IRISH CHEF CLODAGH McKENNA TALKS TO ELLA WALKER ABOUT RAISING CHICKENS, AND WHY WEEKNIGHT MEALS DESERVE A ‘SPRINKLE OF HAPPINESS’
CLODAGH MCKENNA actually managed to do what many of us vaguely imagined doing during March’s lockdown: she went and wrote a book. During that first neverending-feeling stint, the Irish cook and telly presenter turned to Instagram.
Posting a daily recipe video, she hoped to go some way towards answering the many, many messages she was receiving from housebound people across the country in need of lockdown-suitable dishes, non-stressful suppers, family-friendly midweek meals, interesting dinners for one, and more.
“I did them every day,” says Clodagh of the videos. “Every single day – I did over 120 of them. It was exhausting, but it was also a real purpose.”
A whole new community formed around these brief snippets of chic, blonde-fringed Clodagh whipping up a solo bread-and-butter pudding, or a tray of retro chicken kievs. And that community provided real-time feedback that the chef then scooped up and used to help fuel the book: Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen.
She considers it a “real community cookbook”.
“I wanted to focus on the weeknights,” explains the Ballymaloe Cookery Schooltrained cook.
“We’ve got so much going on during the day and it comes to six o’clock, and it’s like, you’re hungry, you’re tired and you’ve had a hard day, how can you put a meal together, without it getting on top of you?”
The result is a 100-strong brand new collection of recipes which, Clodagh, 45, says are “incredibly simple to make with ingredients that are completely accessible.”
The underlying message for Clodagh is the difference cooking for yourself makes.
“Sometimes a takeaway can be great, but it doesn’t give you that same feeling of – I call it a sprinkle of happiness, because that’s what it is to me,” adds Clodagh, who also presents recipe segments on the Today Show in the US.
“Whether it’s for one or for two, you’ve made something for yourself; physically you feel better; mentally you feel better.
“Some weeks go by and it’s like you don’t have any special moments at the table. It all becomes TV and a takeaway, or heated up food, and you live for the weekend. I’m like, let’s live for every night.
“Only good can come from planning your week and cooking weeknights,” she adds.
“Only positive things can come financially, mentally, health-wise, everything.”
Something that has brought huge delight into Clodagh’s life recently is the arrival of her ‘girls’ – a brood of hens.
“They’re the light of my life at the moment,” she says gleefully. “My dog Nolly is very jealous every time
I come in, smelling me like crazy, like, ‘Who are these other girls in our lives?’
But they are an absolute joy. I mean, I was terrified the night before they arrived – all of a sudden you’ve got six new animals that need looking after. But they’re doing really well.”
They even put themselves to bed: “One night it was getting kind of dark and we’re looking everywhere for them, and they’re all inside their beds all perched up waiting for the lid to go down! And they’re making me breakfast every morning, which is great.”
Born in Blackrock, Ireland, Clodagh was a cheffing “city girl” in London for years before relocating to Broadspear – the
home in Ireland she and her partner have been restoring and turning into a fully sustainable homestead.
“I feel like I’ve learned so much over the year and I kept a diary throughout,” says Clodagh.
She also reveals that she’s planning to share her findings too, to help others with their veg plots, and so she can carry on trading wisdom with her online community. “There are things that we took up over lockdown that will stay with us now,” she says. “You’ve probably stopped the things that you didn’t enjoy that much, and you’ll keep the ones that you did enjoy.” And for new inspiration, there’s always the kitchen.