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What’s Cooking: A Q&A With Catherine Fulvio Of Ballyknocken House & Cookery School

On 28, Jul 2015 | In Newsroom | By admin

She’s a TV chef, author, and one of the most celebrated female culinary masters in Ireland.

Meet Catherine Fulvio, proprietor at Ballyknocken House & Cookery School, and foodie aficionado featured on “Recipe.TV” and  “A Taste Of.” Catherine juggles her diverse roles as Irish food ambassador, television personality, food writer and teacher with a precision only secondary to her knife skills.

Making every day in the kitchen exceptional, Catherine believes recipes should be both easy and delicious.  Her motto of “eat well, be well” and her “farm to plate” ethos are apparent in everything from her ingredients to her preparation and presentation. And even though she’s got a packed schedule (currently she’s filming  season 2 of “A Taste of Success”), Catherine put down her spatula to give us a taste of  life inside her kitchen.

Ballyknocken Guesthouse has a rich history – can you share it with us?

I am third generation here at Ballyknocken House in County Wicklow. It’s where my father grew up, and his father before him.  I feel responsible for the house. It’s a home: a Victorian farmhouse, it’s part of my heritage, and I’d like it to be part of my children’s heritage.

My grandparents purchased Ballyknocken Guesthouse in the 1940s and were fortunate enough to inherit old deeds and some interesting paperwork, dating back into the 1700s. In 1968 my mother was one of the first in Wicklow County to open the doors to guests and I have continued to build on her legacy. Just over ten years ago I converted the old milking parlour into a purpose built cookery school which has proved highly popular with both international and domestic visitors.

Today Ballyknocken operates as a charming family run Victorian Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast with Cookery School boasting a vegetable garden, an extensive herb garden and a soft fruit garden, not to mention the herd of sheep that my father still tends to daily.  There is no doubt that Ballyknocken House & Cookery School is a labour of love to our family.

Please tell us about your beautiful property just outside of Dublin. It’s more than just a guesthouse, right?  

I often feel we are blessed to live in County Wicklow, so close to Dublin city and the coast, with the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains on our doorstep.  We operate a guesthouse and a cookery school which offers a selection of day, weekend and residential cookery courses. I love the variety of our guests, from tourists to walkers to business people. While the emphasis in the cookery school at Ballyknocken is on local and seasonal produce and learning new skills our accommodation are called after local place names – most of which are unpronounceable such as Aghowle, and Knocknaphrumpha in County Wicklow, Ireland..

What inspired you to open the Ballyknocken Cookery School?

I was inspired by my mother –  she was very enterprising, she always had something on the go.  When I took over the Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast I soon saw an opportunity for a cookery school when increasingly guests to the house asked for this recipe and that recipe from the food we served.  Besides when I was small I thought I would like to be a teacher I just didn’t realise it was a cookery teacher!

You run the Ballyknocken Cookery School and Guest House with your husband, Claudio – how did you meet and what’s it like running a successful (and delicious!) business with your partner?

We met in O’Dwyers (Pub) of Mount Street in Dublin City on his very first day in Ireland!  An accountant, he had come over from London to audit a company — and, well the rest is history.

We both share a keen interest in food so we had that common ground from the start along with high standards, and we both knew what we wanted to create.  I look after the day-to-day running of the business and am the face of Ballyknocken, which has grown beyond my expectations, I am delighted to say!

Have you always loved to cook?

Yes, I have always enjoyed cooking and baking – in fact I grew up holding onto my mother’s apron strings.  Growing up on a working farm in Wicklow, I have always been around food and involved in putting food on the table, so in fact it is second nature.

Is it an Irish right-of-passage to learn to cook all of your wonderful traditional recipes from Irish Soda Bread to Irish Stew?

Every household probably has their own version of Soda Bread and indeed Irish Stew, it’s not a right of passage but yes both are traditional and indeed popular in many Irish homes still to this day.  Many traditional dishes are homely dishes, served to family, rather than ones which would be chosen on an evening out. Traditional Irish recipes tend to be very simple, with just a few ingredients in most cases.  Today in Ireland we have a broader palate and enjoy many international influences and cuisine many of which I feature in the cookery school and are very popular especially Asian flavours and of course Italian.

