Prannie Rhatigan is a medical doctor with a lifetime experience of harvesting, cooking and gardening organically with sea vegetables. Born and raised in the North West of Ireland where she still lives, she has a lifelong interest in the connections between food and health.
She holds a BA Honours degree in psychology ( NUI Galway), a medical degree, (NUI Cork) and is a qualified General Practitioner. She has worked on the National Cardiovascular Strategy programme and represented the Irish College of General Practitioners on the National Steering Group for the implementation of “Smoke Free at Work” in Ireland. She was a tutor with the ICGP for many years, training GPs in the skill of Brief Intervention and Motivational Interviewing. An experienced GP she now works mainly in Public Health.
Hailed as “Ireland’s leading seaweed expert” in Food and Wine in June 2012 she has represented Ireland’s finest food abroad on many occasions and has given workshops and lectures on sea vegetables and cooking. She delivered the President’s address to the PSA (Phycological Society of America, Seattle) in 2011 and facilitated a workshop on seaweed cooking with seaweed researchers in the USA. She shared her knowledge and gave a seaweed cookery demo at the Nordic Food Lab in Denmark when it was the research arm of Noma (awarded Best Restaurant in the World on three occasions). She has been featured on many TV and radio programmes both nationally and abroad.
Her most recent personal work includes exploring the links between genetics, the environment and the benefits of live foods on enhancing health and well-being.
She lives with her husband and daughters on the idyllic coastline of Streedagh, Co Sligo, Ireland.
Hi Prannie, can you tell us a little about what you do?
I am a medical doctor with a love of all things to do with the sea and particularly seaweeds. The Irish Seaweed Kitchen was born in 2009 when I wrote my first book. It took six years to write as at the time, nobody was interested in publishing anything on seaweeds. I was told it was “futuristic”. So I had to set about convincing journalists and food writers and eventually a publisher, which I did, and now thankfully the “future” is here.
Irish Seaweed Kitchen won Best First Cookbook –Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2009 and in 2012 I was awarded a Eurotoque Food Award for Outstanding Contribution to Irish Food.
I have just created the first of a series of Seaweed Wishes Cards and a Seaweed poster, and am currently working on two books – one will be published for Christmas and the second in 2018. It is all very exciting.
I also lead Seaweed Identification Walks and give talks on seaweed and their health benefits along with demos and workshops on how to cook with seaweeds. Collaboration with other members of the Sligo Food Trail is always good fun and our Sligo Seaweed Days is a regular summer happening.
My husband, Johnny Waters is equally interested in all things to do with the sea and where we live with our daughters is very close to the ocean. Thankfully the dog needs to be walked every day so we always have an excuse to escape to the beach.
Where do you live? Why do you like it?
I live at Streedagh on the Sligo coast and I like it because every season brings a new landscape, new colours, new food. You can really feel the turning of the year when you live so close to the Atlantic. To live your life in harmony with the harshness of the elements as we experience them here, you have to be down to earth, and have more than your share of tolerance and common sense. When you have great neighbours and an incredible landscape around you, what’s not to like?
Where were you previously located (if outside the West)
I was in Medical school in Cork, which is a really great city. The English Market was a second home. Such a vibrant food culture. The only drawback was being so far away from the sea on a daily basis. At weekends whenever I could ,I headed out to Ballycotton and for a swim off the rocks. Invigorating.
What were your main reasons for moving to the West?
Once I had my Medical Degree and General Practice Training completed I came back home to Co. Sligo. I just wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. Great to visit other countries but always lovely to come home.
What is your employment status?
When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?
I already had a career in medicine, so did not intentionally set out to start a business. The interest in seaweeds and the coast was something I grew up with. It was a hobby initially and as time passed, it became very clear that seaweeds were not just to be valued as a delicious food but also play a big role in health. If I had to choose a starting point, it would be 2009 when Irish Seaweed Kitchen was published. I was compelled to publish it so that my knowledge on the subject could be put into one place, the book, and be accessible to everyone. BIM and Bord Bia were supportive of the idea as were Failte Ireland and Sligo businesses.
