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My Weekend with UTV Life reporter Rita Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald on weekends spent in Donegal, the joy of cooking and summer reading.




Chef Paula McIntyre, Head of Hillsborough Castle Laura McCorry and UTV’s Rita Fitzgerald

Chef Paula McIntyre, Head of Hillsborough Castle Laura McCorry and UTV’s Rita Fitzgerald



The best time to get up at the weekend is?

I love a lie in at the weekends if I get the chance. Actually, my husband John, daughter Ellie and I, all enjoy a slow start to a Saturday morning after a busy week.

Breakfast or brunch?

It’s definitely brunch for me. I’ll only ever have water and coffee during my slow weekend mornings, ahead of a delicious brunch. During the week, if I’m out filming early, I’ll bring fruit with me to keep me going but if I’m at home I’ll have Greek yoghurt and muesli around mid-morning. At the weekends, John often makes a lovely brunch. Eggs Benedict sometimes but pancakes more often, and I’ll have a squeeze of lemon juice on mine with a piping hot coffee from the stove. I have an old coffee maker from Italy many moons ago and I’ll always reach for that instead of a fancy machine coffee. I think it’s the aroma as it bubbles away on the cooker.

What does an ideal Saturday look like?

Weekends are definitely family time. Whether it’s the three of us and Teddy our little dog or joining up with our families, we do lots of things together. I am one of nine children so there are often huge get-togethers, especially over summer when my brothers and their families are home from Australia. That usually involves a great craic music session when the guitars and bodhrans come out and inevitability a few sore heads the next morning. We have a house that John built in Donegal (he’s an architect), and we often go up there at the weekends, which is bliss. John’s family have a little house there too, so whether it’s in Donegal or at home, we’ve always got an opportunity to get the family together at the weekends. On those weekends it’s swimming in Lough Swilly, kayaking when it’s calm enough, and eating seafood as fresh as it comes.

What would your perfect Sunday be like?
Sunday has to be a lazy start with coffee and a paper, and very little needing to be done.

Do you prefer to be indoors or outdoors?

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Both indoors and outdoors for me. Because we split our weekends between Belfast and Donegal it really varies. As a family we are outdoors a lot in Donegal in all weathers. Up there it’s stick a waterproof on and get out regardless of the weather. At home, weekends are more of a chance for us to relax after the busy working and school week, and just be together.

How have weekends changed as you have gotten older?

Boy, have my weekends changed due to a combination of becoming a parent and just getting older. Back in the day I loved a good party. I still enjoy a good party with my close friends but these days that looks more like a good dinner out than dancing into the wee small hours.

If you could eat out anywhere tonight in NI, where would you go and why?

There are so many good places to eat out in Belfast now from high end dining to pop up fab food trucks, we are pretty spoiled for choice, but if there’s one place we go regularly, it’s Shed Bistro on the Ormeau Road. It’s just a friendly, neighbourhood bistro with excellent food, which is all I need. If I’m in town for lunch, I’ll pop into Carberry Cafe or Snax in the City. Both are really good, local, fresh and friendly too.

What would you have?

Anything seafood based for me.

At weekends you’ll always make time to…

Take Teddy the dog on a good walk. He loves the beach for a bounce around, but my car is always in a sorry state after that.

Do you sometimes work at weekends?

Occasionally I work at the weekends if perhaps we are pre filming at a festival or meeting up with a guest at an interesting location. Recently, we revamped UTV Life and it’s great fun. Every week I do a couple of inserts into the programme, and that could be jumping into the ring with professional boxers or falling out of a canoe during a water polo session, and it’s such a good laugh, I also present the programme occasionally and I really enjoy that too.

I also do freelance hosting, and on August 6-7, I will be at the Hillsborough Honey Fair at Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, where I will be hosting the chef demo stage. The event is a two-day honey extravaganza, with around 50 of our fabulous local food producers showing, sampling and selling their products with a honey twist, all brought together by Food NI. Plus, Hillsborough Castle and Gardens beekeepers and amazing gardeners, will be sharing their tips on how to keep bees happy in our own gardens. I’m really excited about meeting lots of local chefs on the demo stage, and chatting through their recipes and creations for the audience – hopefully I’ll get to sample lots of fresh, local dishes. Make sure you get your tickets booked.

Who would you most like to go for a drink with and why?

It would have to be the late Anthony Bourdain. I loved his passion for food and travel and his programmes exported me to exotic places. I also loved his irreverent approach to life.

Are you a weekend cook? If so, what’s your speciality dish?
I love cooking. The kitchen is where you will find me most evenings. I love throwing things together and, mostly, it works. I will always look for local, seasonal food for my dishes, and as much free-range organic as possible. I tend to spend more on organic produce and waste nothing. So, yesterday’s chicken becomes a soup etc. The joy of cooking I think comes from my time in France and Italy many years ago.

Who do you normally eat Sunday dinner with and where?
If in Belfast, it’s a Sunday roast with John and Ellie. Whatever we have been up to that day, our tummies are ready for the roast at 6pm. I’ll do a homemade stuffing and it has to be proper roast potatoes. I’ll buy in the Yorkshire puddings, though.

Too tired to cook – what are you ordering from the takeaway?
We enjoy seeing what new restaurants have been added to the delivery network so from a toasted sandwich from Smokey Deli in east Belfast to a new Asian fusion offering, there’s plenty to choose from.

Staying in… what TV/streaming/catch-up programmes are on the menu?

I love bingeing on Netflix. Any good Scandi noir or thriller. As a family we watch Stranger Things but I’m also a bit of a sucker for The Real Housewives of New York. I know a few brain cells expire watching it but, hey, I love it.

What are you reading? Fave type of book?

I love a good summer read. It’s honestly the only time of year I really get into reading. But I’ve just picked up The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mandelson and it looks like somewhere I’ll escape to over the summer.

Bedtime is?
Bedtime is always later than it should be. I like a glass of wine in the evening, perhaps too often, so I’ll swap that for a herbal tea sometimes.

The Hillsborough Honey Fair takes place on August 6-7at Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, and is supported by the Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme, Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council and Tourism NI. For tickets, visit hrp.org.uk/hillsborough-castle/whats-on/hillsborough-honey-fair

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