Michelle Darmody is one of the coolest foodies in Dublin, who is most well known for her famous Cake Cafe, an alternative spot that serves delicious food made with only the highest quality ingredients and a commitment to buying from Irish artisan food producers. It obviously goes without saying that the cake in Cake Cafe is ridiculously good. Michelle not only runs the cake cafe, but last year released a bake book, writes for the Irish Examiner every weekend, launched a new textile range and recently opened a new cafe Slice in Stoneybatter... Phew! You can see why we were keen to catch up with her and get her to tell us all about what she's been up to, and her favourite spots in the city!
I'm a massive fan of the Cake Cafe and it seems to really have a cult following. What do you think is the secret to its success?
That is lovely to hear, thank you. I set up the cafe out of a passion to produce good food and great home baking and to give myself a lifestyle that I enjoy. I think this passion shines through in the business.
We have always sourced our produce from great Irish food producers and the quality of what you get on a plate is of the upmost importance. Also having a quiet space in the middle of the city is a pleasure, somewhere to sip wine on a summers evening.
I enjoy work and I think and hope that everyone else working in Cake Cafe does too which makes for a friendly atmosphere. We serve good, honest Irish cooking in a relaxed environment and really hope that each person leaves with a smile on their face.
I always do! What's the craziest customer experience or thing that has happened in the Cake Cafe?
We have quite a few characters who frequent the cafe who can be endlessly entertaining. I love the nature of a cafe over a restaurant as I feel you build up strong relationships with people.
Definitely. What's the one thing you could never take off the menu?
Our homemade beans on toast or the lemon slice.
My favourites, I love that you can now get a fried egg on the beans too! You're surrounded by amazing food all the time, is it hard not to eat cake all day every day?
I do eat cake most days with my break in work. When I travel I also love to taste different cakes and pastries – it is all in the name of research!
Research indeed... What's your favorite cake on the menu?
At the moment we are working on recipes that incorporate vegetables into our cakes trying to use their natural sweetness and moisture. Our courgette and lemon curd cake is going down a treat. We have also been experimenting with avocado in place of dairy with great success.
You've just opened a new cafe, Slice, in Stoneybatter. How is it going?
Great. It is nice to have a new project after eight years and also to be in my own neighbourhood. There is a different flow to the day in Slice than in Cake Café which took a little getting used to, and we are open evenings which is fun.
Stoneybatter seems to be a really up-and-coming area, any other hot spots there apart from Slice we should know about?
I have lived here for twelve years now and love it. Lilliput Stores is great, Washes nice for a pint and chat and Mulligan's for some tasty beers.
We'll definitely be checking those spots out. The Cake Cafe brand and associated patterns and imagery are pretty well recognised, is that what inspired you to start your new textile range, or was it an area you always wanted to explore?
I love working with Niall from Pony and the home wares were an extension of this relationship. We made the original map tea towel as a way of showing parts of the city we love, that people might not have known. It took off and gift shops started asking could they sell them so we made more and began to diversify. We get all of the wares made here in Ireland and they are registered with the Crafts Council. How something is made is as important to me as what we make.
We follow your food writing in the Examiner every weekend, how did you get into food writing?
Firstly by writing a few bits and pieces about The Cake Café when asked and by being approached to submit recipes to publications. I was then asked in a more formal way by The Irish Examiner to do a weekly column along side Darina Alan which was a pleasure. I enjoy the process of writing and the time at home it allows me.
Darina Allen is a pretty amazing chef to be writing alongside! Your bake book is incredible, will you be following it up with another cookbook?
Thank you, I am glad you like it. At present I am very busy day to day so I am not thinking about another book but I am sure in the future I will.
You have so many different projects going on, which do you enjoy working on the most?
