When most people think about a career in the food and drink industry, the first jobs that spring to mind are probably cooking, service and production. Chefs, waiters, bartenders, producers and brewers make up a huge part of our industry but if you dig a little deeper and peek behind the scenes you will find a whole host of people working in food and drink in a range of really interesting jobs
People often tell me how lucky I am to be a food journalist and I always agree. We caught up with just some of the people working in the industry whose jobs will make you so jealous you will be yearning for a career change.
Being the director for a brand the size of O’Briens means Lynne is responsible for sourcing over 1,000 wines and champagnes in the portfolio. Last year she became one of only four Masters of Wine in Ireland (there are less than 350 worldwide) and Lynne focuses on finding great quality wines from small family wineries.
On any given day Lynne is tasting wines, talking to her dedicated wine team, meeting with visiting winery partners, holding a masterclass, educating staff members or organising wine events for customers such as O’Briens’ twice annual wine fairs.
Lynne travels abroad several times a year to visit wineries where she meets with the winemakers and takes part in extensive tastings. She also travels with the Institute of Masters of Wine to help to educate students. Lynne tastes thousands of wines a year which she says is fascinating and occasionally a privilege.
I love wine! A product to simulate the senses, an agricultural product of the land which can reflect where it was grown and the grapes that it was made from, the thrill of finding something new, or something with an unusual twist, add the passion of the people involved and the fact that there is always more to learn and discover.
Working for a family owned business, Lynne sees first-hand the passion of the rest of the team and says everyone is devoted to the cause, ‘putting great wines in front of our customers’. Lynne recommends wine enthusiasts begin their journey in retail. “Retail is a great place to start as you have access to a wide range of wines to taste and study. It allows you to speak with and help the wine loving public with their wine choices which is educational, satisfying and enjoyable.”
Ali is involved in many aspects of the food industry including restaurant and menu consulting, writing and social media. When she is working on a TV show, Ali is responsible for all the food you see on the screen, from inception to the final shot.
If it’s a cookery show I might have written or adapted the recipe with the chef and I decide what elements you need to show on camera for the recipe to make sense. Sometimes I’m the one getting the food ready too, sourcing the ingredients. I need to make sure it all looks good. You need to be super organised as you have a whole film crew there depending on you. So much of the job is troubleshooting! You also need to really know your food and cooking, know what will work.
Most recently Ali was working on What Are You Eating? for RTE. She says she was proud to be able to communicate important messages about food. “Even if I changed the way one person ate or cooked something, that makes me pretty happy. When people say they took something away from it or learned something new it feels like all the hard work is worth it!”
Ali has worked hard over the years on shows like Market Kitchen and Great British Menu, where she worked on a winning dish with Tom Kerridge. Working with chefs of such a high pedigree is a great perk for her. “Getting paid to eat, cook, think, talk about food is pretty incredible. On top of that I get to work with super talented, creative, inspiring people; learning from legends is probably the best thing. I am incredibly nosy and inquisitive so I try and get as much from the chefs as I possibly can.”
Finding opportunities is key for Ali as the jobs she does are not advertised. She targets chefs and people she wants to work with on social media and seeks out collaborations. “I love the challenge of finding creative ways to work in food and the idea that anything is still possible. I’ve been working in this industry now for 15 years and I still learn something new every single day. You will have sleepless nights and you will need comfortable shoes. But I truly think it’s worth it.”
Ali is hoping for another series of What Are You Eating? to be commissioned but in the meantime she is busy this summer consulting on a range of projects and will be launching a new one with chef Hilary O’Hagan in September. This, Ali says, is going to be a ‘career highlight’ so watch this space.
Gill Books are one of Ireland’s largest publishers of non-fiction. Sarah’s role involves identifying potential authors, negotiating contracts, developing new ideas and then working with her authors to decide the content, style and publishing of their books. “Gill is an exciting company to work for as they are always looking ahead and are willing to take risks on new authors. I think there is a great ‘can do’ attitude in the company and we always aim to make the best book we can.”
Although I work on a range of books I particularly like working on the cookery titles – I love the way that no two are the same and each author brings their own personality to the recipes. I think the best bits are telling an author you want to commission them and the excitement of finding someone new and fresh.
Some days she can be found out and about at photoshoots, launches or other events and on other days Sarah will be at her desk, getting stuck into a manuscript. She says the unpredictable nature of publishing keeps them all on their toes and pushes them to do the best they can. “It is so satisfying to see a book do well and my motivation is often the relationships I develop with my authors – I really want them to end up with a book they love and that fulfils all its potential.”
Kevin has been working in the hospitality industry for nearly 20 years. He was plucked from behind the bar to be the first ever global ambassador for Teeling Whiskey due to his level of knowledge and passion for whiskey. Travelling the world, Kevin educates buyers, bars, restaurants and Teeling Distillery staff and visitors about the family owned brand. From trade shows in America to whiskey events in Germany, Kevin’s role consists of sales and marketing with a side of service.
