Noreen Kinney (n ée Hamilton) who passed away in Tampa Bay, Florida, aged 81 was tireless in her promotion of Ireland and its p roduce and c uisine. Appointed honorary culinary ambassador for Ireland in the USA, she was a true pioneer of modern Irish cuisine.
he proud Corkonian was also a seasoned journalist and was a staunch advocate for equality as a founding member of the Woman’s Political Association in Cork and was elected as a representative of the Council for the Status of Women.
She enjoyed a remarkable life. Born in India, she lived in the UK, Italy, Iran, Australia, Ireland and the USA. Returning to her ancestral roots in Crosshaven, she finally settled in Florida in 1990 close to her daughters and their families.
Recognised as a pioneer of new Irish cuisine by Bord Bia in 2002, she also served for many years as honorary culinary ambassador in the USA for Bord Fáilte. She actively used these roles to engender and solidify co-operation among all who promoted Ireland and its food. Her brown bread was a feature of St Patrick’s week at the Publix supermarket chain throughout the USA.
Born in India to Irish parents, her father Dr Jack Hamilton served as a doctor with the British Army in India for over 30 years. Noreen was educated in India and the UK, with a brief stint in Ireland.
She was an accomplished musician, reaching a professional standard on the piano. Her passion however was in studying, researching and developing her culinary knowledge.
With her mother Evelyn she enjoyed exploring the diverse cuisines of India. She gathered her recipes, methodologies and tips directly from the women she met across the world and regarded the women of southern India as the finest cooks and Irish products as the finest ingredients.
As a young woman she had lived in Italy where she worked for Universal Pictures as a musician, and Iran where she worked for the family of the Shah — experiences that made her sophisticated beyond her years
Attending a world food conference in London, she met an American global chemical broker, Fred Kinney.
It was love at first sight, followed by a whirlwind romance and marriage five weeks later. They had a powerful and intense interest in global cuisine — he was an expert on Asian cuisine. She joined him in his global travels which took them to China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Hawaii, New Zealand and Panama. They settled in Sydney, Australia, where he had family, and she founded her first school of cookery there.
However, she never settled there as she felt too isolated from her family so returned to Ireland with her husband and two young daughters and settled in Wood House, Coolmore, Carrigaline. With a strong Cork ancestry she was not a blow-in and soon astounded the locals with her energy, enterprise, endurance and independence.
Seeing a lack of representation and understanding of international foods in Ireland, Noreen began offering cooking demonstrations in her home. They were so popular she began offering courses in Cork city which completely sold out.
She found herself inundated by the numbers wishing to learn about global cuisine and wanting to enrich their own skills and creativity in making the best use of the great Irish ingredients. She didn’t aim to teach anyone how to cook.
Her goal was to increase existing repertoires and add more flavour to existing foods. In Noreen’s view, Ireland was virgin territory but with all the ingredients for creating a gourmet’s paradise.
She took her culinary arts teaching and lecturing nationwide, working with the hotel and restaurant sector to enrich their offering. In February 1976 The Sunday Press referred to Noreen as a “super cook” and over the following years she made numerous appearances on both television and radio.
She founded the Irish Gourmet Society and made the Vault Room in the Beamish & Crawford brewery into a leading venue. After she settled in Florida she organised many “culinary tours of Ireland” before Covid-19 struck.
She wrote “Out and About with Noreen” for The Cork Examiner for six years, had a column in the Social & Personal magazine for eight years, and had numerous articles published in other national publications. She produced a flood of articles not only on food, cooking and the culinary arts, but also current events and women’s rights.
Noreen is survived by her daughters Muirgheal and Rachel and their families, both living in the Tampa Bay area in Florida.
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