Rachel Allen: 'I've always loved the creativity of cooking, but didn't dream it would lead to TV career'
Television chef Rachel Allen tells us she just loves Northern Ireland, as she prepares to tickle our tastebuds tomorrow at the Lurgan Park Show
There will be a rare chance for local people to enjoy gourmet food cooked by a celebrity chef, when Rachel Allen comes to Northern Ireland tomorrow.
The famous RTE and BBC cook and author will be whipping up treats for visitors to the annual Lurgan Park Show.
In what will be a new highlight for the show, local award-winning chef and proprietor of the Yellow Door Deli, Simon Dougan, will be hosting a Food Heartland event which has been organised by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.
Rachel (44), who lives in Cork, is looking forward to treating the public to a wide range of delicious local dishes and delicacies, including Lough Neagh eels and Bramley apples.
She will also be dishing out some handy hints and tips on home cooking and visitors will have the opportunity to ask her for advice on how to cook the perfect meal.
Wholesome home cooking is at the heart of Rachel's trademark dishes and her love of regional produce has seen her dubbed in the UK as the Irish cooking queen.
In her best-selling cookbooks and on TV, her food is all about family and dishes that celebrate simple, honest flavours.
She became an instant hit in 2004 with her first RTE series Rachel's Favourite Food, which went on to be broadcast in Australia, Canada and Italy. She published her first book Rachel's Favourite Food to accompany the series. She became a TV regular after that, producing a book to accompany each of her 14 series.
One of the presenters of the Good Food Channel's Market Kitchen, she is also a frequent guest on BBC's popular Saturday Kitchen.
As well as a successful TV and writing career, she also manages to teach in the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School, where she learnt her trade as a teenager.
She says she never dreamt that her childhood love of baking at home with her mum and sister would lead to a career in TV.
As a busy mum to Joshua (16), Lucca (13) and Scarlett (7), she credits her husband Isaac (44), who is now her manager, with making it all possible.
"Cooking was just a great hobby and I loved doing it. I loved the creativity and no, I never would have dreamt that it would lead to a career on TV.
"I actually thought I would be designing shoes, because I also wanted to be a shoe designer when I was growing up. I really couldn't do it without my husband and for me, he really is the key.
"He picks up the pieces when I am not at home and it just works. He is my manager now and it evolved into that and I know for some couples working together is not ideal, but it works so well for us."
Rachel was brought up in Dublin. Her mum encouraged her love of cooking and at the age of 18 she went to the Ballymaloe Cookery School.
After graduating from the school she cooked at the Ballymaloe House Hotel, eventually returning to teach at the school.
It was when an RTE producer enrolled in a cookery course at the school 14 years ago that she was asked if she would like to do a TV show.
She says: "I was pregnant with Lucca and Joshua was just a toddler and I wasn't thinking about anything like that at all, but I said 'yes' and we did a pilot and RTE liked it and that was it. It is funny how these things happen.
"My husband then said I should write a cookbook to go with the series and I have written a cookbook for every series since and I now have 14. I can't believe that it was 14-and-a-half years ago when it all started.
"It has been a bit of a juggle with three kids, but I count myself lucky to be able to do it and still have a sane, lovely family life - I hope!"
She credits her childhood experiences baking with her mum for her successful career and feels strongly that every child should be taught to cook in school.
She says: "I was very lucky that mum always cooked lovely food at home. When mum realised I wanted to make a career of it she encouraged me to try cooking more involved dishes as I always loved to just bake buns.
"It is amazing how many young children don't see home cooking and I really believe that it should be compulsory in schools that every child should learn how to cook, rather than cookery just being an option.
"My food is simple and wholesome and I'm not necessarily driven by trends although I do like to experiment with different cuisines.
"I don't cut out carbs and fat. I believe in a good healthy balance like how our grandparents would have eaten. My mother-in-law and my grandmother-in-law also have been great influences on my cooking."
Away from the TV spotlight, Rachel enjoys a quiet family life in a beautiful seaside home overlooking Ballycotton Bay in Cork.
Her children all enjoy cooking in the kitchen with their famous mum, but she doesn't know yet if any of them will follow in her footsteps.
She says: "They are all pretty good, but they seem to have other plans, although Scarlett might take it more seriously. However, she is a bit young yet.
"I think what is so important about cooking at home and baking with children is that as well as giving them important skills you just don't know if you are also setting them up for a future career."
With such a huge appetite for cookery shows on TV, Rachel has her favourites among the many celebrity chefs who regularly grace our screens, one of whom is our own Paul Rankin, along with fellow Irish celebrity chef Neven Maguire.
She says: "Cooking on TV has just become so big and whatever it is I don't know, but there are so many shows like Masterchef and the Great British Bake Off and I think it is fantastic that people are interested. It is just brilliant.
"Rick Stein would be one of my favourites; he is just one of the great cooks and I love his cooking, he is a great man. I love Paul Rankin's food and Neven Maguire is just the biggest gentleman and great fun."
She says she loves getting to Northern Ireland where she has good friends, although her busy schedule means she doesn't get to visit the province often enough.
Her visit to Lurgan tomorrow will be a flying one, as she is back home for a cookery demonstration in her home town on Sunday. But she is genuinely excited about coming to Northern Ireland.
She says: "I have friends in Belfast who visit us and who wanted us to stay over this weekend and I am really sad that we can't. I have a cookery demonstration on Sunday at home and will be cooking fish on my local pier.
"I'm really looking forward to going to Lurgan Show and I'm excited about cooking with your local produce and Lough Neagh eels.
"I will be cooking a few dishes and hopefully people will get a chance to sample them. I am cooking clam pasta with local gin and I will be doing a chocolate mousse with salted caramel sauce and shortbread biscuits made with your local butter and I will also be cooking with some lovely local balsamic vinegar.
"I am looking forward to meeting local people and to working with the other chefs and it should be fun and hopefully the sun will shine."
As well as the chance to meet and sample Rachel's cooking, there will be other chef demonstrations and cooking tips from skilled members of the Food Heartland Forum, including: The Moody Boar Bistro & Restaurant, The Armagh City Hotel, Uluru Bar and Grill and Yellow Door Deli, Portadown.
A Food Heartland Village will also be offering some gorgeous grub from Abernethy Butter, Wilson's Country Potatoes, Burren Balsamics, Harnett Oils, Long Meadow Cider (trading non-alcoholic produce only), Yellow Door Deli, Heavenly Cupcakes and Quail's.
For further information about the Lurgan Show, go to www.discovercraigavon.com or www.facebook.com/discovercraigavon