A cer­tain pop diva in­sisted that Nikki Walsh drop her cho­sen busi­ness name, but that gl­itch hasn’t stopped this Aga am­bas­sador blaz­ing a suc­cess­ful trail in the cook­ery world. Edited by Mary O’Sul­li­van. Photography by Tony Gavin

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - MY FAVOURITE ROOM -

‘She de­manded that I hand over my do­main name and trade­mark. I was so ter­ri­fied, I did ex­actly what she said’

Start­ing a busi­ness is only part of the bat­tle in get­ting your­self es­tab­lished as a suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur; find­ing the right name is also cru­cial. Nikki Walsh was pos­i­tively smug with de­light at her choice of com­pany name — it was so per­fect — only for it all to come crash­ing down around her, thanks to a cer­tain su­per­star.

Nikki started a cook­ery busi­ness last year and, be­cause it’s based around her trusty Aga cooker, she came up with what she thought was a bril­liant name — Lady Aga. Sadly, no sooner had she reg­is­tered the do­main name on the web than a pop diva went bal­lis­tic.

Ac­cord­ing to a let­ter sent by her lawyers, Lady Gaga wasn’t at all happy. “She de­manded that I hand over my­ do­main name and trade­mark. I was so ter­ri­fied, I did ex­actly what she said. It would have been bonkers to take her on,” Nikki ex­plains, as she re­calls the se­quence of events.

The woman, who has earned mil­lions to date, wasn’t happy about a small-time mother-of-two jump­ing on what she saw as her band­wagon, so Nikki com­plied and changed the name — this time to Lady Eve — which is her eight-year-old daugh­ter’s name. As it hap­pens, Evie, as she’s called, loves to cook. And there’s an added sig­nif­i­cance to the name Eve.

“It also plays on Eve and the ap­ple, and the Lord By­ron quote: ‘Since Eve ate ap­ples, much de­pends on din­ner’,” Nikki says with a laugh.

Names are a bit of a thing with Nikki’s fam­ily, who have been cook­ing up elixirs of a dif­fer­ent va­ri­ety for gen­er­a­tions — they were phar­ma­cists. “We were Walsh with an ‘e’, but my grand­fa­ther was open­ing a phar­macy in Ro­screa, in Tip­per­ary, and was putting up sig­nage, and he got a price for Walsh with no ‘e’. He de­cided the ex­tra let­ter wasn’t worth the ex­pense and he opted to give up the ‘e’ in our name,” she ex­plains.

Nikki’s fa­ther was also a phar­ma­cist, and her sis­ter went into the busi­ness, too, but phar­macy didn’t re­ally in­ter­est Nikki. She be­came pas­sion­ate about food from an early age and, even while at school in Holy Child in Killiney, she won cook­ery awards for her dishes. “I was al­ways help­ing my mum. She’s an amaz­ing cook and she un­der­stands food, as does my aunt,” Nikki says. “My grand­mother was the same. They were all pas­sion­ate about qual­ity, and lo­cal pro­duce. You went to the shop, you saw what was avail­able and then you de­cided what to cook. It makes you more cre­ative.”

When Nikki fin­ished school, she first did a bilin­gual sec­re­tar­ial course and then opted to do the fa­mous Ballymaloe course which, she says, changed her life.

“I adored my time in Ballymaloe and, when I fin­ished the course, I worked for about a year in the restau­rant there, and in the cafe run by Ballymaloe in the Craw­ford Art Gallery,” Nikki says. When she came back from east Cork, it looked as if the food busi­ness would be­come her ca­reer for life. She de­cided to open her own cater­ing com­pany, but it was too soon. “I was too young and com­pletely scatty. I de­cided ‘Ah, here, I’m not ready for this’, so I took my­self off to France for six months to study French,” she ex­plains.

And so life veered away from cook­ing, cater­ing and food. When she came back to Dublin, her fa­ther had a tem­po­rary va­cancy in the phar­macy while one of the staff was on ma­ter­nity leave, and Nikki took the job. “I went in for three months and stayed 17 years. I got sucked in,” she ex­plains, adding that, when her fa­ther re­tired in 2005, she and her sis­ter went into busi­ness with Unipharm, but it didn’t work out, and she left in 2011.

“I didn’t have the pas­sion for it. My heart wasn’t in it,” she says.

How­ever, she re­alised she’d have to find some­thing to earn a liv­ing — in the in­ter­ven­ing years she had mar­ried, had two chil­dren — as well as Evie, she has a 10-year-old son, James — and, sub­se­quently, sep­a­rated, which meant that she had re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and needed to fi­nance them. So cook­ing re-en­tered her game plan.

