Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Jacinta Dalton, Head Of Department, GMIT

Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Jacinta Dalton, Head Of Department, GMIT

I met Jacinta Dalton on a bridge in Belcoo, a foot in Ireland and the other in Northern Ireland. 

I’ve been aware of Jacinta Dalton for a few years now. Hers is the name people give you when you’re looking for someone who knows about Irish food. No bells and whistles but deep knowledge a fierce subject for the matter along with a generosity of spirit which means she’s a natural educator. 

But I was also aware that one quick hello and years of fan-girling does not equate to knowing someone and I wanted to do her justice and so I asked her peers about her.

Here’s what they had to say about Jacinta Dalton, and folks, I think there is something in my eye. 

Caitriona Redmond

“She’s a champion of Irish food, particularly in the West of Ireland, but more than that her involvement in food education is changing lives and communities in the future. I really admire her and everything she does.”

Seaneen Sullivan:

“Jacinta’s superpower is bringing people along with her. Her enthusiasm for irish food and particularly food education is infectious and inspiring.”

Sinead Hennessy

“Jacinta is a straight talking do’er who is full of passion for local ingredients, artisan producers and her native Galway. If there is a good food event happening in the West of Ireland, you can bet she has had some part in it. Irish Food has a lot to thank her for.”

Niall Sabongi:

“Jacinta is one of the most dedicated people in the food industry, male or female. She’s behind so many amazing events, in the background. From the work, she does in education with children to putting on events for charity (Jigsaw), via all the extracurricular stuff she does for Failte Ireland , she does an incredible amount of work for the irish food scene and is absolutely instrumental in the food culture that we have, right here today, in Ireland.”

I’m talking to women in the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?

Growing up in a B&B in Oughterard on the shores of Lough Corrib in County Galway, teeming with tourists every Summer,  inevitably impacted on my desire to enter the Hospitality industry.   We were always helping Mam as kids whether it was “doing the messages!” cleaning rooms or laying tables.  A work ethic was instilled in us from a very young age, something that I believe stood to me all my life.  

I began washing dishes during the school holidays in the lovely Currareveagh House, Oughterard,  at the tender age of 14 progressing onto  service in later years.   It was here that I decided I wanted to work in the hotel industry and so went to the RTC Galway, (now GMIT) to study Hotel Management.   Little did I know then,  that I would return in future years to manage the department in which I studied.   

I worked in the hotel industry for several years in Ireland, Germany and the U.S before returning to Ireland to work  with the Campbell Bewley Group, first as a Catering Manager and then as Quality and Training Manager for eight years.     Following the birth of my daughter, I decided that I wished to spend more time with her and be more flexible with my working hours so I became self-employed, working largely in training and compliance within the hospitality sector and becoming a trainer/mentor on contract with Fáilte Ireland working on various projects as well as the tourism learning networks.     

In 2010 a former lecturer of mine told me about a lecturing post in GMIT, so I applied, and was successful.   I was a lecturer for seven years in Marketing and Food and Beverage,  then was appointed Head of Department for Culinary Arts & Service Industries in 2017.  Entering into the Hotel Industry in college opened many doors for me – it is such a multi-dimensional industry that allows individuals the flexibility to grow, to develop and above all to carve out niche careers.  I would love if more young people and indeed parents advising young people recognised the industry as a viable career path.

How does your career fulfil you? 

I thoroughly enjoy watching students evolve and becoming passionate about the Irish food industry.    It is a privilege to work with young people and to hopefully,  positively influence them on their career path.     I have been very lucky to travel to many wonderful destinations meeting incredible people all of whom are passionate about promoting good food – being in the presence of this passion and positivity is very rewarding.     Often working in the public sector has the potential to stagnate the mind which is why it is so important for me to continue to get involved in the various food events and projects taking place around Ireland, this in turn allows me to get students involved in these which further enhances their learning, through field experiences.  Being part of the Irish Food Champion Assembly (IFCA)is also great as you get to work alongside people, all of whom are driven by the same goal;  the promotion of Irish food and Ireland as an International Food Destination.

In your opinion, what challenges do women face in the food industry in Ireland? 

Thankfully, throughout my career, I have not many doors close on me and I mostly have had excellent mentors as bosses,  but I think challenges exist for women in all industries particularly in the area of work-life balance.   Women are very often full-time workers outside the home and also within the home,  often putting themselves last in terms of personal well-being and time off for self-care.       I believe that this is an industry in which women excel –  look at the many fabulous women leading the way currently in the Irish food industry.     Last year I hosted a celebratory day on International Women’s Day for women in the sector and listening to all the stories about the amazing work done by female artisans, chefs, restaurateurs, farmers,  food writers was incredibly inspirational.

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

It is very difficult to single out any one woman as there are so many who are working tirelessly to promote the Irish Food industry, however, I do have to recognise Olivia Duff-Sharkey as “some woman for one woman!”  She is a virtual powerhouse and works tirelessly to promote the Boyne Valley and Irish food in general, I love being in her company as her passion and drive are contagious.     I also have to mention Sally McKenna – most people will know Sally from The McKenna Guides but I have had the pleasure of working with Sally for some years now at The Theatre of Food in Electric Picnic (EP) and Latitude Festivals.    Sally is kind, generous of spirit and gives the stage to the unknown, rising stars of the Irish food industry.   Sally will be the one working all the hours on the clock at EP to allow others time off and always does so with a smile!   

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

As I work in third-level education –  I would like to see the profile of the food industry, in general, being prioritised in Ireland.   It is very difficult to attract young people into the sector.   Secondary School students are not advised of the many career opportunities that exist in the food industry.    In order to raise the visibility of women in the food industry, we first must raise the profile of the food industry as a whole.  We need to start with primary schools, educating children about food, this then needs to continue on into secondary school.     Occupations need to be profiled so that young students can aspire to be a farmer, an artisan, a chef, a restaurateur and know that it is a viable industry and that it is valued by society as a whole and supported by our government.  Sadly this support is not evident in the sanctions constantly being leveraged by the current government.

What was the proudest moment of your career so far?

I have had many proud moments in my career but when a student writes you a letter to say thank you for inspiring me or when a parent thanks you for mentoring their child – this makes the tough days very worthwhile!   Having the opportunity to interview the wonderful Pierre Koffmann at Food on the Edge in 2016 was a special moment for me and organising “Boxty without Borders” in 2019 with the IFCA was an incredibly special day where we demonstrated that food connects everyone regardless of politics. 

What advice would you give your younger self? 

I would tell myself – , not to let negative people ruin my day – and not to take anything in life for granted.   I should probably also advise my younger self to save a bit more money but then that would knock my final piece of advice into touch!  Live in the moment and enjoy every day!

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

Ability to multi-task – my job is quite administrative and so being able to prioritise tasks and requests is key.    Good communication skills, financial acumen, tenacity, and positivity are all essential and patience is a skill that goes a long way in any job! 

What do you eat when you’re feeling poorly?

Potatoes!  Mashed or fried or if not too poorly a roast chicken dinner – always my first choice after being away from home travelling.

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