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Food for the Soul's Cover Model

The Story of Rose

by Chef Gary O'Hanlon, Author, Food for the Soul

She's the cover model of Food for the Soul. I spoke with thousands of people in Donegal Town on Saturday last at The Taste of Donegal Food Festival and the venue for our launch. They didn't ask about the beautiful Strawberry Tartlet on the cover or my lovely crazy purple floral shirt. It was Rose. My beautiful wee pal who has rarely missed a Sunday Lunch in Viewmount House.

I love Rose. She's funny, kind and by all means a fussy customer. In fact a year or so ago she was sat at a table beside one of Ireland's most respected food critics. I was delighted that it worked out that way because once I realised 'said food critic' was in the building I figured Rose would have been raving so much about lunch that the critic couldn't but love the place.

How wrong I was. Rose wasn't one bit happy with my portion size on the day in question and she didn't hold back from telling me. I was in shock but I learned my lesson. No fancy stuff around Rose, give her what she wants.

As it turns out the same critic awarded Viewmount House Restaurant of the Year for 2014 and all through the ceremony all I could think about was Rose and her lunch the day the critic was there. Thank God all was well. In fact, it could well have been the way in which Rose' complaint was dealt with that we got what we did. Either way, she's still my favourite customer and I love her honesty.
I was a nervous wreck on Saturday, the day of the book launch. In fact I was a nervous wreck the past few weeks knowing that the book was at the printers and almost ready. I'd put lots of time and thought into it and had taken the advice of as many Bluebird Care personnel as I could. I really want them to be happy and for their clients to benefit from the book, whether it is from the little back stories or my recipes or even my cooking tips.

I love a crowd where I know nobody. In Donegal that's not an option. Every time I glanced across the room during my cookery demonstration I made eye contact with everyone from my Mum, granny Josie, my aunt Francis, Mairead Bradley (a friend from my teenage years) to Joanne from Media Box (the lady responsible for getting Food for the Soul over the line) to big boss Eddie O'Toole (Operations Director of Bluebird Care).

Inside I was dying but that's always the way. Dancing on the outside, dying on the inside. Quite like a manic service at the restaurant really. It's all opera and candles in the dining room and utter mayhem behind the doors in the kitchen. Deep down I love the pressure.

I got my first copy of Food for the Soul on Friday last, the day before the official launch. I already knew who was going to get it. I wanted Rose to be the person to get the very first copy of our book.

Rose hasn't been well for a few weeks sadly so she hasn't made it to Viewmount House for lunch in a while. I usually cook breakfast for our guests on a Sunday and in the event Rose can't make lunch, I will pop down the lane to visit her prior to lunch service.

This week was a special one because I'd Rose's copy of Food for the Soul with me. Her incredible family who are always so good to her had just left for Mass so it was just Rose and I flicking through the book. She reached her favourite dish of Fish Cakes and spoke about the day, the very charming Harry Weir, (our photographer) came to the house to visit and take some pictures of Rose and I.  She had the eye on our Harry from the minute she saw him. It was great fun.

Rose has her family by her side as she recovers from a little illness and to see the joy Food for the Soul has already brought them made me very proud indeed. She flicked through the book and was picking out little dishes she planned on making her daughter cook for her.

Whether it is a Bluebird Care employee, family member or friend that is exactly what we wanted Food for the Soul to do. Bring people together in their own homes, read our little stories and bring a few laughs to dinner time.

The first of our nationwide demos takes place in Letterkenny in September and I can't wait to bring the book to life at each venue.

I look forward to seeing you all and hearing your own little cooking stories.

Happy cooking!

Chef Gary.