Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Wendy Gallagher, Food Tour Guide

Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Wendy Gallagher, Food Tour Guide

Wendy Gallagher is the founder of Catch and Sea, a unique food experience on the Causeway coast in Northern Ireland. 

Like Tracey Jeffery, Wendy Gallagher has created and curated an exciting and engaging food tour. Wendy is an experience hostess and in fact, she is a course trainer for World Host Training. 

Wendy Gallagher is also a Food Ambassador for Causeway Coast and the Glens Bourough Council area. She is an experienced and passionate advocate for the local food and the tour she offers reflect both this passion and a great sense of fun. 

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

I have worked in the tourism industry from a very early age – growing up on the Causeway Coast I had the advantage of being able to work directly within a busy tourist industry whilst at school/college, firstly in hospitality then in tourist information at the Giants Causeway (Ireland’s only World Heritage Site).  After studying a Travel and Tourism Management Degree I then worked in the industry until 2006 when I then became a Lecturer in Travel and Tourism at the local FE college that I studied in.

My business started through a combination of family circumstances and intense interest in highlighting the wonderful produce which is reared/grown on our doorstep.  My son who has developmental delay was starting school and needed additional support – my job didn’t offer the flexibility to offer that support; I had a passion for our fresh local produce and felt that more could be done to actively market this.

My decision to start the business coincided with the NI Year of Food and Drink in 2016 and I felt this would be an appropriate time to see if I could bring my dream of combining my 2 passions food & tourism into a viable tourism product.

Thankfully for me, the business has grown from strength to strength and we have grown tour options organically by listening to our customers and letting them guide us on further tour preferences.

How does your career fulfill you?

My career gives me a real sense of accomplishment and pride.  I absolutely love the area I have grown up in and feel so proud to showcase the hidden gems that I have always appreciated.  The people, our food heritage, our stories, our landscapes – it is hugely rewarding to see and feel the positive reaction from our visitors.

I offer visitors direct interaction with local farmers, food & drink producers, artisan markets & food events, local chefs and hospitality & activity providers.  It has been a real joy to build and develop these relationships, working collaboratively has made my tour portfolio stronger and is inspiring and motivational.  To be part of a strong network is important to me as a sole trader; having a team there to learn from and which offers such great support is invaluable for me.

Being able to work from home has also given me an outlet to create a much healthier and happier work/life balance.  Due to the caring responsibilities I currently have, the tours are a wonderful opportunity to step away from the daily routine and take the time to fully engage with and enjoy all the aspects that our stunning destination offers.  There is a saying; ‘Food for the body is not enough.  There must be food for the soul’.  I believe this, mixed with spending time with good people is a winning combination for positive mindfulness.

What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Wendy Gallagher?

  • Develop my visitor experiences with trusted partners, sharing our fabulous fresh local produce with both local and international visitors without losing the personal touch.
  • Encourage local food / hospitality outlets to use, stock and sell more local produce.
  • Help hosts, irrespective of their industry, to attain higher standards in the welcome they give our valued visitors and gain more business as a consequence.
  • Finally help people see tourism as a full career opportunity.

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

I think one of the biggest challenges is for women who have so much to offer,  yet are often restricted due to other demands.

Traditionally women have been seen in supporting, unskilled, roles: this is beginning to change. The emergence of them as leaders in their own sectors (Tracy Hamilton, Mash Direct, Helen Mulholland – first female master blender at Bushmills Distillery), award-winning chefs (Clare Smyth, Clodagh McKenna and our own Paula McIntyre) and Tara McCarthy (Bord Bia) has demonstrated that we can break out of that glass box to be world leaders in the food industry and help shape its future.

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

Darina Allen – I have always connected with her ethos around the importance of living off our land, using good homegrown or locally produced ingredients and being able to showcase our sense of place.  I had the pleasure of hearing Darina speak at an event here in Northern Ireland recently and was enthralled by her tales about foraging, memories of Myrtle and her menu planning and the importance of feeding family & visitors well.  Her enthusiasm and love of this island shone through and I can resonate with that.  I have also been an avid fan of Rachel Allen since ‘Rachel’s Favourite Food’ came into my possession in 2006.  Simple ingredients producing some of the tastiest food I have ever eaten!  A truly inspirational family.

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

It is down to women themselves – having the confidence to take those first steps and believe in their own vision and worth.  Articles like this and showcasing achievements of amazing women demonstrate our potential and capability: we need to grasp that knowledge and network with female leaders in other sectors to raise our profile.

What was the proudest moment of your career so far?

Oh my, that is a tough question……there have been many over the years.  There are 2 recent ones which I just can’t decide on – but as these mean the same thing to me, I think can mention both!

First; having my Catch and Sea Tour awarded ‘Highly Commended’ at the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards 2019 in the category ‘Authentic NI Experience of the Year – Tour, Trail or Immersive’.

Second; having this same tour selected as one of the immersive experiences Tourism NI used to launch their new Experience Brand ‘Embrace a Giant Spirit’ at the World Travel Market in London this October. 

To gain this recognition, support, promotional opportunities and belief from an industry body who I respect so much means the world to me.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Keep your head up and have confidence in your ability.  Don’t worry so much about what others think of you and don’t judge.  Be kind and have faith. 

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

  • Clarity of purpose – understanding what I want to achieve and how the visitor experiences I develop meet that vision.
  • Self-confidence – in myself, in my wonderful visitor experiences and my ability to sell them here – and abroad.
  • A listening ear – to hear my clients’ feedback and react to it – good or bad – to further develop the product to meet their needs and encourage them to return.
  • Resilience – being able to initiate and weather change, so necessary to developing my visitor experiences.

You’re making a Sunday roast, what are “all the trimmings”?

My children love Roast Beef, this must be accompanied by Yorkshire Pudding with gravy and Glens of Antrim Maris Piper potatoes, roasted in local Broighter Gold rosemary & garlic rapeseed oil.  We all love our vegetables and like locally grown produce in season.  At this time of the year we are enjoying gorgeous locally grown buttered carrots, roasted parsnips and cauliflower smothered in a creamy cheese sauce with horseradish sauce on the side. Plain and simple but so moreish, plenty always made so leftovers can be devoured later.

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