Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Hannah Barkhoff, Post Graduate At Bord Bia

Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Hannah Barkhoff, Post Graduate At Bord Bia

I know Hannah Barkhoff from Twitter. And so should you. 

Hannah Barkhoff has a clear passion for Irish food (and gin). She writes about it, works in that industry and is constantly looking for ways she can support small producers and independent shops. 

One of my plans this year is to meet with Hannah Barkhoff in real life. If I’m really lucky it will involve chocolate cake (with no fruit). 

Although she is just starting her career, I’m going to throw my hat in the ring now and declare Hannah Barkhoff “one to watch”. Trust me. 

 

I’m talking to women in the food industry, what brought you into this category and what do you do?

Growing up in Dublin but being half Swiss and half German, I have been surrounded by different food traditions since I can remember. It was something that always fascinated me – seeing what foods and produce we could only get in Switzerland or Germany, which recipes my dad would make from his German great granny’s repertoire (we still bake these religiously today and comparing to my mum’s traditional Swiss recipes. The excitement and uniqueness around a country’s own food fuelled my love for food and hospitality early on.

At age 17, I got my first job in a wonderful café in Dalkey, working with a fantastic team and getting my first experience in hospitality. I loved the interactions with customers, the team work and getting to know the suppliers. I also loved getting an insight into the different aspects of the business, from what the chefs were doing, how events were run and how many elements needed to work (well) together to deliver the experience to the customer.

I then began my studies in International Hospitality Management here in Dublin and got to study more indepth areas from finance and marketing, to practical kitchen & front of house work, to F&B operations management and strategic leadership.
I loved the broad spectrum we got involved in!

I realised, however, that throughout college, while all my classmates were going into hotellerie, food and beverage is where I wanted to go. I tried to guide any assignment I could to have an F&B spin. I wrote my dissertation on the rise of culinary tourism in Ireland, interviewing top restaurateurs and managers. I also worked in kitchens and restaurants alongside my entire degree.

Realising I was working on something I loved, I continued working in restaurants front and back of house (from KP to pastry chef), doing social media for restaurants both in Ireland and Germany – helping me gain experiences across different areas. I loved going to tastings, events, conferences, would save up to pay for a ticket to Food on the Edge every year or, if I was broke, my parents gifted me it for my birthday. The people I would meet, listen to and engage with taught me so much, especially in appreicating produce, origin and sustainability. These events spured me on to continue the path I was on

While working in Germany after finishing college to gain experience in another country, I saw from afar how exciting the food industry in Ireland was and I had to come back. I had gone for a job in a hotel in Germany but on day one of that job had a “light bulb” moment. This is NOT what I wanted to do. I had only taken this job because that’s what my peers were doing and – it was a prestigious hotel, who wouldn’t want to work there? Me! I quit that day – sure that everyone would think I’m mad. But I didn’t care – I realised what I valued and where I wanted to be. I packed my bags, returned home and have not, nor will I ever, regret that decision.

I started working as a pastry chef when I got home, where I got to know Irish produce and producers from yet another angle. Every day since, my love for these has grown hugely. I started a post-graduate course in Global Business Development with Bord Bia pretty much exactly one year ago – a position that helps me work with Irish produce and producers from yet another angle.

I can now combine what I have learnt in other jobs and college to support and market Irish food through what I do every day; abroad and at home.

Over the years I’ve also developed a special relationship and grown fond of one Industry in particularly; Gin. I’ve started a Gin & Food blog and work as a “Gin-bassador” for a great Gin bar in Galway. My love for Gin began a few years back and I have since spent time researching the spirit, here and abroad. I’ve gotten to know distillers and different brands; no, not just drinking it… Getting to live out my love for the spirit, promoting Irish Gin, distillers and distilleries is something I definitely want to continue.

 

How does your career fulfil you?

In every part of the food industry that I’ve worked in, what has fulfilled me is seeing how I can have a positive impact on someone who is selling, growing, preparing, or making a product by bringing this to the customer. I love meeting new people in the process – from farmer to chef or marketer – and seeing how all work together gives me such a buzz.

As a waitress at first, I was communicating to the customer how the food was prepared by the chef, telling the story of where the fish has come from and making it most enjoyable for the customer. As a chef, it was seeing how I can best showcase the Irish apple that came in that morning, how I can turn the grower’s produce into something the customer will love, how I can bring the local produce to the forefront for it to gain the respect it deserves.

