When the pandemic hit and work dried up for chef Ella Kennedy, she recalibrated her skill set and set up a new business in January of this year.
Bread & Weather is an artisan soy candles and organic soaps brand based in Co Wicklow. Ella makes everything by hand in the same converted stables she had used for her catering business.
We caught up with her to find out more about her new venture and where she finds inspiration for her products.
You were self-employed as a private chef. What prompted you to change career?
I couldn’t do the intensity of catering anymore. I knew I wanted to stop and had been racking my brain for about two years for a way of working that would be more sustainable for me. It was the pandemic and the amount of time it suddenly provided that finally let me see I didn’t want to do another food business. It was more intuitive than logical in the end.
After several weeks of rest, and resigning myself to the idea of possibly ending up in a flophouse, the candle and soap idea just popped into my head. It was a perfect fit for me and I haven’t looked back since.
What did you love most about being a chef?
The confidence. I’m mostly shy and awkward in normal life but cooking always came easily to me. Even when I didn’t have any skills I was never intimidated by it or afraid to learn. It sounds lame but everything that’s tricky about being a person goes away while I’m cooking.
Are there similarities between cooking and what you do now?
Yes definitely. You’ve got temperatures, timings, weighing, mixing and pouring. All my favourite things. You need to use all your senses to make candles and soap as well, not just follow a recipe on autopilot. I can happily spend hours fiddling around making testers or click into that ‘caterer mode’ to make batches of candles and loaves of soap.
Where do you find inspiration for products?
I'm just really fussy about what scents I like. I would rather have unscented than a fake scent because synthetic scents can be so intrusive and overpowering so I just try to recreate the simplicity of scents that occur in nature.
Where do you source your ingredients?
For my soap I use organic Irish rapeseed oil from Drumeen Farm in Tipperary. It makes me very happy to support a sustainable Irish farm. Essential oils come from all over the world. I'm buying them in small quantities now but I am planning to switch as many as possible to organic when I can order in bigger quantities.
What are your favourite scents to work with?
At the moment I love experimenting with interesting flower oils like geranium and patchouli. You can make something really special and original with those when you combine them with herb or citrus oils. In winter I also make blends with spices like cardamom and clove. Those are just so comforting. You can’t go wrong with them.
Do you think there is a growing focus on
Definitely. One of the main comments I get from people who discover my products is they love that they use organic ingredients and are free from chemical scents. I think people have been bamboozled with marketing by big brands for so long that they're interested to discover it's possible to buy something locally made, with simple ingredients. It doesn't have to be as complicated as it's made out to be by the big companies.
How has the brand been received?
I’m over the moon about how it’s going. Since opening my online shop at the end of January I've had lots of repeat customers which is the best feeling because then you know they're really happy and it's not just a fluke. Some small businesses asked me about the products and that gave me the confidence to approach a few more. Now my stockists include Killruddery House, The Ballymaloe Shop, Lennox St. Grocer and Bibi’s Cafe.
What are your plans for the future?
I like being a small business. I'm not trying to supply the whole world with candles. Maybe one day it will come full circle and I'll have a little café and candle shop – but I'm not in a rush.
And, finally, what has been the highlight so far?
The friendliness and encouragement of other owners of creative small businesses. That was really unexpected. When I started I didn’t know anybody who did something like this and I didn't have contacts in any stockists. But lovely people who are makers, artists, designers, musicians, photographers, you name it, have gone out of their way to say nice things about what I’m making and even offer their help if I need it.
For more see breadandweather.ie