My adventures in food are wild

A love of food and the outdoors has inspired a Cork-based entrepreneur to develop dehydrated gourmet meals, writes Michelle Murphy.
My adventures in food are wild
Ultra-marathon runner Alex O'Shea at a club training session with St Finbarr's AC at The Sonia O'Sullivan Athletics Track at The Mardyke, UCC, Cork. He aims to complete 32 marathons in 32 counties in 16 days, all in aid of The Irish Guidedogs for The Blind.Pic; Larry Cummins

FROM New York to Cork, female entrepreneur Jennifer Hurley has been a busy lady of late.

The founder of a new high-end adventure food company, Wild Atlantic Gourmet, Jennifer has been working around the clock to launch her new business.

Born and educated in New York to an Irish father and an American mother, Jennifer has had a long-standing love affair with all things food and hospitality related.

“I went to Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island which is a big culinary school,” she said. “After graduation, I started working in various big corporations — I was a chef, an event planner, a catering manager and I also worked as a general manager for some corporate cafes where we would feed office buildings of 3,000 people.”

Once she realised that she wanted to start her own business, Jennifer began to seek in work in smaller food and hospitality environments to get a feel for being self-employed.

“I actually started big and worked down as I realised I wanted to be a business owner myself, so I started to work for smaller and smaller businesses to get a handle on it.”

Two years ago, having worked in food service and hospitality in the States for almost 15 years, Jennifer decided to take the plunge and move to Ireland. Although named after a well-known part of our beautiful Irish landscape, the concept for her new business, Wild Atlantic Gourmet was actually inspired by the hustle and bustle of New York city life, as Jennifer explains.

“I was working in New York right before I came to Ireland — it was a typical, crazy, city lifestyle and I was always escaping into the mountains at the weekends — going hiking and stuff like that, just to get a break from the city.”

With such a natural flair for all things culinary, it’s not surprising that the task of feeding the troops fell to Jennifer.

“I was always cooking for my friends when we went away on these trips — they would bring the booze and I would bring the food — I realised I had the harder of the two jobs! When we were doing canoe trips, we wanted to fit onboard more beer rather than food so I thought about some light- weight food ideas that we could take, and from there I learned about dehydrated foods.”

Upon moving to Ireland, Jennifer continued to pursue her love of the great outdoors and explore the beautiful mountains and lakes that Ireland has to offer. However, she quickly realised that there were no dehydrated food options available to purchase in Ireland.

“The hiking shops don’t really stock them — a lot of times people that are looking for these meals are buying them online — there are currently none that are Irish made and none readily available through the shops.”

Unlike other, more traditional adventure food, which tends to be heavyweight, boil-in-the bag meals than can end up getting mushy, the dehydrated gourmet meals that Jennifer creates are neither short of flavour nor texture: “It’s dry and it’s lightweight and I would probably compare it to military ration packs whereby you add hot water and get a full meal back. We cook it, we dry it and all the customer has to do is rehydrate it with boiling water — there are no chemicals.”

The first couple of recipes that Jennifer has been working on are a buffalo (of Macroom buffalo fame) and beet root stew along with a savoury black pudding and apple porridge.

“We are just trying to do something a little different as a lot of what I’ve seen is spaghetti bolognese or stuff like that — I like to have fun so I want to make the food fun too! We are also looking to develop snacks — black pudding chips and a protein tea brack flap jack.”

When not busy with her gourmet food product, Jennifer is also a participant in the Exxcel Programme for Female Entrepreneurs, which is the only Enterprise Ireland funded programme in Munster dedicated to female founders.

Based in the Rubicon Centre at CIT. It was through this venture that Jennifer subsequently became a member of the Network Ireland Cork branch, which she describes as a very positive experience: “Personally, I am an introvert and probably the hardest part for me was to put myself out there — meeting so many other female entrepreneurs as well as the networking and upskilling opportunities has done wonders for my personal and professional development.”

Whilst still at the developmental seed stage, Jennifer has made a few prototypes and intends to launch her website this summer to allow for for pre-ordering. Then, once certification and insurance are in order, it’s off to the numerous walking and sailing festivals held across Ireland where fellow outdoor adventure enthusiasts will be able to sample her food.

Eventually, Jennifer hopes that speciality shops will come to stock Wild Atlantic Gourmet.

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