Chef Catherine Fulvio says the hospitality business needs help if it is to survive the Covid crisis
CHEF Catherine Fulvio is embracing the online world after her business was battered by Covid.
But she's determined to ensure her celebrated guesthouse continues to offer a special experience.
With tighter restrictions now in place, the popular TV personality who runs the highly-regarded Ballyknocken House, Co Wicklow, is hoping to earn a crust from virtual cookery classes.
"This is our second weekend closed since the lockdown at the beginning of the year. I must be honest with you, it's not easy.
"It is emotional because you've invested so much in your business. My heart and life is in Ballyknocken. I am born and bred here, I am the third generation.
"I have been running the cookery school here for 16 years and the accommodation long before that, my mother started it over 50 years ago.
"It's a big shock, because we've gotten through everything before - 9/11, foot and mouth and the Icelandic ash cloud, we still kept going but this is completely out of our control.
"I know we are in level three, but it might as well be level five. How many people from Wicklow come to our gorgeous, charming, seven-bedroom farmhouse you know? They are our neighbours, they don't want to visit here. It has had a big dent on business."
Calling on the Government for assistance, Catherine said: "It goes without saying that the health of everybody living in Ireland is much more important than our little business, but I do worry about jobs and our local communities.
"Keeping all the jobs in the hospitality trade going around Ireland is very important because they're all local employers; people living locally work in the local restaurants and hotels. It is a hard time for everybody.
"Any of us in the hospitality sector where we have always had a very high degree of contact with guests - whether it's on the phone or chatting over emails and then one-on-one interaction when the guests arrive - when that's taken away from you it is a lonely place to be. I miss the connection with people and that is why I think there is such a strong emphasis on mental health and minding your mental health at these times.
"I know the Irish Hotel Federation is lobbying for more support from the Government but there are very few answers for us.
"I've read up a lot of research and on the one hand, the number of incidents [of Covid] that have happened in hotels are negligible. But on the other hand, you have to start somewhere, we have to have some degree of lockdown."
Catherine is now expanding the award-winning Wicklow-based guesthouse and cookery school online.
"It has been a positive thing too because it makes you step outside the box and helps you think about how you can direct yourself and your business and your co-workers in a new direction.
"We're looking at a lot more online work, doing a huge amount of virtual cook-alongs with the corporate and international sector. It's an opportunity to look at new ways to do business.
"I think that's an important message really, try and use the time as fruitfully and come up with new ways to do business, which will give us longevity in what we do, so it is positive and we are excited."
The down-to-earth TV presenter adds: "Everyone who has been here knows that I am a roll-up-the-sleeves person and I absolutely get stuck in. The television and shoots are very glamorous but the real me is not glamorous at all.
"I really am that person that wanders around and is out walking and hiking with no make-up on and then panics when I see someone. You can mostly find me with a spade in my hand or a fork, digging in the garden and picking herbs. We're picking apples at the moment and storing them for the winter."
Better known for her world-traversing role on RTÉ's Taste Like Home, the small screen chef is back for a fifth series of the hit show.
"I really thought there would be no TV opportunities this year and no series but the wonderful producers came up with the great concept of armchair travel.
"I sit down with my feet up and with a cup of tea and I watch myself on TV but I do it for the travel and for the food of course," Catherine says. "It's a wonderful series and it's a wonderful way to see the world again and it does whet your appetite for food and travel.
"I visit families across Ireland who show me how to make their favourite family dishes, before travelling across the world to recreate these 'tastes like home' for family members now living abroad."
Asking people to adhere to Government guidelines, Catherine said: "Probably the most important thing is if we could all personally take responsibility around the country and manage the number of contacts that we have, and where we go and who we meet."
We have gotten through everything before - 9/11, foot and mouth and the
Icelandic ash cloud. We
still kept going but this is
totally out of our control
We have gotten
before - 9/11, foot
and mouth and the
Icelandic ash cloud.
We still kept going
but this is totally
out of our control
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