Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Sinead Hennessy, Food Tourism Officer
Sinead Hennessy is the official cheerleader of Irish Food.
Sinead Hennessy is the Fáilte Ireland food tourism officer. What does this mean you ask? To me, it means she is the gate keeper of our reputation as a hospitable country and as a food destination worth visiting. She has some job ahead of her.
Although there is a small but enthusiastic grass roots movement around Irish food, the truth is when you google those terms, the search results are diabolical. Sinead Hennessy is a gentle sheperdess. She reminds us again and again of the benefits of changing the visuals of Irish food. She champions and she informs.
In a few words, she is a woman you should make your business to get to know and follow.
I’m talking to women in the food industry, what brought you into this category and what do you do?
I’ve always had a keen interest in food and in particular local food systems, growing up in West Cork, pride in food is very much part of daily life and the understanding that by buying local you are helping your own community is very strong. My family always appreciated and valued good food, my mother, a great cook is the reason for my appreciation for too much butter and my father, from a farming background worked in the Agri/Food industry all of his life. He was always an avid supporter of local food, I remember anytime that we went out to eat in the early 90’s (before menu provenance was a thing) he would insist on asking where everything came from – and if anything was from West Cork he was sold!
So that really was the basis that led me to where I am now, Food Tourism officer with Fáilte Ireland.
How does your career fulfil you?
I love what I do, food tourism is still an emerging space in Ireland and there is great energy building out there to advance in it. But mostly, I enjoy working with Ireland’s food and drink network, with their great comradery and endless passion, the best ones are disruptors and never stop challenging the status quo which is something I have a lot of respect for. There is something very satisfying about taking an idea from concept to a viable tourism enterprise and helping independent businesses grow by making positive change. I feel very privileged to be able to do all of that through my work.
What are your ambitions for the next 2 years?
After much development in the area, the big goal now is to ensure that Ireland’s food and drink gets pride of place across our destination marketing efforts. We need to let the world know what we have here and to expect great things when they visit.
What challenges do women face in the Irish Food industry?
The challenge is always about, respect, inclusion and balance, I think the barriers mainly arise within the hospitality arena, but also lack of representation at the top spot’s across the production side of the sector.
It’s incredible to see how immensely the food and restaurant business has changed over the past 10 years – yet how little has changed for women in that time. The pace of progress is totally out of step. But thankfully things are accelerating now thanks to the change and exemplary actions of women and men across the industry.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspires you and why.
An easier question would be to list 30! Genuinely, I am inspired by many many women chefs, entrepreneurs, educators, journalists, food writers and leaders in this space.
But I’ve always had an special respect for those women who move things forward unobtrusively, particularly in a destination sense, the ones behind the scenes that make things happen, the organisers, coordinators and ‘do’ers’ they create the environment for ideas and plans and then they make it all happen. Almost every food and industry network in Ireland has one of these driving forces and they aren’t given half enough credit. Manuela Spinelli, Ruth Hegarty, Jean O Connell, Maire Hennessy, Elaine O Donoghue, Olivia O Sullivan, Catriona Scully, Olivia Duff, Marie Brouder you know who I’m talking about!
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland.
Easy, at least equal if not proper access, participation and representation for women across all forums and platforms in food. And to offset presumption, merit still stands, always – no one should be compromised as there are plenty of talented female candidates out there for selection in every scenario – we just need to recondition ourselves to look.
And when that’s done, can we look at enriching the layer of diversity across all spheres such as position, age, culture etc….only gains can be made from widening the scope like this.
Have you had a wow moment to date in your career? If so which one was it and why?
My wow moments mostly centre around the achievements of others, in 2017 a group of Ireland’s food champions launched a social campaign to banish old stereotypes around Irish food by encouraging Ireland’s food industry to share images and updates using #thisisirishfood – this was a zero budget departure driven only by passionate individuals with an unwavering belief in Irish food and still makes me very proud!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t sweat the small stuff and go with your gut, always.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
First off you need an in-depth knowledge of 2 sectors (Food and Tourism) and then a good understanding of how they intersect.
Relationship management, commercial acumen, enterprise and destination development and capacity building are a requirement.
You also need to be able to roll out projects that are national in scale so good project management is essential.
What’s your go to comfort food and what do you cook when you want to impress?
Comfort food: Living my best life with Katie Sanderson’s Peanut Rayu on top of fried egg and proper chips……
Impressive cooking: As above!