She reveals what it's really like to be coeliac in Ireland and why we should incorporate natural products into our beauty routine.
Donegal girl, Finn Ní Fhaoláin, 27, has just released her first cookbook, Finn’s World, and has teamed up with Camile Thai to create her very own signature dish. She’s a lover of seafood and is a keen surfer, so you could say her passion lies with the ocean.
Finn was a marine scientist, doing research on a ship, when she was inspired to write her blog, Fin’s Fit Food, and subsequently her book. Here she opens up about everything from life as coeliac in Ireland, as well as her food, fitness and beauty regimes.
How did you get into cooking and why has it become such a huge part of your life?
I loved baking since I was little with my mom and my grannies, but the passion for cooking definitely came after I found out I was a coeliac. It became so important in college as I was working to recreate all the dishes that I suddenly had to cut out of my diet. Once I jumped into the world of learning new techniques and trying new flavours I was hooked. One of my favourite things in the world is to taste a taste I’ve never tasted before, if you can follow that tongue twister!
When did your coeliac journey begin?
When I was little I always seemed to have quite a low immune system, always needing antibiotics, etc., even though I was active and ate well. So we reckon the signs were probably there early on, sore stomach etc. I found out I was coeliac when I was 19, just heading off to college in Galway. I was upset at the start as I was floundering completely trying to figure out what I could eat (and appalled at the time at how bad gluten free products were) but equally it was amazing to finally have an answer and I felt so much better as soon as I adopted the gluten free diet.
What’s it like being coeliac in Ireland?
There is way more choice now, but there is still the risk of getting “glutened” through cross contamination in the kitchen. With that in mind, I veer towards the cuisines of countries who don’t base their diets around wheat when picking restaurants – Japanese, Mexican, Indian, Thai and surprisingly Spanish. I think Ireland is absolutely brilliant when it comes to gluten free options, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a restaurant here and not had something/lots of choice. My favourite thing to order depends on the restaurant. I’m most likely to order something I wouldn’t make at home for some excitement and variety. That’s why it was important for me to make a teriyaki style sauce for my stir fry at Camile, as I haven’t had a dish like this in a restaurant since I found out I was coeliac!
What would be your usual breakfast, lunch and dinner? Any favourite snacks?
Oooh breakfast is usually my Danish seed bread with a boiled egg and some sautéd spinach, and a treat would be buttermilk banana pancakes drowned in maple syrup. For lunch, after years of swearing off salad, I’m starting to get into them. Today’s was salmon with quinoa, lentils, shredded carrot and a nice dressing. I live for Mexican food, so my absolute favourite dinner is chicken mole. It is amazing, it’s a chilli sauce made with dark chocolate, nuts and a load of different types of smokey chillies, so it doesn’t need to be that hot. For snacks I make my beloved banana and coconut cake into muffins and bring them with me wherever I’m driving as a ‘treat’ (they’re pretty healthy) with coffee.
Did you always want to be an author or what led you to this point?
Ha ha, not exactly. I was full steam ahead for a research career in science. I specialised in deep sea corals for my masters and was looking at doing a PhD, but I’d been working with food on the side since before college and had been working on the recipes in Finn’s World since first year of my undergrad. While I was away on a research ship, I started the idea of the blog and then fell in love with writing. I was having such fascinating chats with the other scientists and sailors about easier/more affordable ways to be healthy around our busy day-to-day lives, and I guess that really spurred me on to turn this notebook of recipes and the concept of the blog into a book.
Seafood is something that people tend to either love or hate. How would you suggest a non-fish eater incorporate seafood into their diet?
Hmm, that’s a good question. For a start I’d say go to a good fishmonger instead of getting your fish in the supermarket. You’d be amazed the degree to which really fresh fish has hardly any smell! With that, I’d also say start with a more subtle flavoured fish like pollock, and maybe if you’re out treat yourself to some scallops (one of my absolute favourite things to get in a restaurant!).
What does the ocean mean to you?
It’s pretty hard for me to sum up. It means so much, it’s been my place of work, it’s where I go to play/exercise and unwind during times of stress. It’s also a massive inspiration… I’ve filled my house with so much sea glass and driftwood art that it’s now being inflicted on friends and family. The seashore is where I go to forage and I’m currently attempting to fish. And I absolutely love my deep sea work, the feeling of looking at a screen that’s attached to a submersible and seeing the seascape at 2,000m below sea level, and being the first people to ever to see that area is incredible. It feels like being in a Jules Verne novel.
Do you compete in surf competitions or do you just do it for fun?
I did a few in college, but mostly just for fun. I’m a dreadfully competitive person (don’t play Risk or Monopoly with me) and I used to row competitively, so it’s important to me that surfing doesn’t have that pressure on it.
How often do you surf? And how do you get your exercise in when the weather is bad?
I’ll surf any day I can or any day there’s swell! It’s a little harder now that the days are getting shorter, but I’ll happily work late into the evening if I want to surf in the afternoon. For years I love, love, loved powerlifting (which probably sounds funny as I’m so small) and worked with a PT. There’s no strongman style gyms around where I live now, so its mostly running, swimming and balance training on a Huku board.
We saw on your website that you’re into natural beauty and use products from your kitchen in your beauty routine. Why do you do this and should we all be doing the same?
I’ve always had really sensitive skin, so for a start I go beetroot-red if I use any chemical laden products. I’m a big believer of ‘you are what you eat’, but also your skin is actually the largest organ of your body, so it makes sense to put the good stuff on it! I would recommend trying natural products for sure, as not only is it good for your body, but it makes beauty a bit more affordable. My go-to’s are coconut oil (moisturiser and hair mask), rose water (toner) and honey with a little matcha green tea for a face mask.
What’s next on the cards for you?
At the moment I’m preparing a proposal for a food product for the Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition, which I’m just so excited about! I’m in the first phase of it now, so thats the Donegal heat where we pitch our plan, Dragons’ Den style, to a panel. Then January is going to be really exciting, I’m heading over to England to judge in the UK Free From Food Awards and I’ve been nominated for the European Forbes 30 Under 30, so I’ll also be finding out more about that in January. Fingers and toes are crossed for a fun and busy 2018.
Get the latest news, hottest trends & biggest competitions to your inbox.