I am working with IMMA at present organising two weekends of events that link art and food and I am really enjoying that. Keep the last two weekends in July free there is a lot planned. I studied art so it nice to be able to combine the two interests. I am working alongside Fiona Hallinan who ran Hare cafe in Temple Bar galleries. We will be bringing Hare and Cake Café into the gardens and pairing chefs and artists to create banquets in the Great Hall.
That sounds amazing, we've it pencilled into the diary already! It seems like 2014 is a really busy year for you. Do you get time to unwind and if so, what do you like doing to relax?
It has been a busy year but I do have a pretty good work life balance. I like to eat out, particularly with my family and to cook at home.
Dublin has a really thriving food scene, what do you think makes it unique?
Dublin is a really nice size city to live in with a healthy choice or places to eat. There has been a huge amount of new restaurants opening over the past few years and there are varying reasons for this but it has made for an interesting place to be. Like in all cities, the restaurants and cafés are an extension of the people who set them up and who eat in them. Small and unique businesses make this city a compelling place to live in and should be cherished and encouraged by the government as well as the customers.
Do you have any spots in Dublin that we should know about?
Marshes library, M and L Chinese.
We hear you'll be at the Lit Fest in Ballymaloe this weekend? What is it like being immersed in all things food with fellow recognised chefs and foodies for the weekend?
Last year was amazing. It was such a pleasure to be asked to talk at the festival and also to be involved in its first year. The first time an event like that happens things are very organic and alive. I had an amazing weekend and fell in love with Madhur Jaffrey's style. Sharp bob, vermillion lipstick and intensely bright Indian dress.
She seems like an interesting character alright. Who are you most excited to see there this year?
I am looking forward to seeing what some of the younger speakers have been up to. Ben Read and David Pryor have been doing interesting things are have an amazing energy I am interested to see what they have been doing this past year. I think Ottolenghi is singularly responsible for a new style of cooking, not just here but around the globe and as a business man is fascinating. I am going to his talk.
Is there anyone who inspires your work? If so who?
The group of friends I met through the Alternative Miss Ireland were and still are a huge influence on me.
You're clearly really passionate about what you do... Does your job feel like you're living your passion or is work just work at the end of the day?
My work and passions are so intrinsically linked that it is hard to pull one for the other. I am always looking and observing but I do have the ability to switch off from the day to day side of running a business when I need to. I can do that because I have a great team of people working alongside me.
What's next for you and your growing food businesses?
At present it is about taking stock of the past few months and building the evening trade in Slice. We are also launching an evening supper menu in Cake Café after five o'clock.
Tell me your favourite way to spend a day in Dublin?
Oysters in the market, stroll through town, espresso in Kapf and a pint and toasty in Grogans
And your favourite way to spend a night in Dublin?
Eating, drinking and maybe dancing.
What's your favourite bar in Dublin and why?
The Hacienda, because it is great and it is on my way home.
Any hangover cures you swear by?
Tell me your favourite restaurant in Dublin, and when you're there, what do you order?
That depends on what I feel like eating on a particular day – if I want steak L'Guelaton, sushi Musashi, Vietnamese Pho Viet, Etto is always flawless and a great place to share dishes with friends.
What's your guilty pleasure?
Salted crisps and lots of them
If you could add one thing to Dublin that we don't currently have, what would it be?
What one thing would you never change about Dublin?
Describe Dublin in 3 words.
Dirty old town – just kidding – compact, changing, home
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Ouch, I have no idea – bossy maybe
Best piece of advice you've ever received and from whom?
Get a good accountant and do not ever let lack of money hold you back. If it is a good enough idea and you want to do it, you will get the funding.
Last but not least, anything happening in Dublin this summer that you're excited about?
Well I have to say the last two weekends of July in IMMA for our food events. The full details will be released by IMMA soon.
The 7th of June Maria Summerville is singing in The Cake Café and we are serving up food, which should be a lovely evening. Slice has a beer and book club night on the 22nd of this month, so it is all go.
Thanks so much for talking to us, Michelle. We now have a list as long as our arm of places to visit, things to eat and events to go to!