Clodagh McKenna is the Irish chef who used lockdown to supersize her social media, became resident chef on This Morning and then married the Queen’s godson.
By Anna-Marie Julyan
February 14 2023
Finally when I speak to Clodagh McKenna, she’s in a taxi with her husband Harry Herbert on the way to catch a plane to Ireland. Later that evening, the girl from Cork twirls and beams for her Instagram feed in a green sequin jumpsuit before appearing on RTÉ One’s The Late Late Show, where Harry describes their meeting at lunch as a “Sliding Doors moment”.
In summer 2021, four years after that serendipitous meal at Fortnum & Mason’s, Clodagh and Harry married at Highclere Estate in Hampshire – otherwise known as Downton Abbey – where he grew up. Fans of The Crown will know that his father, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon or ‘Porchy’, was the Queen’s racing manager and close friend.
Together, Harry and Clodagh have renovated Broadspear House, a 300-year-old cottage on the estate, where those Instagram pictures recreate The Good Life, with their menagerie of dogs, hens, bees and home-grown veg. They appear to be having the time of their lives, this being Harry’s second marriage and Clodagh’s first at the ages of 62 and 46 respectively. “It’s a lovely feeling of security, of warmth and love; a peaceful feeling,” she explains.
Every evening they sit down together for a home-cooked meal, a simple pleasure at the heart of her most recent cookbook, In Minutes (Kyle Books, 2021). “Harry loves every type of cooking and food – he’s nearly as passionate about it as I am,” she adds. “It’s really important to have the same likes. He’s also an entrepreneur and founder of his own business, so we’re both running our own businesses and that really helps.”
In Minutes is Clodagh’s eighth cookbook, and its publication in autumn last year was met with a whirlwind of TV and newspaper interviews, not to mention her two days per week hotfooting it from Hampshire to London, where she is the resident chef on ITV’s daytime show, This Morning.
It was all quite different at the start of 2020, when lockdown started and Clodagh’s work dried up. “It was like a domino-effect. Every shoot, every collaboration got cancelled by the Tuesday, and by the Friday I had no work at all and I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’” she remembers.
“I had a little following of 30,000 people on Instagram. There was a small outhouse building used for storage, so I spent a week clearing and painting it. I ordered a gas camper stove and turned it into a studio.”
Clodagh posted a recipe every Monday to Sunday, for 134 days in a row, ably assisted by Harry the cameraman. Within two weeks she was receiving 300 messages per day, with people desperate to find ways to cook substituting missing ingredients. (Remember when there were no tinned tomatoes, pasta or flour?)
At one point she sourced and sold MicroPlane graters, prompting the creation of an online shop. Now she has nearly 200,000 followers; people she’s come to know and value.
“The biggest thing I learnt from that whole time is that we are all the same,” she says. “As humans, no matter where you come from, where you are living, what you do. We all feel the same things, we’re driven by news – media is such a major part of our lives – and the weather. If the sun is shining our spirits are lifted. We all want to feel better.”
She plans her recipes for This Morning based on the news agenda and feedback given to her by producers. The clocks going back and the onset of darker evenings as well as discussions around mental health prompted a recipe she named ‘Chicken cuddle soup’ – now the most downloaded recipe from the show so far.
"It’s really important to get in tune with what people are wanting and needing rather than what you want to put out there,” she adds. Does she pay attention to trends? “No. That’s for other people. I have a loyalty to this person I write for. She lives in the countryside in Ireland and she needs the support. She doesn’t have everything at her fingertips and she has a lot on her shoulders.”
During Clodagh’s upbringing in Cork in the Eighties, her parents both worked yet managed to put a home-made meal on the table each night for her, her two sisters and brother.
“It was a very simple household. We all had to do our bit to get dinner prepared and everybody sat down at six o’ clock. I got so used to sitting down for a home-cooked dinner – it stayed with me always.”
After university she studied at the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, and then began a career of cheffing, running farmers markets in Ireland, working for Slow Food in Italy, owning her own restaurants in Dublin, writing cookbooks and doing the odd bit of TV in the US or Ireland and now Britain.
When her publisher came knocking again, requesting another cookbook, Clodagh took the time to think about what was really needed, reading back over her direct messages on social media. The result was a book which focused on people who are time poor and need weeknight meals knocked up in 10, 20 or 30 minutes. By her own admission her ‘thing’ is “fast, easy dishes that are accessible”. You don’t need ready-chopped cheats or particularly special ingredients (thinking of that lady in rural Ireland again), just a bit of confidence. This, she explains, is what we need, not the convenience foods that have featured in many lives since they proliferated in the Eighties and Nineties. These foods, she points out, are overpriced, especially when a meal cooked from scratch will feed body and soul at a much lower cost.
Confidence, it has to be said, is not something Clodagh appears to lack. But there is something else; she has a warmth and happiness that feels positively infectious, even while zipping between countries, TV studios and book signings. Her heart, you sense, lies in Broadspear with Harry and those chickens.
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