I hope to nurture, support and encourage in new role

As food writer, broadcaster and author Caroline Hennessy takes up her role as Chair of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild, KATE RYAN catches up with her to find out where her career began
I hope to nurture, support and encourage in new role

Journalist, broadcaster and author Caroline Hennessy.

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, 2005. A car crash leaves Caroline Hennessy with a fractured skull and significant memory and language loss. A life-long love of words and writing, which led to opportunities in RTÉ and Newstalk, among others, was reset — language had to be relearned.

A friend suggested setting up a food blog, something she had long considered, as a form of occupational therapy.

Named after Caroline’s love of books and cookery, Bibliocook has been her constant companion for 16 years and laid a foundation for a career spanning broadcast media, food writing (including authoring Sláinte, Ireland’s only complete guide to craft beer and cider), journalism and blogging.

“Bibliocook has been nothing but amazing to me,” she says.

At 47, Caroline, who lives in Kildorrery, has two daughters aged 12 and nine, and her partner, Scott Baigent, is co-founder of Eight Degrees Brewing, based in Mitchelstown.

In April, Caroline was appointed Chair of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild, a community of food writers established in 1990 by 12 highly respected ladies of Irish food writing, including Theodora Fitzgibbon, Biddy White Lennon, Georgina Campbell, and Marilyn Bright. Caroline will hold the position until 2024.

Writer Caroline Hennessy with her daughters Hannah and Maya.
Writer Caroline Hennessy with her daughters Hannah and Maya.

“I’m incredibly honoured to be appointed as Chair of the Guild, particularly at such a difficult time for those of us who work in the food world in any capacity,” she says. She sees her tenure as being about nurturing, supporting, and encouraging this community of food writers she has been a part of since 2012.

Why did you start writing Bibliocook?

“In 2000, I was working with RTÉ to launch their ACE (Arts, Culture and Entertainment) online section. It was a very exciting time — the internet was very new and very fresh, and the team were all young, just starting off in our careers and very excited about working online.

“I was the editor of the food website on ACE, commissioning articles from chefs, we had a wine writer, lots of cookbook reviews, and I absolutely adored it. Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long but it was Ireland’s first ever food website, and it gave me a real appetite for writing about food in a space where you could do it by and for yourself.

“I started Bibliocook in 2005 as occupational therapy after a car accident in Auckland, New Zealand, and it has been with me ever since.

“My injury definitely impacted my ability to articulate. I had been working as a journalist for five years at that stage, writing for far longer, and there was a lot missing — a lot I needed to get back.

“Bibliocook helped me to make connections: I was in a foreign country, I had no roots in the country, and I was very adrift for a while after the accident because I couldn’t work.

“But I was still going to the farmers’ market, buying food and preparing it, and Bibliocook gave me an excuse to talk to the farmer about the apples, ask him what the best apple for a particular recipe was or what recipe he might recommend. I would experiment with recipes, read other recipes, and then write about it. It gave me a whole new engagement with food.

“Anybody who goes to the trouble of setting up a food blog has a different way of looking at food — in a way food is material, but also it’s good fun!”

You co-wrote ‘Sláinte — the complete guide to Irish craft beer and cider’ in 2014 with Kristin Jensen. Was there always a craft drinks focus to your food writing?

“One day when I lived in New Zealand, I went to a local brewery in Christchurch with friends. We did a tour, got to taste some beer, but then the beer was paired with different foods. I was literally gobsmacked! I was sitting, amazed, and wondering why do we not have any of this in Ireland? It was just such a brilliant experience.

“I suddenly realised that beer was more than just the pale fizzy stuff, the creamy black stuff, or if you were totally mad, the red stuff which was all that was available in Ireland at the time. Where I lived in Christchurch, there were so many micro-breweries just a few minutes’ walk from my house and they all served food paired with their beers; bar staff could chat to you about their beers —2 all the stuff that is so normal now in Ireland, but in 2005 there was nothing like that.

