Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Katy McGuinness, Food Writer
Katy McGuinness is a food writer and a restaurant critic in Ireland.
When Katy McGuinness agreed to be part of this series, I had to pinch myself. If I’m ever asked if I’ve had a wow moment, mark my words, this will be one of them.
Katy is a prominent food writer and restaurant critic and grown men shake when she walks into their premises. Her words carry weight and she has a reputation for being direct and honest in her judgement. When she loves a restaurant, she becomes an ally and her support brings a steady stream of business to the food businesses she champions.
Like Caitriona Redmond, she is a member of the Food Writers Guild of Ireland and she sets the standard for budding writers everywhere.
When I grow up, I want to be Katy McGuinness.
I’m talking to women in the food industry. What brought you in this category and what do you do?
I’m a food writer and restaurant critic. I’m more of a professional writer and an amateur food lover, in that i am not trained as a chef but I am trained as a writer. I was a lawyer and a film producer, and I took a break when one of my children was small. When I was ready to start working again, a friend who edited magazines started asking me to write about food, as she knew it was an interest of mine. This is how I started writing about food.
How does your career fulfill you?
I’ve always had a huge interest in food and particularly in restaurants and ever since I started earning a salary, when I was in my twenties, a large portion of it has always gone on restaurants. When I first started earning, I was living in New York and I had a favourite restaurant called La Luncheonette and I would go there maybe a couple of times a week. I’ve always liked this idea that you have a restaurant near your house that welcomes you and is like a third space.
Going to restaurants I want to try as part of my work is great. I’m fascinated by restaurants, by how they work and what distinguishes one from the next, and why some work and some don’t work and all the elements that go into their success or failure.
I like the craft of writing. After I started writing about food, I went and did a masters in creative writing in Queens, in Belfast. I enjoy the challenge to try and get the sense of a restaurant. The challenge of writing is to try and convey how restaurants are more than just about the food.
I like the stories behind food businesses and the people behind the food. I love hearing directly from small producers about how they started doing what they’re doing. And so many of those are farm diversification projects, often driven by women, and I find those stories really interesting and I love going out and meeting those people. And I like seeing this web, where all the producers are tied in with the restaurants and the chefs.
The more I learn and the more I understand the big picture of how it all weaves in together and I find that fascinating.
So yes, it’s fulfilling because I’m not doing the same thing all the time and I’m constantly working.
What are your ambitions for the next two years?
Really just keep doing what I’m doing. I am always trying to make my writing better so that’s a constant theme. I’m starting to do a bit more travel writing, which is easier now that my family is a bit older. I’d like to develop that side of things a bit more.
What challenges women face in the Irish Food industry?
I think the principle difficulty is with chefs. There are more women food writers than men. I think there is this generation of female entrepreneurs in the food business who are pretty visible. If you think of Mag Kirwan and Jenny McNally who are rightly, very visible. The hardest challenge is in the restaurants and the kitchens. It is a macho environment and they just don’t seem to see it. A lot of them, who may be nice guys, have no understanding of how they are perceived and maybe if they do have an understanding they don’t care because they like it too much just the way it is, the blokiness of it.
There are horror stories about the toxic culture in some of the kitchens in Ireland. Nobody needs this type of macho toxicity.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland.
As food writers, we have a responsibility to write about women as much as possible to have a balance. When I do a weekend magazine features, I always try and have a woman as the main focus of the story and the main visual focus of the piece. This is obviously more difficult when I write about a restaurant as there are less women chefs.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspires you and why.
Oh that’s easy, Jenny McNally is my woman. I think she is absolutely extraordinary. I have been shopping from her for at least 10 to 15 years in the market in Dun Laoghaire as I used to live down the road. Or in Leopardstown or now in Sandyford or Temple Bar. I think she is amazing. On a personal level, she has done more to change the way that I cook than anyone else, just because the array of produce is just so exciting. I feel like my week is off to a good start when either Friday or Saturday, I’ve filled my fridge with her vegetables. So personally she is hugely important to me and my life.
She’s such a gentle activist. She’s just there and has worked very gently with a number of chefs and restaurants, to improve what they do. She has done so much work to help bring vegetables to the forefront.
I love the way that it’s a family business, and that her family are actually there, on the stalls. They have given birth to the Market Kitchen in the Temple Bar market.
Have you had a wow moment to date in your career? If so which one was it and why?
The first time I did a restaurant review, which would have been for The Gloss.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Stick with the Law (joking).
What are your favourite restaurants in Dublin?
In your opinion, what are the most underated spices and herbs?
I have a bit of a cardammom thing and I love tarragon.
You’ve had a particularly miserable day and you need comfort food. What do you go for?
Wine. Red wine, always.
But seriously, when you cook for a family all the time you do kind of sublimate what you might like for what everybody else wants. So what I might choose is maybe not what would make everybody else happy. The family’s choice of comfort meal would probably be roast chicken.