Hi Samuel Dennigan, tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background in the food business?
“I came home from art college about ten years ago and worked in the family business to make money to travel. But I got the bug from working in the fruit market in Dublin – everyone calls it Smithfield but it’s actually Mary’s Abbey. I traded there for a few years, doing everything from cleaning the floor to – eventually – working as a salesman in the end. After that I noticed I loved everything about it; the produce, the atmosphere, dealing with providers and suppliers…
“I kept at it and moved through the family business, doing sales, marketing management and IT. I wanted to combine being creative with food with what I know about fresh produce to take it to a wider food topic in general.”
What does food mean to you?
“When people ask ‘what’s your favourite music?’ there’s no one answer. So food is a few things to me. It’s a necessity, obviously, but I’m not a health freak – I like to have fun and eat good food, as well as perceived ‘bad’ food. It is a vital part of everyday life, but I get really excited about it. I love the specifics of ingredients, where they’re from, what their story is. When dealing with growers they all have a unique selling point, based on family heritage, where it’s grown, the soil’s characteristics and much more. It doesn’t matter where you get it; everyone has their own story to tell. I love the story of all foods. Knowing exactly how it got there tells you something about the quality.”
What do you hope people will get out of Strong Roots?
“The main thing to get across is that frozen food could be healthy and to tell people that Strong Roots is a brand they can trust. What we can do is communicate that we’re happy to show the entire supply chain in a healthy and sophisticated way. We’re not trying to do frozen food for the sake of volume. We’re trying to use it to present quality, with suitable ingredients as well as the convenience of something you can use straight from the freezer.”
Why did you choose sweet potatoes for the first Strong Roots product?
“Sweet potatoes are very topical at the moment in all health circles and trendy diets. Where people are trying to replace carbs, sweet potatoes are very popular. They’re very healthy they have a low GI which means that if someone is using carbs, there’s less of a blood sugar spike after they eat sweet potatoes. That’s why they’re becoming so popular – it’s incredibly nutritious like a potato, but releases energy more slowly, like the slow-release energy you get from porridge. Also, sweet potatoes are delicious and versatile! The way we’re presenting it is being led by the service market – it’s in restaurants in Ireland, but not supermarket. You’ll find that it’s really convenient for oven baking at home.”
What’s your advice to someone who loves good food, but who can’t cook?
“I would say that the idea that someone doesn’t know how to cook is mostly down to not having tried enough. There’s often a fear with people today that if they try they mightn’t make the greatest thing ever made. This fear is often led by celebrity chefs – but often celeb chefs make overcomplicated things and don’t stick to basic flavours. The simple things are always the easiest; most vegetables can be eaten raw, for instance. I grew up with meat and two veg dinners and I’m mostly self-taught as a cook. I would say just try – start with what you like, then try to add a little flavour as you get more confident.”
What’s next for Strong Roots?
“Sweet potatoes don’t grow in Ireland, but they are a super crop so we decided to start there. A super crop is a vegetable with great yield and is nutritious. I want to take that idea and bring it across indigenous Irish vegetables. We have loads of root vegetables in Ireland – carrots, parsnips, turnips, and lots of veg we could grow like oca root (a Peruvian potato-like plant) and others from South America. We want to grow and produce them here into frozen vegetable recipes and we want to mix fusion cuisine and culture with recipes from herbs and spices from Asia, central Europe and South America. We’ll be taking something that might not look exciting at first and making it interesting and tasty!”
By Joe Griffin