“I came back like an evangelist! Scott was talking about brewing at that stage, and he started home brewing, producing really nice beers. Then, in 2011, Scott and [brewery co-founder] Cameron Wallace launched Eight Degrees Brewing after years of talking about it and building up to it. As they were doing this, I was working ever more in the food world and I could see there was nothing going on about beer in Ireland. There was stuff happening, but it wasn’t known about. There was one beer festival in the country with maybe five or six breweries at it — things were slow to get going in Ireland. Around 2012, there was more beer being brewed in Ireland, but it wasn’t understood. Kristin and I wanted to work together again (some years before, we both set up the Irish Food Bloggers Association) and came up with the idea for the book.

“Writing Sláinte was a way to demystify the beer world, make it accessible and introduce people to different flavours and styles, and the excitement of finding a brewery near you producing a beer you like, and then the wonder of pairing that beer with food. That excitement of pairing beer with food has never left me since that night in Christchurch.”

Tell us about the Irish Food Writers’ Guild

“The Irish Food Writers’ Guild was set up in 1990 by a group of professional food writers to support and promote high standards in food writing and knowledge, to help develop links and connections between members, and to enable members to come together to share information, experience, and ideas. At the time, it was a small cohort — they were the people to know, the people who wrote about food in Ireland.

“In 1990, people only had a half a dozen cookbooks in their house — they weren’t something you would have a lot of.

“Maura Laverty’s book, Full And Plenty, was a given on everyone’s shelf, or the Stork-produced cookbooks which you could get cheaply if you saved up your Stork tokens.”

Or people would publish recipes in national news papers and readers would clip them out and keep them.

“The Guild is a collegial group. I really do hope to continue to nurture, support and encourage this wonderful community — and I can’t wait for the day when we can all sit down around a table together again!”

What are your goals for your tenure as Chair of the Guild?

“A lot of what the Guild does is community building within the membership, so the most important thing for me as Chair is to continue supporting the community that we have, even if that’s just reaching out and checking in with how someone is doing, or letting them know I’m here if they need someone to talk to.

“Sometimes, all people need is encouragement and to know the doors of communication are open for them. 

"It’s been a really hard year for food writers too, and I’m so proud of what the Guild has achieved in the last 12 months.

“I want to pay a huge amount of credit to the outgoing Chair, Kristin Jensen, for her work during her tenure. And in a year when a lot of organisations have not had meetings and abandoned their awards, we managed to keep going and achieve our goals as an organisation. That’s a real testament to what we already are as a community.”

For aspiring food writers, what advice can you give?

“Write, write, write, write! Sometimes I look back at my own website and there are 16 years of my life there, and so much has changed. I love social media, but you don’t own any of it. If you have a blog, you own all that content, and you are the person in charge of it. Writing a food blog, even if only writing for yourself — which is all I was doing when I started — is a space to achieve a new and deeper engagement with the food around you and gifts an opportunity and the space to write. But practice, and the only way to practice is to keep writing, and the only way you can keep writing is if you are willing to put it out there. A blog helps you develop an online portfolio to direct people to when pitching publications. That’s how I got my first writing gig!”

Awards

The IFWG also host annual awards that recognise excellence and outstanding achievement in Irish food, drink, food organisations; as well as community and lifetime achievements.

Caroline said: “Our awards are nominated by the Guild, tasted, and judged to be the best, so the first people know about their award is when they receive an email or letter from us. Businesses cannot enter, instead they are nominated by Guild members, tasted, discussed, and voted upon anonymously and by proportional representation.

“The Guild are very critical so if it doesn’t reach a really high standard then it’s not going to be a winner. People in the food industry know it’s not an award you’re just given.

“We know what a difference it makes to people to be acknowledged, and I was determined to find a way to run our 2021 awards because now, more than ever, producers need that acknowledgment, and I know what a boost it can give.”

Follow Caroline via www.bibliocook.com or search Bibliocook on social channels.

For more on the Irish Food Writers’ Guild see www.irishfoodwritersguild.ie.

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