There is no such thing as a typical day in this line of work and that’s one of the main reasons I love it. I was never made for sitting behind a desk! I’m lucky to spend around 100 days out of the country a year and get to eat and drink in some of the world’s best bars and restaurants. However, the best bit really is getting to meet the people involved and engaging with people from all over the world who share your passion for whiskey.
Kevin says it’s exciting working for a young and dynamic company like Teeling’s, with so many exciting projects happening like the opening of their distillery in the Liberties last year. With plenty more pencilled in for the future and a trip to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail this summer, Kevin has a lot to look forward to in his role. “Motivation is rarely an issue when you are doing what you love. To put it simply I get paid for my passion and would probably do it for free… just don’t tell the Teeling brothers!”
It’s not as glamorous as it looks though and Kevin says you have to be prepared for hard work and long and irregular hours if you want to follow his footsteps. “There are no shortcuts to this role and if you haven’t ‘paid your dues’ and spent your time learning your craft and the industry you won’t be effective in the role. It’s very difficult to stand up in front of a room full of discerning whiskey enthusiasts and fake it or in front of knowledgeable bar staff not having worked a day behind the bar in your life. They just won’t take you seriously, you won’t be credible and ultimately you will damage your brand.”
Sarah began her career working in hotels, designing menus and organising events. She has been working in product development for M&S for over 20 years and has worked on a range of products including sandwiches, tea, jam, pasta and even the famous Percy Pig! The product development team are responsible for taking a product from an idea to the shelf. “I am responsible for researching and coming up with new ideas for biscuits and sweets, tasting recipes, helping to design different types of packaging and visiting suppliers to see the foods being produced.”
I love introducing customers to foods that they’ve never heard of before and giving them the confidence to try new ingredients like spelt, chia seeds and cardamom. Getting inspiration from restaurants, markets and places around the world such as Paris and Barcelona is also really exciting and ensures that we keep up to date with the latest food trends.
This year the team travelled to Central and South America to find exotic flavours for the new ‘Spirit of Summer’ range. With over 300 products in the new range, you can imagine how many Sarah had to taste. “There are always more biscuits, chocolates and sweets to taste and new trends and flavours to introduce. I love finding a new flavour when you least expect it and then translating it into a new product. It’s important to know your food and understand how the quality of ingredients can make the difference between a good biscuit and a great biscuit!”
Having completed a PR course in the Fitzwilliam Institute, Claire got an internship with Elevate PR, an independent and creative PR and social media agency in Dublin. She worked her way up over the last 12 years and is now responsible for some of the biggest global brands in the food and drink industry including Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Bombay Sapphire and The Westin Hotel.
For Hennessy, the brand platform is culture so I have the opportunity to work with some of Ireland’s leading Arts institutions: IMMA, the National Gallery of Ireland and the RHA, and in turn, both emerging and established artists. It is a very interesting and rewarding brand to work on.
Claire loves working in Elevate because of the great team they have in place who make it a fun and creative place to work. “No two days in PR are the same really. For our food and drinks clients, it varies from issuing releases, pitching collaborators, sommeliers and brand ambassadors for interviews and acting as community managers to organising press trips, media tastings or visits to various restaurants or hotels and coordinating events.”
A big supporter of experience, Claire says internships as the best way to get a glimpse of what the industry is really like. “On the job training is the best way to see how this industry really works behind the scenes. Most PR courses now offer internships as part of the curriculum. Elevate has a strong history of taking on interns ever since it was founded in 2001, and we continue to do so. Many of our former interns have gone on to great things in Ireland and abroad. You can’t put a price on hands on experience.”
Julia is a commercial photographer who focuses on the food and drink industry. Her subjects range from artisan producers to Michelin Star restaurants and five star hotels. She moved to Galway four years ago and over time she has built up a regular client base including Aniar, The g Hotel and Kai Café and Restaurant. “I discovered that the West of Ireland was alive with fresh food initiatives, great chefs and high-profile restaurants. I saw there was a lack of good quality images of food in Galway and I felt I could fill that niche.”
Working for yourself comes with lots of benefits. Julia enjoys being in control of her schedule but maintains she is never alone as she collaborates with chefs, stylists and marketing teams to create her images.
People often mistakenly think that the job of a food photographer is just taking photos in fancy restaurants. The truth is, only 30% of my work is spent behind the camera on set. My job requires a lot of planning plus a big part of it is editing and processing images. I really enjoy the social media part of my job, I like to create and share content. I love when someone is genuinely interested in a photo or the story behind it.
For aspiring photographers Julia recommends hard work and investing in your relationships with your clients. “I think it’s very important to be enthusiastic about photography and genuinely love food. You have to experiment, adapt and never give up. It is also very important to surround yourself with people that you can learn from and get to know the industry. Some people are born with talent or good eye, but the truth is that if you work hard, you can become great. Once you are, you get so much joy from taking photos. You won’t remember the hard times, just the good ones.”