In my current role, it’s the same element; I get to organise events and liaise opportunities that can help bring Irish producers and their products to where they want to go. Doing this, while getting to know and learning from the people involved.

I absolutely believe in the wealth and beauty of supporting each other. If I can support something I feel strongly about I will. I do it privately and in my current role I get to do it professionally too. Supporting somebody else’s success won’t dampen yours!

 

What are your ambitions for the next 2 years?

Over the next six months, I’ll be completing my post-graduate here at Bord Bia (finishing in July). Then I’ll be looking for new opportunities (wink, wink  ). I absolutely want to stay within Irish food and drink. Whether that is here or with the industry abroad, I am still not 100% sure.

While I am very interested in how other countries optimise their produce, products and practices, I also love Dublin and Ireland and it’s such an exciting time for Irish food!

So I will be leveraging the next six months to help me focus in on where exactly it is I want to go next. I’m open to opportunities! We’ve got a fantastic talent manager who is a huge aid in finding one’s way.

Within the next few years I would also love to do get more into writing. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, since I realised I could write about something I loved. I’ve lacked confidence but I feel that starting my blog is a beginning!

 

What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?

Exactly initiatives like this! It’s women like yourself(!) (and men) who showcase the vast wealth of knowledge, ability and growth that the women in Ireland’s food industry bring to the table (excuse the pun).

Furthermore, having women such as Chief Executives Tara McCarthy, Claire Tolan or Louise Ryan, writers and journalist like Marie-Claire Digby and Caitriona Redmond, chefs like Jess Murphy and individuals such as Lisa Murrin (I could go on), inspiring future generations to strive and show what is possible is key. This plays a huge role for the future female leaders of this industry. Compared to other countries, I think Ireland is doing phenomenally in showcasing female leadership and talent in food and drink. When I sit around a table at work, there’s extreme balance with some kick-ass women – different to any job I’ve had before.

 

Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspires you and why

Working at Bord Bia, I’m surrounded by some fantastic and driven women who I learn from every day, from the Chefs in our canteen to my boss. I’ve also mentioned Darina earlier, who has inspired me hugely and continues to do so with her supportive nature and wealth of knowledge. I’m lucky to be surrounded by these women every day.

But one woman who I’ve loved for quite some time is Eda Sagarra – who is an author and Professor of German in Trinity College, and no, no famous cook (she could/should be!!). But as a close family friend and visiting Eda throughout the years as a child, I was always fascinated by her huge garden full of fresh berries, lettuces, apples, herbs and potatoes. We would go for coffee and cake to Edas’ some Sundays and she would make the most flavoursome, rhubarb crumble with rhubarb from the garden. Eda gave me a home while I was searching for a room in Dublin this summer and we would often cook together. She has some wealth of knowledge when it comes to ingredients and cooking, and I’d often wake up in the morning to the most amazing smell of a slowly, simmering ragu, cinnamon cooked apples or roasted, rhubarb pie. When cooking together, she would bring in the freshest herbs fresh from the garden – it was like a magic pantry, I can still smell them today!

I was always in awe of how Eda used her garden to the absolute maximum and she was the first to open my eyes as to how much we can grow in Ireland; from raspberries to parsley to plums. As a child her garden seemed this endless space of ever giving wonders – and really our land is ever giving if we look after it properly.

Eda spreads her love of gardening and of growing produce through her community and various clubs; her crumbles and pies should be famous! If every young girl had someone like Eda to show them what is possible and to encourage them to keep going like she showed the young Hannah with her probably dodgy scones and crumbles, those young girls would also have the confidence to go for it anyway!

 

What challenges do you think women face in the Irish food industry?

Althought I can see the situation improving, I do think that some males in higher positions find it hard to accept women in leadership roles, especially in restaurants.

I’ve unfortunately experienced it myself. I was in positions where I did not to let the bullying get at me and the only way my colleagues then could handle it was to belittle, or discriminate. However, my experiences with bullying in the workplace were far worse abroad than ever in Dublin.

I really believe that with the strong and influential women who are working in Irish food today, this is changing. Alongside these, there are fantastic male industry professionals who are the right kind of role models for future male leaders.

I remember speaking to a previous sous-chef of mine, whose ambition it was to open up his own place in a few years. He saw how differently I was being treated, just because I was the only female in the kitchen. We were chatting after service one evening and he said that this is exactly why he wants to run his own kitchen; to teach those of the next generation how to properly treat their staff and how to run a kitchen with respect, sustainability and longevity. If that’s the future, we’re in good hands and I’m excited to be part of the next generation.

