Ireland is enjoying a culinary revolution of sorts. In the second of our four-part Whole Foodies series, Kate O’Dowd meets with Slice and The Cake Café founder Michelle Darmody, one of many inspiring women in Ireland today driving our country’s dynamic food scene towards the better through using healthier ingredients, supporting the local economy and a total investment of passion. Read part one with young raw food trailblazer Katie Sanderson here.
Michelle Darmody’s eateries The Cake Café and Slice are Dublin comfort-food favourites. She’s also a stalwart in the development of Ireland’s food scene. Her passion for food as a social connector began in childhood. “My parents loved to throw dinner parties, and I loved the excitement leading up to guests arriving, followed by the buzz as they enjoyed what we’d made.” Michelle almost studied food, then went to art college instead, but as many students do, she supported herself by working in restaurants. The Cake Café came about thanks to Michelle’s longing for her mom’s baking, the likes of which you couldn’t find in cafés at the time. “It’s changed now, and homebaked cakes are everywhere, but in 2005, it was all French patisserie stuff. I wanted a place that served homemade baked beans and Victoria sponge.”
Slice arrived in Stoneybatter last year, bringing the same home kitchen vibes to Michelle’s locale. “I love the idea of a neighbourhood café. I know people’s orders as they walk in, and I’ve made some real friends with customers.” The idea of community extends beyond Michelle’s customer base; she works, almost exclusively, with small Irish producers … and this, in turn, ties back to her involvement with organisations like Slow Food Ireland, GIY Ireland and StreetFeast. “I don’t have as much time as I’d like to really participate, but I advocate and jump in when I can.”
As well as feeding the locals and writing a regular food column for the Irish Examiner , where Michelle really gets passionate is in the special projects she does in collaboration with other foodies and artists – everything from holding pop-up dining events and workshops, creating food fanzines, designing a linen collection, penning and designing The Cake Café Bake Book, and catering a series of IMMA events with artist Fiona Hallinan, under their Concrete Tiki moniker. “I love connecting art and food. People eat food every day, so it’s universal in a way that painting or theatre might not be. It opens the arts up to everyone.”