Lynda worked in top restaurants all over the world including Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir au Quat’Saisons before setting up the Dublin Cookery School. With a core team of tutors and regular appearances by some of Ireland’s top chefs, the school provides hands-on and demonstration classes across a whole range of topics.
One of the reasons I opened the cookery school was to be able to offer our flagship professional Three Month Certificate course. It’s a real spring board to the industry, which can lead students to working as a chef in restaurants, opening up their own café or restaurant, starting a catering company, setting up a farmers market stall or going down a different route and pursuing a food blogging or food styling venture. There are really so many exciting opportunities out there in the food industry.
Now working on her second cookbook, the follow up to From Lynda’s Table, it is clear that Lynda enjoys variety in her work and she admits she is always looking for the next challenge. “I love seeking new flavours and recipes and exploring different culinary paths. When I go away I’m always looking for new things to experiment with when I get back.”
Lynda says education and up-skilling is really important for succeeding in the food industry. “Decide the direction you want to go in and choose the path which will give you the training and skills to succeed. Work with people who inspire you. Our professional Three Month Certificate course introduces students to inspirational chefs who are working at the highest levels.”
Graham studied architecture in DIT before combining his skillset with his love of interior design. Together with business partner Ann-Marie O’Neill, they set up O’Donnell O’Neill Design 15 years ago. The company specialises in hospitality sector projects and have two studios in Dublin and Belfast.
They have been responsible for the interiors of The Dean Hotel, Angelina’s, VCC, Peruke & Periwig, House Leeson Street, 37, The Ivy, San Lorenzo’s, Odeon, The Bridge Ballsbridge, Opium, Pichet and most recently, Farrier & Draper.
I’m lucky in that I enjoy all aspects of the job. I particularly love working on new projects and on the initial concept design stages and also being on site seeing the projects we design evolve and become reality. We have built an amazing team of creative and talented designers at O’Donnell O’Neill and I like the team mentality we have developed for design creativity and problem solving.
Graham explains that having a successful career in design requires a strong work ethic and usually attracts a certain type of person. “A career in design is unique in that it suits lateral thinkers and creative individuals that naturally ‘think outside of the box’. Every idea starts with a blank white sheet of paper and transforms into interior spaces that are exciting, endearing and desirable that people socialise in and enjoy.”
Food PR is an agency specialising in the PR and marketing of food producers, events, chefs and restaurants. Olivia has been responsible for some of Ireland’s most recognisable culinary campaigns and successful events and her client list includes Maria Lucia Bakes, Drummond House Garlic and the Boyne Valley Food Series.
Most notably Olivia works alongside Michelin Starred chef JP McMahon on his restaurants and Food on the Edge, the annual gastronomical symposium in Galway. Recently she travelled to the launch of FOTE in Copenhagen and her team will be looking after all the day to day operations in October.
I work with a great team of PR consultants and Social Media geniuses. I have been in some of the world’s best restaurants, I can usually wrangle a last minute booking somewhere and have rubbed shoulders with some very inspiring people in the world of food; however, the best part about my job is the people I work with. The creativity from the team at Food PR when we are ‘in flow’ and working with clients that appreciate what we do, that trust us, that are open to ideas – they are the best bits.
Olivia admits that she is an ‘ideas person’, her latest one is a bespoke service for small and independent businesses called #Mouthful that will provide bitesize communications consultancy and is due to launch soon.
Keeping track of the industry is key to success in PR and Olivia suggests that potential consultants hone their storytelling skills and immerse themselves in the industry. “It’s crucial to know who is who in the world of food both at home and internationally. The food we eat today, and how we eat, is inspired by the philosophy of chefs at the top of their game. We need to be able to preempt the trends in food and the trends in marketing.”
Working for Bord Bia, Roz is involved with some of Ireland’s biggest food projects like the ‘PR dream’ that is the annual Bloom Festival, which just celebrated its 10th year. Her team is responsible for using the organisation’s media presence and social media platforms to promote the food and drink industry.
While it is an incredibly busy job, it certainly isn’t boring! I get to travel a few times a year and I always enjoy experiencing new places. I was in the Middle East earlier this year with RTE Radio One’s Countrywide show – they broadcast an hour-long special live from Dubai focusing on the success of Irish food in the market.
One of the benefits for Roz of working for an organisation like Bord Bia is she doesn’t have to deal with the negativity that exists in other industries. “On occasion, I may have to deal with a complex media query or indeed a food crisis but for the most part, I am lucky enough to work on positive news, success stories and events. As a Communications Manager, that’s a great position to be in.”
For anyone interested in working in PR, Roz recommends investing in education by taking part in a relevant course. “Experience also goes a long way so do what it takes to get your foot in the door. I started my career with a four month unpaid internship. It isn’t ideal, however that experience got me my first ‘real’ job and I haven’t looked back.”
Alison has been writing since she could hold a pen, which came in handy for her degree in English, Media and Cultural Studies. She has been working in media since graduating and is the latest features writer for TheTaste.
Writing for TheTaste allows her to combine her passion for the written word with her love of food and drink. Find her on Twitter @AliDalyo