The 30-second video for the cherry tomato broth cooked up in her Limerick kitchen has been viewed by nearly five million people around the world.
The digital star counts
Friends star Courtney Cox and Irish rugby player Keith Earls among the 215,000 followers on her cook-along account with everything from her signature soups to one-pot Margherita pasta to sourdough toast.
It’s no surprise her food has a heavy Mediterranean influence as her Italian mother-in-law taught her how to cook.
The mom-of-two has helped to run her family’s La Cucina and La Cucina Centro restaurants in Limerick with her Italian husband Bruno for nearly two decades.
But she set up the @healthyfitbella on Instagram to share her clean eating recipes and exercise regime while rebuilding up her body strength after breast cancer treatment eight years ago.
Initially, she notched up a few thousand followers but over lockdown, her social media following exploded to six figures making her one of the biggest foodie feeds in the country.
The Limerick cook was stunned when she found out the
Friends actress — who regularly posts her cooking content — was following her account.
“I didn’t even know, someone told me, and I went and checked. She follows like 500 people, it’s the most random thing ever.
“Her partner is Irish (Johnny McDaid from Snow Patrol) so that’s probably the connection there.”
As a one-woman social media sensation whipping up delicious recipes, it may seem like the videos are shot under lights in a studio.
But they are filmed on her phone in her kitchen and posted on her account with the help of a phone editing app.
“The roast tomato soup has nearly five million plays on Instagram.
“It went viral, my phone was hopping. There were thousands of likes and comments. It didn’t stop for two or three weeks.
“It was just that I roasted the tomatoes instead of cooking them in the pot, but it just went crazy, so for a while, I was trying out every type of a roast vegetable soup.
“Things just take off when you’re not expecting it. A carrot recipe has a million, my roast potatoes have a million.
“Then you could do something really elaborate and you could only have 100,000 views.”
She agrees it would be amazing to get a “shout-out” from Courtney Cox. As the numbers mushroomed, more and more international followers joined with about a quarter from the US.
The germ of the idea for the account came eight years ago when she decided to completely overhaul her lifestyle while in recovery from breast cancer.
“I called it @healthyfitbella It was my journey back to fitness and health after breast cancer.
“Obviously, I had the restaurants, and we ate well but I was never fit before that.
“The route I went originally was clean eating and I started weightlifting because I had a mastectomy, and they used my left lat, and I was all weak down the left side.
“I got into it then just to build back up a bit of strength.
“I was 38. It was basically to vlog that journey and get healthy.”
While it was originally clean eating she couldn’t maintain such a strict regime.
“There’s no fun in it. You have no life. So as the years went on, I found a more balanced approach.
“All my food is homemade, and my focus is on food everyone in the whole family will eat.”
After marrying into one of Limerick’s best-known restauranteur families, she took lessons from her mother-in-law who ran La Piccola Italia, one of the city’s oldest eateries, with her husband, Alfredo, for the past 40 years.
A bottle of Dolmio is a big no-no. “I’d be ostracised”, she said laughing, “Everything I make is fresh, made from scratch. There are no shortcuts.
“My approach is very Italian, very Mediterranean focused.
“My husband is Italian. I hadn’t a clue how to cook. I got involved in the business side of the restaurant initially.
“Then my Italian mother-in-law taught me how to do the Italian stuff and I’m just self-taught since then.”
Sadly, her father-in-law, Alfredo, passed away last year.
“It was very sad, he was a really well-known character around Limerick.”
With the exception of the pandemic, they have kept up a tradition of a big, noisy Italian family dinner with her in-laws every Sunday for the past twenty years.
“There could be 15 or so every Sunday. It’s pasta to start and we have Italian meat and Italian salads and normally tiramisu or something Italian for dessert.”
Running her own La Cucina restaurants in Castletroy and Limerick city, she began showing videos for restaurant-quality food and cocktails during the lockdown.
“I started to do more family-friendly meals that anybody can cook with ingredients that you have at home. So very simple, but really tasty.
“I do everything from chicken curry to pastas to soups, sourdough sandwiches.
“Everything I cook, we have for dinner at home basically.
“I do a lot of research online and sometimes see what’s on trend.”
While she is 47 this year, she said she has always been ahead of the curve when it came to using the internet.
“I was one of the first on Twitter. It was me and Donal Skehan back in the original days.
“Like we were probably the first foodies on there. I was the first to use Facebook for the restaurants,” she adds.