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Learning From A Food Entrepreneur

“I suddenly realised that the faraway hills were green, and that what we had under our noses, at home in the garden and the farm and the boats at Ballycotton, was just as good.

I said, My God, we have all this wonderful produce, we can use it all.”

—Darina Allen

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting down for lunch with Darina Allen.

If you’re not Irish, you probably don’t know her, but if you are you’ll know that she’s a household name. She was one of the original celebrity chefs and one of the pioneers behind the now world renowned Ballymaloe Cookery school.

I was meeting Darina to discuss her appearance at my annual networking dinner for women leaders, The Dinner For Ladies Who Don’t Lunch, which takes place in early November.

Over a couple of hours she shared with me some of her story.

What I found fascinating was that most of the breakthrough moments came from adversity.

For example, she always wanted to cook but when she left school women were not allowed to become chefs. But she persisted and that persistence paid off when she was given the address of a woman in Cork, Myrtle Allen, who was doing things a little differently.

Myrtle Allen hired her and thus was borne a very interesting partnership.

Indeed, the origin of the now famous cookery school wasn’t because of some grand vision but started as an act of desperation to make ends meet.

The family had been running a glasshouse based business growing vegetables which depended hugely on fossil fuels at the time to heat them. And when the 1979 oil crisis hit, the family were forced to look at other options.

One of them was to start teaching people cooking skills. And it worked so well they kept adding on more and more capacity until it became a thriving centre for teaching people all over the world how to cook naturally.

The above quote was in reference to looking at what they had around them and exploring new ways to make money.

Then another break came when someone volunteered her name to be the presenter of a new type of TV pilot. She told me she was terrified of the opportunity but felt she had to try anything that would help the family business.

Simply Delicious aired in 1989 and overnight she became a national celebrity. The show ran for nine seasons and spawned a series of books. Not one to let the grass grow under her feet, in the last couple of weeks, she has published her 19th book.

I’ve heard many speak of how adversity and painful challenges were the keys to later success. But when adversity strikes, it’s easy to forget that and we can often hide from reality, and hope to avoid the pain.

But the gems are in the pain.

And the way to get at those gems is to fully engage with what’s before us.

Where is the adversity around you?

What can you do this week to better engage?

Where are the potential opportunities in that adversity?


ps – If you’re interested in attending the Dinner For Ladies Who Don’t Lunch, you can do so here. It’s on Wednesday 6th November in Saba, Clarendon Street, in Dublin City. We’re nearly full so I’d advise buying this week.

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