lecture at UCC. I was both excited and terrified by the prospect!

So, when people ask me what there is still left to write about food after a decade of doing just that, I say: food isn’t just about what we eat, it’s about who we are, who we were, and where we come from. From times of celebration to times of despair, food is always there. 

In nature or tending a garden, food is abundant all around us. It marks seasons of the year and seasons of our lives. It triggers memory and nostalgia and helps us look ahead - to protect our food is to ensure our future.

Running a small business is not always easy, and when it’s done solo there is nowhere to hide and no-one to hand the niggly and frustrating bits to. You are accountant, social media guru, investigator, webmaster, legal adviser, administrator, hustler, PR expert as well as writing words that engage, entertain, and inform! began with a single post and a recipe, and when I took to the podium at UCC to deliver my lecture on blood puddings, I returned to the theme of recipes once more and its ability to empower, communicate, and create community. Here’s to ten more years…

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