Mary-Anne Mackle of Wee Buns Cookery School in Moy tells Sam Butler how she will be showing the wives of US golf fans how to bake while their partners are enjoying the golfing action at The Open in Portrush.
Golf wives from the US will be learning how to bake traditional Northern Irish breads at Wee Buns Cookery School in Moy while their partners are watching the golfing action at The Open in Portrush next month.
Showing a six-strong group how to master local favourites such as potato cakes, soda farls and potato apple will be school owner and highly experienced chef Mary-Anne Mackle.
“I was very pleasantly surprised when I received the call from one of the ladies in the US booking places for one of my courses,” said Mary-Anne, a mother of twin boys aged three, who set up the small cookery school adjacent to the family home in the Co Tyrone village in 2016.
“The caller said the group had been seeking something different to do during the golf and found my website site during their research about Northern Ireland ahead of the tournament in Portrush.
“They are all keen cooks and wanted to learn more about local food, especially our breads. She signed them up for one of my bakery classes on the preparation of longstanding favourites here including our breakfast breads as well as wheaten loaves and potato apple with our famous Bramley apples,” Mary-Anne added.
“My passion is for using local, organic and seasonal produce. I like food to be simple but nutritious and packed with flavour. I also have a passion for baking and using traditional recipes that are hard to beat, but also finding new and innovative ways to cook from other cultures,” she said.
She traces her love of local ingredients in season from her upbringing in Tyrone where the family established the Mackle Apple business to grow and process a range of local apples including Bramleys, which now have EU protected status. The business was established by her grandfather and is now owned by Michael Mackle, her uncle, the businessman behind the launch last year of Natural Umber Organic Cider Apple Vinegar, the product which won the prestigious Regional Golden Fork at the UK Great Taste Awards.
“Natural Umber is a brilliant product which in increasing awareness of the health benefit of apple cider vinegar,” she continued.
“We’re very lucky in Northern Ireland to have some wonderful ingredients for fabulous meals and artisan products readily available here,” Mary-Anne said.
Her passion for local ingredients in season was enhanced during a stint as a chef at the critically acclaimed River Café in London that’s now run by culinary guru Ruth Rodgers and renowned for training chefs of the calibre of Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig in New York.
“I graduated in business at the University of Liverpool but didn’t see a career in management. I always loved cooking and happened to see an advertisement about certificate courses at Darina Allen’s highly regarded Balllymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Co Cork. I loved every minute of it there and honed my culinary skills there. Darina is another excellent chef dedicated to using the best of local produce from her own organic fruit and vegetable farm and suppliers nearby. She’s made a tremendous contribution to the standing of Irish food and drink in Ireland and especially abroad,” explained Mary-Anne.
The next stage in Mary-Anne’s development as a chef was working in the kitchen at Roscoff, the high-end restaurant set up by Paul Rankin and his then wife Jeanne in 1989.
“My first attempts to gain a job there weren’t successful,” Mary-Anne remembers. “But I kept on trying and Paul was eventually persuaded to offer me a job cooking in the café. I then moved over to the main restaurant after 10 months and spent a year learning all I could from Paul. He was a very talented chef and a great teacher and I learned a lot from working with him.”
After a period working in restaurants in London, Mary-Anne returned home to Northern Ireland to start her own business.
Marriage to Malaga-born Manuel and then the birth of twin sons led her to take forward the idea of creating a cookery school near their home in Moy – a move that’s proving a great success.
• Culinary journey from London to Moy
Mary-Anne Mackle’s culinary journey took her to London and the kitchen of a Thai restaurant in Mayfair.
While she loved learning Asian culinary skills, her eyes were fixed on a chef’s post at the iconic River Café.
She persevered and landed a job in the kitchen of the Michelin star restaurant, renowned for its Italian cuisine.
After a lengthy stint in London, where she met her future husband Manuel, Mary-Anne returned to Northern Ireland, keen to set up her own business.
After 10 years running a baked goods stall at St George’s Market, the Co Tyrone woman started Wee Buns Cookery School.
The school offers a range of cooking and baking classes in a small purpose-built kitchen.
“Whether you are an absolute beginner wanting to learn some cooking and baking classics or a more seasoned cook we have classes to suit everyone,” Mary-Anne said.