Do you have a favorite Irish dish you truly enjoy eating?

I have many favourite Irish dishes – it just depends on the season.  In spring there is nothing quite like the flavor of Wicklow Lamb.

Right now I am enjoying the wild garlic that is growing in abundance in the area and have to say I am loving my Wild Garlic & Rocket Soup from my award-winning cookbook “Eat Like an Italian.” This can be enjoyed for lunch or as a starter.  As a main course I am thinking Chargrilled Dublin Bay Prawns – perfect for al fresco dining and can be easily prepared on the BBQ. To finish I would go with a Fresh Fruit Tart topped with fresh Irish Strawberries. Yum!

Our Recipe.TV Producer and Crew loved traveling to Ireland to feature you and your recipes on “A Taste Of Ireland:  Ballyknocken Cookery School.” Believe it or not, you’ve become a fan favorite on our network – how does it make you feel knowing that Americans love you too?

I am humbled by the fact my TV series have aired in over a dozen countries around the world, it is great.  I have to pinch myself sometimes like when I am cooking on NBC Today Show showcasing Irish food for St Patrick’s Day.

What’s your favorite dish to make?

Home-made Carbonara is a Fulvio family favourite. Egg yolks and parmesan – no cream! Learned how to make this while filming “Catherine’s Roman Holiday”, I got one-to-one tuition from a member of the Carbonara Club in Rome and after all I am married to an Italian which means pasta features strongly on the menu!

What’s your approach/philosophy when it comes to cooking?

Farm to Fork; from growing up on a farm and learning about food production, coming from the background I do and living and working around food it every day here in Ballyknocken I recognise the importance of local seasonal produce.

Tell us about Ballyknocken House, and what it’s like balancing the hospitality portion of your business with the cooking classes?

Being in a people business, one thing that is very important to me is (whether in the cookery school of the guesthouse) to always treat people as I would like to be treated myself – this applies to staff and guests or indeed anybody I come in contact with during the working day.

Tell us about all of the amazing events that take place on your property besides cooking classes?

Everyday is different. One day it will be a coach tour coming to Ballyknocken to experience a “taste” of Ireland (excuse the pun) another it could be a corporate entertainment event with BBQs and other activities such as clay pigeon shooting and archery.  These take place especially during the summer months when our converted barns are in use.  Then there are of course many bookings for private parties whereby the house is taken over for special occasions and family reunions, this has become quite popular in the last year.  So really there are no boundaries to what we do.

How did you transition from cooking in your kitchen to cooking on television?

It happened as a result of a series of morning cookery slots I put together for an Irish TV station.  Of course I was nervous at first especially on live TV but that’s healthy, isn’t it?  I do love being behind the camera and found the transition quite easy, it’s all about being organised.  My biggest TV challenge so far was my most recent series “Lords & Ladles” where we visit six of the great Irish country houses cooking dishes from menus as far back as the 1600s. Aside from the challenge it was both educational and great fun!

What’s your favorite thing about Wicklow and Ireland?

I love where I live and I love everything the county has to offer.  We have wonderful gardens to visit, mountains to explore, and we are on the coast too – we really have it all.

Do you have a special story or favorite memory you can share with us while you were giving a cooking lesson?

I will always remember the lady who came to do a cookery class so she could entertain friends at home. She announced that despite being in her 60s she only had three recipes in her repertoire, which meant each time she had a dinner party she had to keep changing her friends as they all knew her recipes!

What’s next on the horizon for you and Ballyknocken?

There are many plans in the pipeline, I am currently filming for another series for RTE (national TV) and we expect to get another series for Lords and Ladles, there’s no shortage of country houses in Ireland and the series went down very well. Meanwhile I am also planning my next cookbook and am of course planning my next visit to the States – in fact, I am doing some recipe writing for a US company, Royal Rose, the world’s largest grower of Radicchio!

Follow Catherine on Facebook and Twitter for her latest recipes and activities.