Meet Ireland’s Martha Stewart – Food Stylist, Cook and Author Sharon Hearne Smith
Food stylist, author, cook, homemaker, mother and even Disney princess, just some of the ways you could describe Sharon Hearne Smith. Though when I meet with her, in the canteen of RTÉ after she had finished a radio interview, she likens herself to a mountain goat.
She says that when writing the acknowledgements in her new book The No Cook Cookbook that she wrote ‘Thank you to everyone who helps me climb my mountain’, full stop. “Then my editor edited it and she added an s. I read it and it was like a eureka moment, it literally changed my life. Here I am thinking I’m never going to get to the top, but she made me realise that I am at the top of my mountain with this book, I’ve done it!”
“I have lots of different mountains going on, I have loads of goals, and I want everything to be perfect so I go slowly. I’m like a mountain goat!”
Sharon is dressed in her signature retro glam attire; a green dress cinched in a the waist with a white trim, matching earrings, polka dot painted nails, winged eyeliner and, as always, a 1950s beehive hairdo. The Disney princess analogy refers to the even more eye-catching outfit she donned at her book launch the previous evening. Children and adults alike were left spellbound as she floated around in a light blue prom dress with sequins and a baby pink underlay, and a beehive fitted with halo of blossoming flowers.
Sharon has been leaving people spellbound not only through her style, but through her work over 16 years, sprinkling her magic across London, New York and Dublin on photo shoots for magazines and cookbooks, TV cookery shows, commercials, live cookery demos and even movies including Die Another Day.
“I grew up in a restaurant,” Sharon says of her early introduction to the food world. “My parents bought The Lobster Pot in Wexford when I was ten. Every summer I was put where I was needed, be it at the bar, kitchen or waitressing. But because they knew I had a flair for the kitchen they often put me there.”
“I always loved flicking through food magazines too and never thought about how the photos actually got there, but I thought I’d love to work at a food magazine.”
She trained as a Home Economics teacher, equipping her with essential food knowledge and after a brief stint teaching in London she finally got an in at BBC Good Food Magazine and swiftly fell down the rabbit hole and into the world of food styling. Through the contacts she made there, in her early twenties Sharon began working as a freelance assistant on photo shoots and soon she found herself getting her own work as a food stylist and home economist.
Building a reputation in the industry for her attention to detail and work ethic, Sharon was head hunted to work with some of the top names in food in the media: Jamie Oliver, James Martin, Lorraine Pascale, Ina Garten, Gordon Ramsay, Gary Rhodes and, closer to home, Neven Maguire, Rachel Allen and Kevin Dundon, to name a few. Working on Ready Steady Cook for ten years, she met countless other chefs and celebrities too, though Sharon says she was often oblivious to their star status, recalling the time she refused to leave Mike Tyson into the studio until he had clearance.
“The first time I met Jamie Oliver I was assistant on a food shoot and every day I would make sure everything was tidy and cleaned up at the end of the shoot and I’d come in the next morning and everything would be moved around.” Sharon was told there was a young chef who came in to shoot a cookbook at night time and when she finally met him she “gave him a good Irish mammy telling off, telling him to clean up after himself”. It was some time after that she realised it was Jamie, shooting his very first book The Naked Chef.
Since having her first child Pearl five years ago, Sharon is now more firmly rooted at her home in Dublin 12, where she lives with husband Martin and second daughter Poppy, aged one. Far from curtail her career, this has allowed her to finally step out from behind the camera and “do her own thing”.
Exactly two years ago she published her first book The No Bake Cookbook. A feast for the eyes, the book includes recipes for Iced Lemon Meringue Cake, Striped Blueberry Cheesecake and Deep-pan Double-chocolate Mousse Pie; but with a twist – there is no oven involved, and instead they are all magicked up in a fridge, freezer, microwave or blender, or even a sandwich toaster.
“I have always loved baking, and I wanted to do a baking book but I thought ‘what could I do that’s different?’. So, by taking the oven out of the equation it just made me think differently, and it made me be really creative.”
The No Cook Cookbook expands on the same philosophy with no-cook interpretations of familiar kitchen classics. “I took everything out of the equation, no cooking at all. It just made it really interesting. I still have things like burgers, pizzas, risottos. I made sure that every recipe was based on a concept that normally is cooked or used cooked ingredients that you would normally have to cook.”
“I’m all about the shortcuts. I make a big deal about my supermarket cheats or shortcuts, so already roasted nuts, canned beans, cooked prawns, roast peppers, half a roast chicken.” Sharon explains. “While I don’t condone ready meals, these ingredients are still healthy and they are convenient.”
The healthy quality of the book was an unintended result Sharon says: “it wasn’t the aim of the book, but it turned out to be a really healthy book. Loads of recipes are gluten-free, dairy-free, even my deserts chapter most things are refined sugar-free”. Though she notes that the Salted Caramel Popcorn Fudge that I had scoffed at her book launch the night before was the ‘dirty one’. “It’s a reflection of the way I eat anyway – people think I bake all day and eat desserts all day, but they are for treats.”
A more intentional result was how the recipes are built for convenience. “I go on a lot about the ‘busy mum’ thing because that’s me and that’s where the book came from, me being busy last summer with the kids and not having time to cook.”
“On Maternity leave last year, you just can’t put the baby out of your arms and I was really struggling to and frustrated not being able to cook, not being even able to turn on the cooker. You know you start frying something off and you have to abandon it because the baby pukes on you or something! It was so frustrating because I want to eat healthy, home cooked food.”
“With the no cook recipes everything can be prepared in advance, even components of them, and then assembled last minute. It was survival.”
The No Cook Cookbook is natural fit for mothers, but also “people who are scared of cooking because it completely takes the risk out of cooking, and experienced cooks too, even for me I find it interesting because there is a twist on the norm – like the Watermelon Pizza recipe.”
The book of course is pure eye candy and working on her own projects gives Sharon a platform to express her personal style and interests; not just food, but all things fashion, interiors and crafts. “I trained as a Home Ec. teacher, so my degree was cooking, textiles, flower arranging, starching linen tablecloths, all of it, and that’s what I want to get back to doing as part as my job,” says Sharon. “My days behind the scenes have come to an end, I hope to have my own TV show now.”
“The whole Martha Stewart thing, her whole empire, that’s what I want. I am going to be the Martha Show. That’s the game plan, that’s the goal.”
While still very much in the planning process, Sharon’s next mountain is in the form of a live daytime TV series, with “cooking and guests on to chat to, life stories as well as the whole crafty, home makers side of thing. For me it’s all about the family and everything to do with the family, so relationships and the food that we eat and the home that we live in. It will be a mixture of things, The Martha Show and Cilla Blacks ‘Surpise Surprise’, mixed with Kirsty Allsopp’s shows.”
The TV show is Sharon’s next big mountain, but rather than stressing she says she will do her mountain goat thing, slowly hopping to the top one rock at a time. Sharon smiles and quotes her friend and colleague Donal Skehan, “you have to celebrate the successes big and small”.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after a brief dalliance with law, she completed a Masters degree in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.