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Louise Lennox and Food Scientist Aisling Larkin teamed up to create FoodOppi, an educational and fun food network for children as they told RTÉ LifeStyle's Taragh Loughrey-Grant.
Louise Lennox talks us through FoodOppi below and we'll feature the interview with her co-founder Aisling Larkin on Monday
What is FoodOppi?
Louise Lennox: FoodOppi is an online food network for children, packed full of fun, exciting video content which educates, entertains and empowers children on all of the wonders of food.
Foodoppi is an inspiring way to get children curious and creative with food and science which leads to healthier lives. Kids this age (7-12 years old) want to do things that are fun, original, creative and involve their friends. Parents now understand that creativity and fun are the best ways engage their children in learning.
We are starting a new kids movement where we are on a mission to promote our fun, creative, experience-based approach to children all over the globe.
What is your background?
Food is very much my background, which stems right back from when I was in primary school. My mum started her own food business and there was no childcare back then, she would pick me up from school and bring me to her factory which I loved. Both my mum and 5th class teacher Mr.Banville instilled my love and nurtured my interest in cooking.
Through that, I learned through self-belief and empowerment that you could be anything you wanted to be once you had a passion for it. The day after my leaving cert I got my first job working in a restaurant kitchen, it was hard work and long hours but I absolutely loved it.
I went to college and studied 'Culinary Arts' in Cathal Bruagh St and spent 10 years working in restaurants. After that I started up my first business, I had a pop-up bakery shop in Airfield, Dundrum and I also ran workshops teaching children about food and science. At the same time, I got my first job working on a television show called The Restaurant.
I devised recipe content and styled the food for the RTÉ’s children’s television show Grubz Up and co-hosted Pans on Fire; children's cookery series competition to find Ireland’s youngest and most talented chefs which aired on RTÉ 2.
I’ve been working on varies television and radio shows and also food writing for the past ten years. When I decided I wanted to develop the concept of teaching children about food I then furthered my expertise in this area by studying Diet, Health and Nutrition at DIT Kevin St.
How did you and FoodOppi co-founder Aisling Larkin meet and form the business?
We met purely by accident. It was a Saturday in May which was one of the hottest days of that year. I was booked to give a full day cookery class to the media. The day didn’t start off great as the staff couldn’t find the keys to open the door to the kitchen, then when I evenly got into the building half of the food order never arrived and 9 ovens were broken. I could see this being an absolute disaster. Out of nowhere, Aisling popped her head around the door to have a quick look at the kitchen as she was starting children cookery classes the following month. She asked if I needed any help, which I without giving it a second thought said yes. Her just popping in for a few minutes resulted in helping me for the entire day. She never asked nor would accept any money for helping me so we had a bottle of beer and we sat drinking it by the canal. After that day a strong friendship developed. It turned out that we had the very same vision, values and purpose when it came to engaging children with food and science. So setting up the business was the most natural step.
Science Week was a big one for you both - can you tell us more?
Heston Blumenthal is one of my favourite chefs. I think the way he mixes food with science is genius. I’ve always been interested in science, it was one of my strongest subjects in school. I loved the fun and wonder of experimenting. This year we put on an event for science week in association with Science Foundation Ireland, it booked out so quickly that we decided to also stream it live on Facebook. We wanted to capture children’s creativity and teach them scientific principals through chemistry and physics with fun edible experiments. It was a hands-on workshop where they learnt how to make fake fried eggs, fruit sausages painted toast with edible paint and created a bubbling fruit juice.
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You have great experience and advice to share with other people who have a great idea - beginning with making that first phone call - can you share that with us?
When I first started out I had no idea of the amount of support available out there for a start up business or even who to ask for advice. I came across the phone number for the local enterprise office in Wicklow. So I picked up the phone and called them. They were in creditably helpful and arranged that I come in and meet them the following week. I spent two hours telling them about my business idea. They told me about Enterprise Ireland's scheme called the competitive feasibility fund for female entrepreneurs. I applied and was excepted onto it. From there we were assigned a development advisor who was fantastic to work with. Not having a formal business background they put us in touch with Dublin Business Innovation Centre, we were given an amazing business mentor and we did a programme called Sprint. After that we applied for New Frontiers which is Enterprise Ireland's national entrepreneur development programme for innovation early- stage start-ups. This is run in association with DIT hothouse and 14 campus incubation centres across the country. We are very fortunate to be working with the Institute of art, design and technology in the media cube. Building a strong network around any start up is so important.
What's it like running a business as busy working mums? Any tips?
It’s harder than I would have ever imagined. Family time is so precious, especially when you are trying to meet deadlines. Luckily we are both early birds. We start work every morning at 6.30am, this way it gives us a good start to the day and more time in the evening to spend with our children. My only tip is not to let a messy home drive you mad. I’m no Wonder Woman so spending time playing with my son, eating dinner as a family together in the evenings and getting my son to bed means that catching up on any other work is more important than housework!
What do your average days look like?
No two days are the same. We are in the office at 6.30am and have our brainstorming meeting to get a good head start on the day before the phone starts ringing at 9am!
So Christmas - what's on the agenda...and menu?!
For the first time in years, I’m buying a real Christmas tree. I vowed never to again after my first Christmas living away from home my tree turned brown and died the week before Christmas. That has all changed now, my son is three-years-old so I want him to experience the smell of a real Christmas tree. We go ice skating on Christmas eve then all my family are spending Christmas day at my brother's house. All my siblings are making something for dinner.
I’m on dessert and homemade gravy duty. I swap cakes for turkey carcasses from my butcher so I can make the best gravy.
I'm not a fan of traditional Christmas pudding and mince pies so I’ll be baking chocolate eclairs and I’m making an ice-cream cake in the shape of a pudding with my nieces and little boy. My friend will basically move into my home on the 30th of December with her husband and triplet boys who are the same ages as my son and stay until the 2nd.
Louise The Restaurant is coming back?
It sure is. I’m delighted as I think it is a brilliant show to watch but it’s great fun to make. Marco Pierre White is back with Tom Doorley as the resident critics. And I’m back with all my boys in the kitchen. After all these years we really are like a family. The crew are so much fun to work with. We even start the day off with a sing-a-long of Put on a happy face! We’ll I did say I’m a morning person!