Creative Islanders: Katie Sanderson

 

Creative Islanders Katie Sanderson

Photo: Shantanu Starick

The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

Katie Sanderson is part magician, part chameleon.  I mean this metaphorically of course, based on her ability to transform food into rare treasure and the dexterous navigation of her own career path. She lets curiousity and passion direct her, and placing creativity at the helm, she leads others down wonderous journeys too- not just through their taste buds, but through creative experiences which all follow a love and respect for food, community and the land which they inhabit. These journeys have involved the creation of a pop-up restaurant- Dillisk, food workshops, raw food events and communal dinners. Within them all is that extra bit of magic; alchemy for the senses and the soul.

Last week Katie and I sat down in The Fumbally Cafe, tossing around these questions and capturing her responses – first verbally, and then seeing which words wanted to land here. She also shared an abundance of amazing images- taken by both herself, and the talent of Shantanu Starick of The Pixel Trade.

With pleasure, I introduce you to chef and creative islander Katie Sanderson…

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What keeps you in Ireland?

It is the people and the land, but also the amazing group of friends and the community that I am lucky to be surrounded by. Ireland as a place has become more ‘home’. At one stage I thought I didn’t want to be here because I kept leaving, but I realise now that I was going away to learn things, expand my experience and then bring them back. Ireland is as much a launchpad as it is a base for me.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

When I feel like people are getting something out of what I do- that they are enjoying it or are inspired by it. (I find this question hard)

What do you do just for the love of it?

Tea with friends. Picking seaweed. I love to go to the shore and look at all the rock pools. And I cook even though sometimes I forget to do it for myself. But at the end of the day I’m one of those  lucky people who loves what I do (most of the time)

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What does the creative process teach you?

It teaches me that more is possible. We are super capable of creating anything. It can be difficult but it becomes easier over time. The creative process facilitates a place where you are able to think in a different way. The more you do, the more you are able to do.

It tells me to follow my curiosity. As soon as something comes up which I want to follow, I try not to hesitate. I just go for it. This is when I take off and travel. For example, I recently started exploring different methods of fermentation after a meal in San Francisco in Bar Tartine blew my little socks off. It wasn’t that it was the best meal I’d ever eaten it but it was that I could taste the creativity and the originality beaming from the kitchen, and that was super exciting. A few months later I went for two months to work alongside them and soak in as much as I could. Then I came back to Dublin, the stars somehow aligned and Ash and Luca of the Fumbally asked me to help establish the homemade drinks and ferments which are now available. The Fumbally tends to be there for me one way or another when I need my stars to get in order.

When the journey is a creative journey you can’t really go wrong. There is no failing. Once you start to work in this way it builds its own momentum and everything including the supposed “failing” is part of that journey.

(This question is easier!)

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

Why do you do what you do?

I love it. I did think maybe I would like to be a forensic scientist too.

What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

When I was a child on Saturday nights in Hong Kong we ate our dinner on a picnic rug watching movies on Laser Discs (records with movies- I don’t think they ever became popular outside of Asia). My papa would bring them home on Fridays and we would have family meetings about which order we might watch them in. We generally wouldn’t see very much of him during the week and the excitement of him and the movies was huge. Somehow at a very early stage (8yrs)  I got the role of making dinner. I think it was a cunning plan of my mother’s to free time for Cilla Black. We called them ‘naughty nights’. In a city with so many people and not much freedom, I got this space to go to the shops and pick what I wanted my family to have for dinner, and make a big mess in the process. Only summers in the West of Ireland with blackberries all over my face has topped the freedom of these nights for me.

