The heady days of the 1990 World Cup are ingrained in Catherine Farrell’s memory for reasons other than soccer. During those never-to-be-forgotten finals, she and Annette Burke were engrossed in opening The Gourmet Parlour. Nearly three decades on, it has thrived and grown.
Catherine’s roots are in the lush pastures of Gowran, Co. Kilkenny living with her five siblings, on a farm near the well known racecourse. Her family grew their own vegetables and choice cuts from their herd of cattle filled the freezer. Her mother was an excellent cook, and those culinary talents were in evidence on her father’s side too. It was clear early on that Catherine’s heart lay in food and cooking and a year working in the Newpark Hotel proved that.
At college in Cathal Brugha Street she studied Hotel Management and gained experience though placements in busy Dublin hotels. Before her final year she spent a glorious summer working in Chicago on a J1 visa. As a waitress she learned all about front of house service, the vagaries of an American menu and more about cocktails than she had thought possible. She loved it the experience and to cap it all, the pay was good and the tips better!
On finishing college, an interview with the revered Myrtle Allen led to a job in Ballymaloe where Annette Burke from Sligo also worked. Catherine started front of house and in the restaurant but yearned to try her luck in the kitchen. Darina Allen was running the Ballymaloe Cookery School and Catherine wisely invested the remainder of her American money in the 12 week cookery course.
A chance notice on the board at the Cookery School sought chalet hosts for La Plagne ski resort in France. Catherine and Annette jumped at the chance hightailing it to the Alps to run a large chalet with up to 25 guests (and take advantage of free ski lessons too). This tested their cooking, budgeting and organisational skills – tremendous groundwork for running a small business. The two twenty-somethings learned on the job and the first seeds of opening a cafe back in Ireland were sown.
Arriving home early in 1990 they looked at Kilkenny first and then considered Sligo where Catherine had been only once before, en route to a family holiday in Donegal. They found a spot on John Street and the rest is history. Now on Bridge Street and in Collooney their ethos is all about good homemade food using quality ingredients. Nearly everything is made from scratch – from dressings and mayonnaise to the baked goods they are famous for.
Catherine always thought she’d move back to Kilkenny but began putting down roots. She met and married Longford-born Hugh Mulligan; they now have two teenage sons, Gearoid and Canice. Home now is Dromard where they have a small farm.
Relaxation is a rare luxury for Catherine whose life is a busy whirl of business life and ‘Mam Taxi’. She recalls her early days riding her beloved pony in Gowran and says get back to horse riding is definitely on the bucket list!