Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Ailish Cantwell, Managing Partner
Some women run one company and that’s impressive. Ailish Cantwell runs two.
The first time I met Ailish, it was at an event she was organising for the official launch of the Urchin Bar in Dublin. I was a guest of my friend Úna-Minh Caomhánach for the evening. I go to a fairly decent number of events and when one is well ran, it really stands out. This was the case that night. Since then, I’ve been to many events ran by Ailish Cantwell and they always run like a dream.
She brings warms and sofistication to everything she’s involved in and along with Gemma Smyth, she is one of my favourite PR professionals. More importantly though, Ailish Cantwell knows and likes her clients and what they do and she puts her passion into communicating that out. I am yet to be disappointed by one of her recommendations and that is a tall order as I’m a fussy mare.
I’m talking to women in the food industry, what brought you into this category and what do you do?
My appreciation and understanding of good food stems from my childhood experiences. My Dad had a small dairy farm and a full-time job, so I used to love helping him milk the cows and working the farm after school and weekends. We grew our own vegetables and my mum is a terrific cook. We never had a take-away meal or fast food – everything was always cooked from scratch and we always helped her. Mum brought us foraging (it wasn’t called foraging back then, more like how do I entertain 5 kids!) we’d pick blackberries to make jam, pick mushrooms for delicious soups and hazelnuts from the trees that lined the avenue of the farm. She used to give us nettles in our cabbage every spring to help purify our blood. They explained everything to us, why we ate certain things, what it meant for our health and wellbeing. Mum’s a terrific host, and she got me hooked on cooking and entertaining from an early age. Believe it or not, I almost became a Home Economics Teacher!
How does your career fulfil you?
I get to work with some incredible brands and people. I love meeting people with an idea or product to promote and no idea where to start. It’s so satisfying to work through a plan with them and see it flourish.
What are your ambitions for the next 2 years?
My business partner Aileen and I have worked hard since we started Sync & Swim a couple of years ago. We have worked on some incredible projects like the re-opening of The National Gallery of Ireland and are looking to grow our business further working within the arts and tourism industries.
What challenges women face in the Irish Food industry?
Confidence. I have met some really talented female chefs, who weren’t confident enough to put themselves out there, even though they had the skill-set to match some of the best in the industry.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspires you and why.
Grainne Kelleher, CEO, Airfield Estate. She is so passionate and knowledgeable about food and sustainability and not afraid to speak her mind, or put two opposing sides in a room during Airfield’s Food Series! She is a visionary and has exciting plans for Airfield Estate. The world needs more people like Grainne to question the decisions being made for us that are having a massive impact on the environment.
6. What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?
Hire Sync & Swim! Seriously, I think everyone regardless of gender would benefit greatly from experts in their fields. Many PR companies are willing to negotiate fees if they like the project or feel the product/person would add value to their portfolio. Also, funding is available for many PR & Marketing services, so I’d encourage all to see what’s on offer and apply!
Have you had a wow moment to date in your career? If so which one was it and why?
I’ve had a number of wow moments. I suppose one that really stands-out is organising U2’s performance “It’s a Beautiful Day” on the roof of The Clarence Hotel with one days notice, and a full hotel. I’ll never forget the crowds of people outside and the buzz inside!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Enjoy the moment.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Personally, I think treating people with respect and kindness, regardless of their position is really important. I rely heavily on the media, therefore the relationship I build with them needs to come from a place of respect. Respect for their time and knowledge. Also, I think being able to read people and situations is a must. Good communications skills- both written and verbal and a sense of humour, never goes a miss.
What’s your go to comfort food and what do you cook when you want to impress?
I became a pescatarian when I was 13 years old (and that wasn’t yesterday). However, I cook EVERYTHING as I am a mum and like to host dinner parties. I love cheese, and a gooey Époisses with some crusty bread is heaven to me (I love Irish cheese too, especially my home-county cheese, Cashel Blue). If I’m out to impress, I will look at the guest list and plan the meal accordingly. Normally, I’d plan the menu; pair wines with each course and do a little pre-dinner cocktail. I’d head to Howth for fresh fish and seafood and create a nice hot & cold sharing platter to start, then it would have to be rib of beef on the bone with potato gratin and chocolate fondant with homemade ice-cream for dessert. My daughter loves to bake, so I’d get her to make some nice homemade bread and of course a cheese board as you can never have enough cheese and I’m not eating the beef!