Later (about four years ago) back in Dublin, I worked for a family as a private chef. It was the opposite experience! The money was good and for a very short while that sustained me, but I was really restricted and had many parameters on what I could do. I noticed my love starting to dwindle and I knew I had to reclaim it. With absolutely no knowledge of the subject and on a bit of a whim I booked a raw food course, and found myself in Oklahoma of all places…

Then, with an increased knowledge and inspired by new aspects of food creation, I kinda made a promise to not let myself get into a position where I don’t have creative freedom.  This has helped to guide me forward.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

I think that naturally when you are feeling stuck, you end up not wanting to move physically. You can get stuck on the internet and in your head and I think that moving your body, whether that be yoga or a walk with some trees, or whatever it is you do. It’s so important to make yourself do it, and to do a lot of it.

And then to speak- don’t let your voice get stuck too. Talk to your friends, family anyone who will listen and see if anyone has any insight or a different perspective.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Nature and travel.

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way ? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

You need to be confident in what you are offering or your products. I believe in helping people out, but you also need to be able to charge for what you do and not be taken for granted.

Obviously you are going to be influenced by other people and things that you see, but if you try to come up with original ideas, and do something for the right reason- I believe it is always going to succeed. It may take you in a different direction but it will take you somewhere.

I have also learned that I have the most amazing generous friends who help each other out all the time. With Dillisk project we built a small restaurant in a loosely converted boat shed in the middle of connemara. It was a dream my partner Jasper and I had. It was only possible by the amount of friends that came down to help us. Some weekends we had 18 people down there and we would cook big lunches and everyone would be helping us all day long-  it’s remarkable to think of how much they gave and continue to support us.  The restaurant was done on a shoestring, only made possible by collaboration. There is such beauty in working in this way.  

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Photo: Katie Sanderson

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

Not really.  Well…. the thing is I have been trying to be one of those people who get out of bed early and move slowly. But it takes me ages to get out of bed and then I spend most of the day chasing my tail.

In so far as creative habits, I take photos. I find words difficult (like this interview!) but I have always enjoyed imagery and can showcase my work and express myself through this medium.

Ginger and lemon tea too! I have it when I need to focus.

 

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Photos: Katie Sanderson

What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to? 

The Pixel Trade website (my friend Shantanu who has been travelling the world and documenting trades for three years. Sometimes I forget how giddy his project makes me but a short time on his website puts it all back into perspective)

Fool Magazine.

The Bar Tartine Cookbook.

Podcasts- On Being.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

That it is not weak to ask for help.

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Don’t forget to have the craic!

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What is coming up next for you?

It is evolving. I am in a transition period and working things out. To be honest I’m a bit stuck and at some crossroads. But that’s OK too.  I’m going to Kenya for a bit of the winter, and will be Staging (interning) in London for a few months afterwards (Lyles). I think i’ll be back in Connemara for summer but not sure in what guise. It will all evolve…

Connect withKatie: Her website is here and more on Dillisk Project here

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Photo: Katie Sanderson

Watch this beautiful video of Dillisk, made by Ben McDonald…

Dillisk_V1 from Ben McDonald on Vimeo.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetPhoto: Katie Sanderson


Creative Islanders: Aoife Mc Elwain

Aoife McElwain Headshot by Julia Dunin Creative IslandersPhoto: Julia Dunin

The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

…..

A bundle of life and talent, Aoife McElwain, food stylist, recipe writer, and a creative force behind Forkful is next up in the Creative Islanders series. Her food writing brings an elegance and charm to even the simplest of dishes, offering unusual twists on classic dishes. Teamed up with photographer and videographer Mark Duggan, Aoife has a knack of peeling back a recipe to its basic structure and revealing, step by step, the sheer delight of cooking it. That it will be tasty is unquestionable.

Beyond food writing, one of the things I admire about Aoife is her honesty about the creative process and what it really means to be a creative practitioner, speaking candidly about the highs, the lows and the dogged determination it can take to keep our internal critics at bay. We spoke together last weekend at the Creative Islanders event at Another Love Story but for those not able to attend, I hand you now over to the lovely Aoife McElwain…

All imagery below: Recipes and food styling: Aoife McElwain / Photography: Mark Duggan

What keeps you in Ireland?

