Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Oonagh O’Dwyer, Wild Food Educator
Oonagh O’Dwyer is the woman behind the Wild Kitchen in the Burren.
I met Oonagh O’Dwyer in Ballyvaughan, in the late winter 2018 and I have been following her adventures ever since. I met her as part of an press trip to visit the Burren food trail. It’s a trip I often think about and Clare is a county I hold deeply in my heart. Oonagh is a horticulturist, educator and wild food cook.
When I think about seaweeds, I think of Oonagh O’Dwyer and her passion for the ocean and all things wild foods. She told me that, every single day, there is wild food on her plate and that is something I aspire to. She gives foraging talks and classes and if I didn’t live on the other side of the country, it would be a regular thing I would join in.
You can catch Oonagh at the Clare Slow Food Festival where she will give a seaweed workshop on the Sunday 12th.
I’m talking to women the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
Food has always played a huge part in my life, I grew up in the countryside at the butt of the Galtee Mountains, not far from my parent’s child-hood homes. The fields and forests were our playgrounds, and I developed a deep love of nature, wild plants and growing food ,which has stayed with me since.
We were reared on pigs’ heads and duck eggs and rabbits cooked in the oven with streaky rashers and field mushrooms fried in butter, a taste I will never forget, the tastes of my childhood.
My Mother was and still is a great cook, we baked apple pies and railway cake every Saturday and preserved the harvest that my Dad and I grew and gathered. When you grow your own food, you develop a deep appreciation of it’s importance.
Studying organic horticulture at an T-Ionad Glas, the wonderful organic college in Co. Limerick, furthered my love of plants, which in turn took me to Co. Clare, where I live with my 3 boys near the sea, and created Wild Kitchen 6 years ago.
How does your career fulfill you?
I created wild kitchen as a channel through which I can express and share my love of wild plants. This has developed into cookery demos, talks on wild food, organic foraged feasts and literally going wild in my kitchen using what’s out there to feed people. That others get inspired from that is fulfilling enough for me, but that I also run an ecotourism side to my business, which is hugely exciting This is an area that has huge potential, in this ever changing more eco-conscious world we now thankfully live in, with so much scope to share our amazing food with the world!
I love being my own boss and being in charge of my own destiny, with free reign to create.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Oonagh O’Dwyer?
I like to push the boundaries a little and have created a new work space from two shipping containers in my garden, an all weather space to teach, create and to use to develop new food products in. That Ireland is now a food destination is awful exciting, I love being involved in sustainable food tourism and I aim to develop what I do, as best as I can.
In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry in Ireland?
We need to see more incubator kitchens/hubs where like minded food producers and creators can work at stations and shared offices to bounce ideas off each other and experiment and create in a shared food environment, without the expense and often prohibitive red tape that doing it alone can bring.
Burn out is a big problem in the food industry, finding a good balance is not easy but essential.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
There are many, all the mammies of Ireland, feeding their families, with unending love and nurture that makes us who we are.
The many many people behind the scenes, the unsung heroes who are up at dawn baking bread, catching fish, tending to vegetables and farms and so much more, they are the cogs in the wheels of the Irish food industry, that keep it all going, take a bow.
Niamh Shields consistently inspires me cause she’s consistent! She was blogging about food when I had no idea what it even meant! And coincidentally her colourful and engaging blog Eat Like a girl is celebrating it’s 12th birthday about now. Niamh is an ex-pat living in London and her dedication and passion to share her food stories with us, has brought her all over the world, relaying tales of wonder and food delights through her great photography and talent and that Irish charm that is priceless and that I hope I will never tire of.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?
I think it’s getting better, gradually, Irish women have a great story to tell, platforms like this give them a voice. Thank you.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
My mum seeing me develop Wild Kitchen and believing in me all the way, she showed me the ropes and both her and Dad were the ones who created such a happy ,learning, self sufficient life style that has inspired me since and has meant so much to me. Another highlight was our Burren Food Trail winning the EDEN award, for local tourism and gastronomy and recently appearing in National Geographic magazine which featured one of my own photographs! Happy days.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Listen to advice from those who know, never give up, life can throw lots of challenges at you, believe in your self and take the plunge, you only live once.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
A good communicator as there is nothing more memorable than a real story told with honesty and passion.
To mind your mental and physical health, running a business as a busy single mother has many challenges.
On advice from a good friend, Tina, who runs the Tourism Space, make a vision statement to work towards, and enjoy the journey.
Seaweeds can be found more easily nowadays. What is a simple way to incorporate them in your cooking?
Use instead of tin foil, big sheets of Kelp to roast a chicken in or poach fish, or on the BBQ, then you get crispy seaweed to eat also! New seaweed like Sea Spaghetti are amazing to just eat raw, marinaded in lemon juice and a little maple syrup!
Another easy way to use them in everyday dishes is to flake them or grind them when dry. A great addition to soup, bread mix, omelette, fish, veg etc.