Meet the people who make Food & Drink the Waterford Way – their place, their history, their community, their stories
Margaret Fleming, Dessert First
Margaret Fleming’s passion for homemade baking is fuelled by a vivid memory from her Waterford childhood. “I remember baking lemon biscuits with Nana Kelly, my mother’s mother…I was about seven years old but the pleasure I got from tasting those hot, buttery biscuits fresh from the oven has never been forgotten.”
In 2010, she set up Dessert First to produce “traditional, old fashioned baking using real, natural ingredients” – food, the ‘Waterford Way’.
“It’s back to the days of using just fresh eggs, flour and real butter,” Margaret said. “We like to source as much as our ingredients as possible from local, Waterford suppliers, which is easy as there are so many of them out there at the moment, each one flourishing. We use Early Bird Eggs from Ballinamult and we’re obsessed with using real butter, which I think is actually our unique selling point because nobody else seems to be using it. We really want to recreate the memory that everyone has of their mammy or their nanny baking wonderful tarts and scones on a Sunday morning.”
Since the early days, when Margaret operated out of a small unit in Ferrybank, Dessert First has risen, like a fine dough, to a purpose built premises in the Westside Business Park where it now employs 13 full and part time local staff.
“There are two different sides to our business – the retail side with the pre-packed Dessert First brands, and the catering range, which supplies deli counters and in store bakeries,” Margaret said. “There’s been a huge upsurge in tourism in the south east because of the Greenway and we have expanded our range of products for cafes and restaurants off the back of that.”
What motivates you?
Waterford has a rich tradition of making and baking using what’s growing all around us. I’ve always been fuelled by a desire to promote natural, local ingredients and to bake like our parents and grandparents baked. I love the idea that when you take a bite of something, you can almost taste its story and the passion that went into making it. Most of the commercial bakeries, because they are trying to produce to scale, are using big machines that will never touch a human hand and it’s just not the same as how it used to be, and how it should be. I want people to be able to taste, smell and feel Waterford with every bite of something we make.
What do you think of the food industry today?
There is a huge need to go back to basics. So many products on the market today are driven, almost exclusively, by price, rather than quality. That needs to change. There needs to be more of a balance between price and quality because at the end of the day if someone pays €2 for a tart, then they must ask themselves what’s in it…how can it be sold for so cheap. There are too many additives and artificial sweeteners being used in food today and we really don’t know what they’re doing to our bodies. That’s why we try, as much as humanly possible, to only use natural ingredients.
What’s next for Dessert First?
We’re looking at healthier options – in as much as you can be healthy when you’re making desserts! One of the products in particular that I’m looking at is reduced sugar cookies because they really shouldn’t have the amount of sugar that a lot of commercial companies put into them. Sugar is a cheap ingredient so they often bulk up their stuff with it. What I’m doing is attempting to bake something that has about half the sugar as you’d expect but still tastes just as good.
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