My community keeps me in Ireland. That includes my close community of family and friends, as well as the wider community of taxi drivers who talk about metaphysics on a Monday, old ladies who love a chat at bus stops, event enthusiasts who strive to create happenings that increase the happiness of people around them… I think the size of Ireland and our openness for craic and banter lend itself well to making connections which can help make good things happen.

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

Cold, hard cash. Hah! Just kidding. I’m motivated by creating things for people to enjoy. Making yummy food for people is one of the ways I say “I love you and think you are wonderful.” Though I have no problems saying those types of things without cake, too. I go to extra effort when setting a table for dinner so that it feels like a special occasion that my guests will remember. I spend days planning and organising treasure hunts so people have fun discovering a new place. I’m also motivated by newness and connections. I like learning new things and meeting new people.

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What do you do just for the love of it?

It’s interesting because I love a lot of what I do. I’ve been really lucky in the last few years to have put myself in a position where I’m doing things I love all the time. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get stressed or I don’t procrastinate… but even when I’m wrecked after writing, cooking and styling ten recipes in one day for a photoshoot, I feel very grateful for the opportunity to get to work at doing stuff that makes me proud of what I’ve achieved, and the funny little diverse career I’m starting to carve out for myself.

What does the creative process teach you?

To me, the creative process goes like this: “Aaarrrrgghhhhhh oh CRAP I can’t do this, there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to do this arrrrgghhhhhh…. Oh! Wait. I think I have it. Oh, yeah, that’s actually pretty good.” The more I go through this process the more I trust myself at the outset, and the better able I am to deal with fear of failure and the anxiety that surrounds putting yourself out there creatively.

Why do you do what you do?

My aim is to lead a life where I keep learning. I really do believe that every person you meet has something to teach you, even if it’s something mundane like the name of their local football hero or something profound like their thoughts on the meaning of life. I like to push myself to try new things, whether it’s horse-riding or a recipe for shortcrust pastry, even though change and newness can a bit scary sometimes. It can be hard to keep up the momentum of discovery however, and, as I get older, I’m better at allowing myself breaks from activity to make room for rest and renewal. Chilling out is so important.

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What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

When I met Niall (my husband) ten years ago, I didn’t really know what a blog was. He helped me get set up with my first food blog (I Can Has Cook? www.icanhascook.com) which led to my columns in Totally Dublin, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times. At that time, I had been trying for a few years to break into radio (I had a show for five years on Dublin City FM interviewing Irish bands) and I was feeling pretty rubbish at how little success I was having. So when I started the blog for the fun of it, it was an amazing thing to have it turn into a career of sorts. When I met Mark Duggan in 2012 and we started working on forkful (www.forkful.tv) together, it also brought opportunities to work more full-time in food, which I’m really grateful for. It’s allowed me to develop my skills as a food stylist, which is a fun and challenging job wherein I have to use my creative wits to make challenging vegetables like celeraic look gorgeous.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

I very often suffer from procrastination paralysis when it comes to writing features. I’m grand with recipe writing but when I have to articulate my own opinion about something, I start to hear the voices of the world’s best writers in my head saying “Oh… so you call that writing? Wow. Scarleh for yer ma.” Sometimes the voices get so loud I have to take to bed with bowls of cocoa pops for company. This is not a nice place. If this happens in the late afternoon or early evening, I’ve learned to indulge it. I let myself take the time off and then I wake up very, very early the next day. I’m talking 5am early, when the foxes still own the streets and twitter hasn’t woken up yet. My inner critic only seems to wake up at around noon (she’s lazy as well as mean) so if I can get a good few hours in before that, then I’ve already had a productive day. Productivity really spurns me on too, so once I get one job done, the rest can often follow.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

For recipes and food styling ideas, I look to my peers like Imen McDonnell, Cliodhna Prendergast and Jette Virdi. I also follow a load of great people on Instagram for inspiration from folks like Beth Kirby (@local_milk) and publications like Root + Bone (@rootandbone), Lucky Peach (@luckypeach) and Fool Magazine (@foolmagazine) who are doing something a little different in their approach to food journalism. For personal inspiration, I often find myself looking to comedy for answers. I adore Amy Schumer, Louis CK, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham. I read their books and tweets, and watch their TV shows. They make me laugh and help me understand the world.