 

Have you had a wow moment to date in your career? If so which one was it and why?

A recent game-changing moment was in December. I was organising a Working in Food – Career and Leadership development day with “Camino Coaching” Life-coach, Consultant and “Food Works” Programme Manager, Darina Mulligan. We conceptualised the day together from beginning to end and formed an interactive experience for a group of 31 international graduates.

Working together with and learning from Darina was a real “wow” experience for me. Darina’s clarity, empowering nature and expertise was exactly what I needed, to gain the self-belief that I could make this day a success. She is one power-woman and sharing similar values, the points she made helped me clarify so many questions I had internally. At the same event, Kate Saul, who is Marketing Manager for Europe, Middles East & Australia at Ornua, kindly agreed to talk after I had invited her. She shared her career path, progression and learnings which gripped myself and the entire room. I wish I had filmed it!! What hit home hugely, was her “bundle of cooked spaghetti” analogy; that your career path resembles more of a bundle of cooked spaghetti and may not make sense in the moment. However that it will all unravel and the dots will join up. It helps me every time I think I’m going the wrong way, when I lose the bigger picture in the mess of the spaghetti bundle! Note to self: the bigger picture is super delicious.

Those were two wow-women that gave me wow-moments and that I’m so grateful to have met in the past months.

 

What challenges you personally and how do you recover?

A personal challenge is that I doubt myself too often. Sometimes I need to remind myself to change perspective and take a step back in order to see the bigger picture (hence – spaghetti!) and that I’m not doing too badly. I’ve grown up in an academic family, taking quite a different career path to my parents and brother so when deciding where to go, there were times my self-doubt would creep in and I felt that maybe I should be doing something different. Now I’m glad I stuck with what was right for me. They think what I’m doing is great and hugely support me by the way. Thinking about it, I may just be that I tell them where to go for great food, but I’ll take it.

That challenge of comparing myself to others creeps in now and again. But I’ve learnt I’m doing this for myself and not anybody else. As cheesy as it is: In the end, you’re the creator of your own universe.

To recover from any challenge, my mantra is “Change your perspective”! Look at the challenge from a different view. It may seem unmanageable when one is caught up in the moment. But in the bigger picture, it’s is just another blip in the road (or knot in the Spaghetti) and probably an opportunity to learn and grow. Down the line and in hindsight , it will have been way more manageable than one could have ever thought. If one can remember this in the midst of a challenge or crisis, it can make life a lot easier.

The moment I eluded to earlier, where I quit on the first day of a new job in Germany was an example of this. I was panicked and feared people would think I’m crazy – maybe I “should” just take it because every “normal” person would. (Right?) No. With a change of perspective I could see that actually it was the completely wrong job for me – and here I am! Perspective people, perspective!

 

What are the top skills required to do your job and why?

My job is very variable; one day I’m at my desk liaising with foreign embassies, the next I’m hunting down a size 55 wellies for an incoming buyer going on a farm visit in Sligo or ordering kilos of Irish cheese. But that’s what I love!

The “office” job was a change for me as I’d always been on my feet in previous jobs, but thankfully every day is different.

You get your time to answer emails, organise logistics and catch-up with your team but you’re also out on itineraries, in the department, out on farms, meeting with all elements of the supply chain and traveling to overseas offices/missions/events.

If I had to choose 3 top skills they would have to be
1. Flexibility (see above)
2. Team-work; the team I get to work with is spread across 13 countries – this takes a huge amount of fine-tuned collaboration in order to work effectively with each other across cultures and time-zones.
It takes understanding other’s weaknesses as well as their strength to work together.
3. Relationship-building; I interact with clients and buyers, farmers, shop owners, chefs (…) all of the time and relationships are so important. We’re dealing with humans – not machines. Because I have a genuine love for what these people do I really want to get to know those I interact with, I think this is absolutely vital.

 

What’s your favourite Irish food or drink product?

I may be a bit predictable with this one… but as a gin fiend I’m absolutely loving Chinnery Gin. The team behind it are such wonderful, genuine and passionate people and it’s a very delicate and special spirit. And look at the bottle…! Even Father Barkhoff (the real Gin-connoisseur in our family) approved when I got him a bottle for Christmas! It’s fantastic with another great Irish product, Poachers Irish Tonic. And if I fancy a gin with a twist, I like to add a drop of elderflower cordial. Richmount Cordial is one of my favourite cordials and yet another example of a fantastic Irish beverage! *Cheers*

 

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