Anne Neary: Running a cookery school and being a food tour guide

By Katia Valadeau
31st August 2019

Anne Neary is the owner of Ryeland House Cookery and also runs Kilkenny Tasting Tours, and she was  recommended to me, not once but twice recently.

Now, I never really need an excuse to want to go to Kilkenny, but the fact that you can visit Ryeland House and restock on all your Highbank Orchard needs on the way home, makes me plot future road trips.

So, Anne Neary, wait for me…. I’m on my way!

I’m talking to women the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?

It has been a labour of love over the 40 years . Prior to setting up my cookery school I was trained by cert in 1967 and worked in the industry until I got married and then I played around with other jobs.

One of my jobs was a make-up artist for Estee Lauder and I absolutely loved it . Looking back now though it was similar to the food industry, in creating something special and giving the customer a wonderful experience.

While working there I was always hosting parties and cooking for my family and friends and after a bit of persuasion I agreed to host a demonstration for a small group people and the rest, as they say, is history. Due to their  encouragement to give them  cooking classes, as I was always sharing  recipes with them.

I enjoyed the classes so much, that in 1990, Ryeland House Cookery was born . I’m so happy to be able to say that it has gone from strength to strength ever since.

At that time I was working as a makeup artist for Estée Lauder, but I had been trained as a chef so my new focus was now on beautiful tasty food,  well presented using locally produced top quality ingredients .

In the early nineties, food in Ireland was undergoing a revolution, and customers were open to new ideas in food. It was fairly easy to open a business then, but the one thing I truly believed that would lead me to success was to be true to my ethos and that good food should be prepared to the highest standards at all times.

My advice to people considering a career in food would be: you must be truly passionate about it – the hours will be long and antisocial; however, if you are driven, it has fantastic rewards.

How does your career fulfil you?

The kitchen is the heart of the home and this is where I get to create and share what I love to do all within the perfect setting.

Over the years numerous people have come to cookery classes and into my home and I have welcomed them all. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than seeing people enjoy my food and receive such positive feedback.
A large proportion of my business is from both repeat customers and recommendation.

Essentially, a number of things fulfill me in my role, from the sense of pride I feel when I produce a new dish, to the immense gratitude I receive from my students in the cookery school and the fact that I can pass on techniques and skills I have to others and educate them in the process. All of these help drive me!

What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Anne Neary?

All my life I relished new adventures and worked very hard over the years to continue to up-skill formally and informally and to keep up to date with current and evolving food trends and practices .

Last year I set  up Kilkenny Tasting Tours  and this is a key focus for me in 2020.

Kilkenny is a prime tourist location and has an array of quality restaurants and eateries. I felt there was a gap in the market where these excellent establishments could be incorporated into a tour, in conjunction with some light chats on this fascinating medieval city.

I felt confident that my knowledge of the industry sector, coupled with my personality would be a successful match and thankfully, so far it has proved to be the case.

Now more than ever customers and visitors alike have a great interest in food provenance. They enjoy getting the opportunity to meet the makers and to engage with the food producers and industry specialists they meet on my culinary tours.

In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry in Ireland?

Like any industry it can be challenging at times however I don’t tend to focus or dwell on the negatives. There are lots of very strong and successful personalities, so at times it can be tough to hold your own and make a statement.

For someone entering this industry, I can see how it could be intimidating, but age and experience is now on my side so I know who I am as a chef and a person.

For me knowing what your brand identity is, is key to staying current in the industry and by following your intentions you can make improvements in your business and invariably on the ‘food landscape’

Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspire you and why?

My neighbour Julie Calder-Potts from Highbank Orchard, an Artisan gin, cider, liquor, driver cider, apple syrup and vinegar producer in Cuffesgrange, Co. Kilkenny. She is an inspiration to me every time I call . When I feel I can’t do any more, she guides me in the right direction . She has great work ethic and has given me advice in every direction.

What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?

I believe there needs to be a greater focus on the younger generation coming through. This ideally would start in school and where young girls are showing an interest in the food industry,  they should be encouraged to explore this further and given the support needed.

There is great work being done in lots of various different professional chef training centres and institutes of education. I feel that these young trainees then need to source an industrial placement after their formal training.

This placement would ideally support their on-going training and give them an opportunity to experiment with and hone their skills, as well as learn from the chef brigade at that establishment, in a mentoring style format, so as to reach and realise their fullest potential.

What was the proudest moment of your career so far?

In 2008, I launched my first cookery book ” A Country Kitchen ” (affiliate link), which I project managed and produced myself with the help of a designer and printer. This cookbook got several reviews by the national press.

As I have a radio slot with KCLR, I managed to reach a wide audience and I sold the books in bookstores and at demos. I never had a publisher and managed it all on my own.

What advice would you give your younger self?

As the saying goes it is difficult to put an older head on young shoulders, and I suppose, really, it is from making our mistakes along the way that we learn best .

That being said, my advice to young people now is to listen to feedback from people and then decide which elements of it you agree with or don’t.

Also, I think one should believe in oneself.

What are the top skills required to do your job and why?

Communication: look, listen and learn!

What’s your go-to comfort food? 

As I was born and reared by the sea any shellfish with lemon juice is so comforting . It needs nothing else.