Writes Ciaran Dineen
It’s a Friday evening in November and as Marie McCarthy sits down you can hear some small ruffling in the background. She begins to speak about the whirlwind that has been 2020, but her concentration breaks momentarily, in what has become an all-too familiar occurrence during the Zoomiverse’ of the past 8 months. It was at this point that Marie’s beautiful baby daughter Mila, who had been happily munching away on some strawberries and mushed avocado, suddenly blew her cover as she gave out a few giggles in the background. After getting picked up to give me a very cute wave down through the laptop lens, attempting to hijack her mum’s interview, she quickly turned her attention back to much more important matters; strawberries and avocados.
The moment could be classed as a snapshot of Marie’s year, which safe to say, has been slightly hectic. In September the Carrigaline native was crowned the Irish queen of Brown Bread, after winning a national competition for her recipe in the aptly named ‘The National Brown Bread Baking Competition’. After making it to the ‘final four’, against the best of the best in the country, Marie came out on top and will now see her bread sold across all 143 of Aldi’s Irish stores, hopefully launching in December. That together with the €15,000 cash prize has meant that 2020 has been a very successful outing, to say the least.
Marie has pretty much spent her entire life in Carrigaline, bar a three-year stint away in Dublin when studying for her Masters. It’s safe to say therefore that she is born and ‘bread’ (pardon the pun) in Carrigaline and also has quite a unique background and story to tell. Her parents were caretakers of Ballea Castle, where her mum ran a guest house, and there she enjoyed many of her early childhood memories, but perhaps with the absence of strawberries and avocados. “It was just a gorgeous place to live”, Marie recalls. “I left there when I was about 9 and it probably wasn’t until I was older that I really realised just how much of a fabulous place it was to grow up. It was like a zoo there, we had all sorts of animals, everything. Peacocks and beautiful swans wandering around, it was just gorgeous”.
Just as home forms a massive part of her life, so does baking. While she does enjoy it, baking is somewhat more of a ‘therapeutic’ experience for Marie, and what better time to be able to concentrate on perfecting a recipe than being on maternity leave in the middle of lockdown. With the whole world experimenting with first-time banana breads and other similar treats, Marie was attempting to do something that many of us baking-charlatans could only dream of, as she looked to put her best oven mitt forward.
Having previously entered the competition last year, Marie had some knowledge of what was coming her way, but this year she wanted to go one step further and take home the top prize. However, with Covid throwing a spanner into the works the process all happened a bit quickly for the Cork woman. “I suppose it was only just as I found out that the competition was going ahead did I realise how soon the drop-off time for Cork selection was”, Marie explains. “So I practiced a bit before that, having done a lot during lockdown and submitted my entry in the last week of August. Just over a week after that I was called to say that I had been selected to go through to the finals, so it was really a quick turn-around!”
In a normal year, the finals would have taken place at the National Ploughing Championships, but obviously given the circumstances that could no longer be the case. Instead Marie was whisked off to Dublin’s ‘Cooks Academy’, where she faced off against three other ladies, all of whom came from outside of Munster! After ‘dabbling with and tweaking’ her recipe from the previous year, Marie felt confident that she had a good product ready to be made on the day of the competition. With three judges waiting in the wings to deliberate and deliver their final verdicts, it was a case of practice makes perfect for Marie, but then again with no home kitchen comforts to lean on, it did turn out to be a bit of a nerve-wracking experience. “The oven is the main concern. I have to say that I was honestly more nervous this year than I was last time because you just don’t know what difference the ovens can make. Thankfully everything went to plan though and I managed to avoid any disasters”.
Despite the nerves, Marie managed to take it all in her stride, and having fended off hundreds of people to get to the finals she now had just 3 competitors left in the way. With the standard as high as ever you can imagine the shock when the Carrigaline resident was informed that she was declared the winner, taking the cash and the bragging rights to go with it. “It still hasn’t really sunk in at all to be honest. I was just absolutely thrilled to win the competition and the whole experience has been just wonderful.”
Next on the agenda for Marie is to see her bread hit the shelves, and Aldi will be selling as close to a version of her recipe as possible across all of their Irish stores over the coming months. “I went up to see the head baker a couple of weeks ago to taste what he had come up with and it’s very, very close to my original recipe so I’m delighted with that. I can’t wait to finally see it stocked up before Christmas and hopefully everyone else will enjoy it as well. I’ve had an input in the design too so I’m really excited to see the finished product.”
With appearances to come on The Today Show, Marie is adding to her other moonlighting roles as a painter, writer and actress. The latter of the three has seen her appear in a number of short films, adverts and kids TV, so clearly there is no end to her talents!
The Aldi launch is expected to take place in mid-December, closely aligned with her appearance on the national broadcaster, so make sure to go out and get a hold of the winning formula, supporting one of our own in the process. Congratulations once again to Marie from all of us at The Carrigdhoun Newspaper, we look forward to seeing what comes your way next!