After spending four years in Italy, TV chef Clodagh McKenna is back home, and this time, she tells Janice Butler, it's for good!
After spending four years in Italy, TV chef Clodagh McKenna is back home, and this time, she tells the RTÉ Guide's Janice Butler, it's for good!
If Clodagh McKenna was a season, there is no doubt that it would be summer. From her sunny deposition, to her laidback attitude and positive outlook, the popular TV chef embodies everything that's wonderful about these bright and breezy months.
So what better way to combine the two, than with a gourmet picnic on a sunny south Dublin beach? From the setting, to her clothes and those balloons, Clodagh immersed herself in all things summer; she was unphased by a wardrobe change in the back of her Jeep. With a new TV series about to start, a new book and a food empire on the horizon, it's no surprise that Clodagh has a lot to smile about. After settling in Turin in northern Italy for four years, the chef is back home on Irish soil, and is adamant that this time it's for good.
"I was in Italy for four years and I moved back to Ireland about eight months ago. This is definitely a permanent move," she insists.
Part of the reason for the relocation, she explains, is down to the end of her relationship with ex-boyfriend Sebastiano Sardo, whom she met through the Slow Food Movement.
"I missed home so much," she admits. "I was going out with my boyfriend for four years and we were friends for 10 years before that. It was the most amicable break-up, the relationship floated into more of a friendship. We both kind of knew that it was coming to an end. We're still really good friends, it all happened quite naturally and I'm so happy to be back in Ireland."
"I'm a Guinness girl, you know," she proclaims, as I wonder where she puts it. "I missed having a pint with my friends in the local." So after spending years in sunny Italy, surrounded by exquisite food, fines wines and la dolce vita, how has she settled back to an, at the moment, uncertain Ireland?
"Of course it was incredibly beautiful, but Ireland is too," she says. "Believe it or not, coming back I find Irish people incredibly positive, compared to other cultures. The Italians can be quite pessimistic, especially during the recession, it was actually quite doom and gloom over there."
Although still relatively new to the TV scene, the chef has already recorded three TV series for RTÉ, with a fourth, another series of 'Fresh from the Sea', starting on 22 June. Bringing a new twist to the show, Clodagh - a self-confessed adrenaline junkie - will be taking part in water-based activities to demonstrate the wealth of things to do around the coast, including sailing, kayaking, dinghy sailing and an amazing helicopter trip to Fastnet, as well as travelling around the country to meet the people who produce some of the most highly prized seafood in the world.
"We filmed it about three months ago and we spent about five months going around the coast of Ireland," she says with a proud smile. "We did everything, from a helicopter trip to Fastnet to kayaking with Fungi the dolphin. I guess I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie, I'd be up for most things," she laughs.
"We also used this series as a real opportunity to let fishermen speak. There are parts of it that are incredibly informative. I mean, I learnt so much about the fishing industry from it myself," she adds.
Although it's hard to believe she can fit in any more, Clodagh will open the doors to her new cookery school, café and kitchen store at the beautiful village of Lyons in Co Kildare this month. "I'm so excited about it," she enthuses. "I'll be hands on, working every day in the school, nine to five."
Although it's quite clear that Clodagh has very big dreams, she says that having a cookery school is her biggest.
"I'm really looking forward to opening a cookery school. I've been travelling so much, since I was 13 really. I lived in New York for four years, then Paris and Italy. I've always dreamed of being able to put together my own menu and teaching other people what I know.
"It's a perk and a bit of fun but it's not my whole world," she says of her burgeoning TV career. "Things that make me really excited are the school and being able to walk into my café and see all the dishes on the table."
While she's the poster girl for SuperValu, has her own range of aprons and is due to launch a collection for Tipperary Crystal, she claims that it's only in the last few weeks that she has noticed people recognising her or spotted her name in the papers - a part of the job that she's finding strange to adapt to.
"I threw a bit of as wobbly last week when I opened a newspaper and saw a whole article about me and my ex-boyfriend. It was all really nice, but I just got a shock.
"But I'm very lucky, I've never had anyone write anything mean. But then again I don't really get up to much, I'm a hard worker, you won't see me falling out of clubs, so there's probably not much to write about me.
"At the end of the day for me it's not about being a celebrity. If I could do my job without the promotion part of it I would. The dreams that I have are to write cookery books and have my school . . . that's what I strive for."
So, as the tide rolls in on our day at the beach, I wonder with if Clodagh, with so much on her, er, plate, has room for anything else, a special someone, for example?
"Yes I have a boyfriend, Peter, an Irish boy," she says with a grin.
"We've been seeing each other about four months now. He's so lovely, we get on really well. He's from Tipperary, but living in Dublin, I like country men."
How does he deal with her hectic lifestyle? "I have a good work/life balance but it helps that he's quite laidback and works around my schedule.
"He's like me, the whole TV thing just goes over his head, he has no interest in the glossiness of that. Neither do I; what brings me happiness is being proud of what I do and being respected for the work I do - that's true bliss for me."