Her ini­tial idea was to cater for din­ner par­ties — which went well, though it was ex­haust­ing work. Then she de­cided to de­velop ready-pre­pared meals, and had even found a well-known food com­pany to work with, when the Lady Gaga de­ba­cle hit her and the deal with the food com­pany fell apart.

She’d spent nine months re­search­ing the recipes for the five dishes she was go­ing to sell un­der her brand, she had worked on pack­ag­ing, lo­gos, dis­tri­bu­tion, and so on, and, sud­denly, it seemed all for naught — Nikki didn’t think she had the en­ergy for any­thing else. “Then a friend of mine asked if I’d do a cook­ery demon­stra­tion — En­ter­tain­ing in Re­ces­sion­ary Times — for the Com­mu­nion-class mums. She said it to me three times. I didn’t think I’d have the pa­tience, but I did the demon­stra­tion for 25 to 30 mums and I re­alised I had a pas­sion for teach­ing. I had peo­ple in the palm of my hand. It’s so re­ward­ing, it’s phe­nom­e­nal,” Nikki says. The menu she demon­strated — mush­room and wal­nut salad, Thai

Left Nikki opted for soft greys in the in­ter­con­nect­ing re­cep­tion rooms, which in­cludes the draw­ing room at the front of the house. Colour con­trast is pro­vided by the Ori­en­tal rug, the cur­tains and paint­ings

Above Nikki in her re­cently ex­tended kitchen, de­signed by Stu­dio Red. ‘The ar­chi­tects were amaz­ing. They only ex­tended it by two-and-a-half feet, yet it made such a dif­fer­ence.’ The fea­tures in­clude her beloved Aga and the Sheila Maid for dry­ing clothes Top right The din­ing room is fur­nished with an an­tique ta­ble and chairs. Nikki’s daugh­ter, Evie, plays the pi­ano, and the glass doors open onto the kitchen Mid­dle right The guest bed­room is dec­o­rated in soft, rest­ful tones of cream and grey Bot­tom right Another part of the kitchen. This work sta­tion, which is on the wall fac­ing the cen­tre is­land, was made by Andy Spil­lane. Note the large ex­panse of glass over­head, which floods the kitchen with lots of nat­u­ral day­light red curry, al­mond meringues with rasp­ber­ries and rich choco­late cake — was a wow, and she couldn’t wait to start do­ing more demon­stra­tions, which she does in her own kitchen.

“I push ev­ery­thing back; ev­ery­one has a glass of wine. It’s very so­cial, very in­ter­ac­tive and they all leave at least hav­ing had a good time,” Nikki ex­plains.

The kitchen wasn’t ex­actly built for demon­stra­tions or ac­com­mo­dat­ing big num­bers, but it’s large and airy, and it works well. It’s a re­cent ad­di­tion to her home — a ter­raced, red-bricked, three­bed­room pe­riod house dat­ing from 1860.

“It ac­tu­ally be­longed to my par­ents, who used to rent it out. They sold it to me in 2000 when I was sin­gle,” Nikki ex­plains. “I re­ally only did a proper job on it three years ago.” The ‘proper job’, which in­cluded the kitchen, was over­seen by Stu­dio Red Ar­chi­tects. “Ni­cola Ryan and Grainne Dunne; they were amaz­ing,” Nikki says. “I said to them, ‘I want clean lines, but I want an eclec­tic feel.’ They knocked out a kitchen wall and only went out two-and-a-half feet, yet it makes such a dif­fer­ence. And they did do a great job with the ex­ten­sion, but also in their max­imi­sa­tion of light.”

As well as the ex­panded kitchen, she got a fourth bed­room, but kept the lay­out of the house very much as it was, with its high-ceilinged hall­way and in­ter­con­nect­ing re­cep­tion rooms. Th­ese are all dec­o­rated in grey, and fur­nished with an­tique pieces — some from auc­tions and mar­kets, some from Nikki’s fam­ily home. In the kitchen, the old leather sofa is from her par­ents’ house.

The units were built by a cab­i­net maker called Andy Spil­lane from Thurles. “I love this English com­pany, who do old-style kitchens, but they’re fright­fully ex­pen­sive. Andy was able to do some­thing sim­i­lar, and I love what he did,” Nikki says.

The fea­tures in­clude a Sheila Maid for dry­ing clothes and, of course, in pride of place — her Aga. “My grand­mother had one, my mother had one. It was, like, when I get my Aga, I’ll get my house then,” Nikki adds.

And Lady Gaga did Lady Aga at least one favour. The rum­pus re­sulted in the Aga peo­ple mak­ing Nikki an am­bas­sador for the brand and she does reg­u­lar Aga demon­stra­tions for them.

And, who knows — Lady G might drop in some time. She’s been known to wear meat. She might want it cooked.

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