Career Lessons: Chef And Restaurateur Domini Kemp

domni kemp IMAGE businesswoman of the year

If we were to play a back-and-forth game of word association, Domini Kemp’s name and the notion of an Irish Food Renaissance would be inextricably bound.

In 1999, Kemp brought New York-style bagels to Dublin, opening a café called ITSA with her sister, Peaches, on Dublin’s forever-bustling Abbey Street. These sisters now count a host of cafés and restaurants as part of their foodie empire, with Hatch & Sons, the runaway success of an eatery tucked beneath the beloved Little Museum of Dublin, and the forward-thinking Alchemy Juice Co. among the most recent endeavours they’ve captured taste buds with. The latter was launched in the aftermath of Domini’s recovery from breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2013 and finished treatment in the summer of 2014. During the time she spent getting better, Domini embraced the types of healthy foods Alchemy Juice Co. serves – minimally processed, cold-pressed juices, foods with clear benefits to the human body and mind. As well as all that, Domini is a best-selling cookbook author and a food writer with the Irish Times. And there’s a showjumping career in a past life before chef-training in the prestigious Leith’s of London. Feeling overwhelmed yet?

In light of that meteor shower of a CV, we decided to make Domini Kemp the inaugural entrant in our new series ‘Career Lessons’, which asks established Irish women about the moments in their career which made them grow, learn and take stock of what really matters.

My first job…

Was slave labour. I worked for my sister in my early teens as general skivvy in her private catering company. Then working as another skivvy in the kitchen in Buck Whaley’s on Leeson Street. Then one more skivvy job, working with a Gran Prix rider in the USA. After that, I came home, set up my first business and have never looked back.

The moment I grew up

I moved to the US at 19 and worked over there. The amount of responsibility that landed on my plate was madness but character forming. It was pure sink or swim. Luckily I swam. Just.

Everything changed

When I opened my first business. It was a small specialty tack-store selling the very best custom made equipment for horse and rider. I realised I would never be able to work for anyone again.

The scariest moment

There have been so many. But I think things become less scary as you get older. That feeling of your heart plunging if something goes wrong? It’s such a horrible feeling. It’s easier to keep things in perspective with a bit of age and confidence. Knowing you can fix most things.

The most influential person in my life and career

Quite possibly my boss in the US. I was a bit of a hopeless teenager. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life and I know my family were a bit fed up with me at the time. Starting a tough job far from home, being landed with huge amounts of responsibility, being left to run his business for weeks on end – it gave me my work ethic and drive.

My favourite part of the day

Eating dinner with my family. It’s really important we sit down, eat, talk, learn and listen. I love hanging out with them.

I love my job when

We get a lovely letter or card from a really happy couple whose wedding we’ve catered and when we hear lovely comments about our team and food in one of the galleries. That kind of positive feedback is what makes us work hard, knowing we’ve done a good job.

My best failure

Failing to become a really good show-jumper! It forced me to give up the horses, go to catering college and kicked off my career.

What makes me excited

Coming up with really great new dishes, tasting lovely things from our team of chefs, staying passionate about work. Learning new things about nutrition. I feel that many women only come into their stride in their 40’s and that this will just continue. That makes getting older a lot more exciting. The best is definitely yet to come.

How I want to be remembered

I think being kind, being able to forgive people and to have understanding are really important qualities. Plus being able to laugh at yourself and always find the humour in life, especially in the darkest moments. I hope I manage to achieve a little bit of all of the above.

Image: Fiachra McCarthy


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