What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
The Irish Seaweed Kitchen was a self-funded collaboration with a Publisher. I invested in informing myself about seaweeds and edible seaweed research worldwide, and still do.
Where is your market? How have you targeted international markets?
My market is everyone with an interest in enjoying the taste of edible seaweed and the health benefits that follow.
How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?
It was a gradual process. Writing the book took 6 years.
How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful?
I learned the harvesting skills from my father who was also a medic and knew the nutritional value of everything at the shore. My mother was a hotel manageress in the days of afternoon teas and silver service so I grew up with a strong work ethic. We were never afraid of hard work and getting a job done properly.
How do you promote your business?
To be honest my business promotes itself. I am credited with being responsible for the upsurge of interest in seaweed as a food in Ireland which is really lovely and I very much value the work that seaweed harvesters do to keep great seaweed products available and on the shelves. I stay in touch with the research that is happening worldwide and try to spread that knowledge. New recipes come easy- I love experimenting with food. My standards are extremely high so anything I do has to be completely honest and as perfect as possible. I think people appreciate the honesty and the effort. Everything I do must be sustainable and as organic as possible. From when we were small children we had to reuse and recycle. “Respect the earth – the universe will provide”
If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
I can never find an answer to that question; the process evolved in response to circumstances, to the place where I am now. If I had done things differently, then I might not have the insights nor the colleagues I now have. I would probably try and schedule in an eighth day in the week though….
What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
As I work part time in the world of medicine I am a team member so I am not really my own boss- which I enjoy immensely. Family life is also in the mix with Irish Seaweed Kitchen, so any idea of being one’s own boss is delusional. Nice, but delusional.
What should happen in the West of Ireland to support self employment / entrepreneurship?
There are good structures in place. I found Enterprise Ireland very helpful through the years. Also the model of busineses working together such as with the Sligo Food Trail
If you previously lived outside the West, how does the cost of living compare with where you previously lived?
I have always lived within a 15 mile radius of where I live now, except when I was a student when I travelled a lot including to the USA with a summer J1 Visa .
What are the main advantages and disadvantages of relocating / living in the West in terms of working and living?
The worldwide shift in appreciating nature at the moment puts the Wild Atlantic Way in a strong spotlight, and we who live there are currently basking in a sort of a reflected glory. There is a certain motivation in this for the locals, which is in itself, an advantage. When the area where you live is cited as an area of great beauty by the rest of the world, that perspective becomes an advantage, and we all perk up a bit, get a psychological lift. That’s a huge advantage for the west right now.
In general, it’s a healthy, friendly place to be, where many of the old values still hold currency, and the fast pace of today’s world can be decelerated very quickly by heading for the nearest beach or mountain trail, and tanking up on fresh air and silence.
There are probably some disadvantages; I can’t think of them, to be honest. A few years ago I would have said good theatre, restaurants and concerts were off limits, but we have a buzzing music scene here, a fabulous theatre and a restaurant network second to none. If I think of any disadvantages I’ll have get back to you….
How do you find accessibility to where you live and access to public transport / road networks / airports?
Losing the Dublin flight from Sligo Airport was a huge blow. Local public transport is limited and we are all over dependent on our cars. The bike to work scheme got a lot of us out on our bikes again but the infrastructure isn’t safe enough to be comfortable on a main road. We need more Greenways.
Why do you love where you live? What are your top tips for any visitors to where you live?
Great place to visit, or live. The real thing is probably not in the frame of your expectations. People say it’s more beautiful than anticipated, more free, the winter’s harder.
You can unexpectedly find in a provincial supermarket ingredients you would not find in one in a bigger town.
Be sure to visit the abundant markets and community festivals and just loll around there for a while.
The summer schools in the west are astounding. For maybe the first time in its history, the west has time to look at itself, study its past, and revel in its culture. If you are visiting, take time to get under the skin of the place and feel the pulse. Doctors orders!
….you may just not want to go home….
What advice would you give to anybody thinking about a life in the West?
Go for it. Life changing. For the better.
For more visit http://irishseaweedkitchen.ie/