Ciara Gorman Fennessy is owner of Ciara’s Kitchen, a cooking demonstration class with a difference, and mum to twins and recipe testers, Holly and Freddie (4).
I studied Commerce in UCD and worked in a marketing job for years. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my dream. My parents had wanted me to get a degree before pursuing a career in cooking! In 2004, I headed to Ballymaloe for their intensive three month cooking course. Then I worked in pastry in Avoca and taught in a few cooking schools before going back to my marketing career. However, redundancy came up in 2009, so I took it, had the twins in 2010 and set up Ciara’s Kitchen shortly after and I haven’t looked back since.
Ciara’s Kitchen is a cooking demonstration kitchen where people come along to watch me cook and learn in the process. The main goal is to teach people of all levels how to cook different dishes and to inspire them to try and taste new ingredients all while enjoying a fun night out. I keep groups small, and everyone gets to see exactly what I am doing, ask questions and taste everything once it is ready.
What makes your product different?
I have a genuine passion for what I do, and I think that comes across to my customers. I really want people to leave Ciara’s Kitchen and recreate what I have shown them at home. I want to inspire people to get back in their kitchens and create some great dishes. We are all busy but cooking a meal at home can be quite often quicker than dialling the takeaway.
The offering is unique. I have around eight people at a time, so it’s sociable and fun. Each night is booked separately so people can come on their own or make a night of it with friends. Topics change monthly and range from BBQ to fish, Indian to Italian, paleo to desserts – I cover it all! The demos are reasonably priced so it’s affordable to come along every few weeks and learn a mix of skills. I get about 90 per cent repeat business, so that’s a good sign!
How did your business evolve?
I realised early on that teaching cooking was what I wanted to do. There was a definite gap in the market for a smaller venue that was not classroom style. I wanted my customers to feel comfortable and at home. I wanted a sociable atmosphere where people would not be afraid to ask questions. I didn’t want to copy what was already out there, and I really wanted my customers to come away feeling they had a really enjoyable night out that didn’t cost the earth. I wanted all of this, and I wanted to be a stay at home mum!
What was the tipping point?
The tipping point was when I actually had that realisation that I could work from home doing something that I love. Then I received approval from the Environmental Health Officer, organised my insurance, set up the company and got my first lot of customers. It all grew from there.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known?
I wish I had known where I would end up. That I could make a success working for myself. I would have started it years ago and built a bigger kitchen!
What are the benefits of working for yourself?
I can plan my schedule to a certain extent so I can plan my work around my kids. They start junior infants in September, so I plan to work in the mornings and evenings and have the afternoons free. That’s the plan anyway. I feel extremely lucky to be doing a job that I love and still have lots of time for my kids. I am proud of what I have achieved so far and am excited about my future in the food industry.
Also, working with great brands like Siucra, Marks & Spencer and Aptaclub means my days are varied and can involve anything from recipe development, TV show appearances, festival appearances and TV/Online recordings. I am working really hard at growing the corporate end of the business. The more I can marry my interest in business with my passion for cooking, the better.
And the drawbacks?
I feel like I am always working, even on holidays, at the cinema, at the playground. Wherever I am, my head is working. It is very hard to step away from it all. I miss having colleagues and the craic of an office environment. It used to be very difficult to turn work away as you want to please everyone. Now I’m more comfortable saying ‘no’ to a corporate opportunity if it doesn’t fit my plan for the brand.
How do you balance such a busy schedule?
The benefit of being a mum of twins is that I got used to very little sleep and can now survive on about 4 or 5 hours a night, so I tend to work late into the night. My husband Ronan is very supportive. He takes over the running of the house when he comes in from his job. He has been the breadwinner while I got Ciara’s Kitchen up and running so without his support I would not be doing what I love. Plus he loves cleaning so the bigger the mess I make in the kitchen, the better!
What advice would you give to a wannabe entrepreneur?
If possible test your idea out on a small scale first without investing too much. If you have a good idea, then test it. Don’t keep putting it on the long finger. It could be the best thing you ever do. People have a fear of failure but if you don’t try something you will never know if it can be a success.
What’s next for you?
I would love to write a cook book. I have so many ideas. People are following so many diets, but I love all food so I would love to develop a book that people would actually use. A book about eating a good and varied diet but with the odd treat. It’s all about eating in moderation in my opinion.
I have definite plans to work strategically with more brands and develop recipes for them. Early next year I will be taking Ciara’s Kitchen on the road, bringing great food and fun evenings to lots more people.
Watch this space at Ciara’s Kitchen!