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How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?

I do try to go easy on myself. Though I have found it really hard to learn this, it’s ok that life isn’t all ice-cream sundaes and sunshine. I’m getting better at listening to myself. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I take a break (if deadlines allow it – and usually, they do). Hanging out with my dog Daffodil can be a great release. Apart from the times she bullies other dogs in the park – she can be quite the terrier. But she thinks I’m absolutely brilliant, in every way, and is completely blind to my flaws. When I’m feeling low, hers is a good energy to have around. She mirrors my mood and will snuggle up to me quietly when I’m taking time out of the world, just so I know she’s there, if I need her. Apart from my canine companion, my husband Niall always has my back, as I do his. We’re a good team. He makes amazing sandwiches which is a crucial skill to call on in a crisis.

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

That you don’t have to get things right straight away. That you can will your life to be slow and conscious, rather than too fast and stressy; you just have to work quite hard on your own self to achieve that. Taking time to slowly evaluate problems rather than emotionally reacting to things is a good pattern to try to live to. I’m only beginning to wake up to this and to see it as a possibility of a way to work and live. Some slow, gradual early success living and working to a more mindful beat makes me hopeful for the future.

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

My favourite morning habit is to take my dog Daffodil to the park first thing in the morning. Then I like to come home and have a proper breakfast (the best is boiled eggs sprinkled with ground cumin and sea salt, with sourdough for dunking) and a coffee, brewed by my husband Niall. But I’m not going to pretend that routine happens every morning. Mostly I wake up later than I’d like and spend the rest of the morning catching up. I try not to get too angry at myself when this happens because that adds insult to injury. When I do get my ideal morning though, it sets me up for a happy and productive day.

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What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to?

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit is the most thumbed and food splattered book in my kitchen. It’s an absolute must for cooks who are ready to start finding their own creativity in the kitchen. I really enjoy reading memoirs by chefs, including the classic Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (a lovable rogue) and Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. I’ve also been inspired by the work of Michael Pollan, an American food journalist and writer whose work has taught me a lot about the basics and history of food.

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

You don’t have to be good at everything and you certainly don’t have to be perfect at doing something straight away. And you don’t have to tell everyone you don’t know what you’re doing. Most of the time, this actually isn’t as endearing as you think.

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And what advice would you give to your future self?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and think about the other times you thought you were going to make a total mess of things and then actually did a pretty good job. You’re not a total dumdum, McElwain. And stop comparing your productivity levels to those of Michelle Obama! She has a team of, like, ten people. Of course she’s super productive!

What is coming up next for you?

Myself and Mark Duggan are releasing some new forkful videos this autumn, which I’m really excited about. We have been focusing on refining our still photography skills, as well as working with brands on video and photography content for their websites. I’m also working as a copywriter helping small brands develop their messages and identity. I’ll continue to work on my recipe columns and restaurant reviews for The Irish Times, The Irish Independent and Totally Dublin, and I’d like to flex my non-food writing muscles too. My current passion project is to develop a treasure hunt design agency. I recently organised an island-wide treasure hunt on Inishturk island which 35 visitors and islanders took part in. I designed it so they would not only bond with their team members but also discover the island, in a historical and physical way. I think there’s great potential to design place-specific treasure hunts around the country to enable people to embark on adventures of discovery. And I’m ready to start doing it.

 

Video credits: 

Recipes and food styling: Aoife McElwain / Photography and Direction: Mark Duggan / Editing: Killian Broderick / Music Supervision: Niall Byrne