Mary Anne Mackle’s talent for cooking was obvious from a young age, but when she finished school, the last thing that she wanted to do was indulge in a food-related profession.

“My mother wanted me to go to catering college but I wanted to go away and do something exciting. So I did a business degree and went to Liverpool.

When I was a student I wasn’t cooking very much, it was only when I left university and travelled that I started again. When I came back home I wondered what I would do. I was reading a magazine one day, came across an ad for Ballymaloe Cookery School and I thought, ‘That’s it’,” explains the Armagh native, who now resides in Moy, Co Tyrone.

I wanted to work in Belfast and at that time there was only a couple of really good restaurants

“I phoned Ballymaloe and they said, ‘We have one place left for this three-month course, if you want it you have to decide today.’ It’s expensive there but luckily my parents supported me. I drove down and up for an interview in the one day; and at that time there was no motorway.”

And after completing her course, Mary Anne showed the same determination when it came to getting a job.

“I wanted to work in Belfast and at that time there was only a couple of really good restaurants including Paul Rankin’s Roscoff, Michelin starred restaurant – it was really renowned. I used to phone Paul Rankin all the time,” she laughs.

That was a complete eye-opener, they cook 100% seasonally and even now not many places do that

“I sent my CV and eventually he called me and said, ‘The girl in the café has broken her arm and we need someone straight away’. I said I would work in the café if I could move to the restaurant because I wanted to learn. I stayed there for a few years and then I went to London because I wanted to learn something new.”

In the UK, Mary Anne worked at the renowned River Café in London, where Jamie Oliver was discovered.

“That was a complete eye-opener,” she says, “they cook 100% seasonally and even now not many places do that.

They’ll have tomatoes all summer and then you’ll not have another tomato for the rest of the year. I try to eat that way as much as possible. I like to keep it fresh and ideally local. My father grew everything and my plan is to have a vegetable garden here.”

Wee Buns

When Mary Anne returned from England, she started to sell baked goods, jams and jellies at St George’s market in Belfast under the name “Wee Buns”.

“I came back home with it in my mind to open a place. The market had just relaunched and I thought, ‘I could do that in the meantime’. I started at the market and stayed there for nearly 10 years. I worked from home and my cookery kitchen used to be a shed. I set the cookery kitchen up so that if I wanted to do classes I could.

At home, it’s hard for parents because they’re busy so the children can come here and make a mess

“Before I had my twin boys, I was doing the market and classes, but when they came along the market wasn’t viable any more, I used to get up at 4am. So I focused on the classes instead. It allows me to work and to be with them. I spent my whole life working so I didn’t want to stop.”

Mary Anne runs classes for kids and adults, and Wee Buns Cookery School featured in Discover Northern Ireland’s list of top 10 things to do in Northern Ireland in 2019.

“At home, it’s hard for parents because they’re busy so the children can come here and make a mess, and I have all the equipment and the ingredients. I discuss things like how to tell if your eggs are fresh, it’s great for kids. My boys are too young to be into baking but they love their buns,” laughs Mary Anne.

“For adults it’s a nice morning out. We do tea and scones and then I would do the demonstration. They make one or two things depending on the recipes and whatever they create they can take home.”

Great British Bake Off

Baking has taken off in recent years and the Great British Bake Off has helped to spark an interest in the younger generation.

“A lot of young people love the Bake Off and that has given them a lot of interest, they want to be able to bake. In the last 20 years baking has seen a huge rise in popularity. What you buy in the shop doesn’t compare to home baking and you can bake simply at home, it doesn’t have to be complicated and you can use really good ingredients.”

To find out more about Wee Buns Cookery School visit


Mary Anne Mackle's fairy cakes.

Fairy cakes

Makes approx 24 buns

125g self-raising flour

125g soft butter (must be very soft)

125g caster sugar

2 eggs medium or large

1 tsp vanilla extract (or paste)

2 x 12 bun tins and bun papers

  • 1 Preheat oven to 180°C or 160°C fan.
  • 2 Sieve the flour into a large bowl, add the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla.
  • 3 Using an electric hand whisk, whisk to combine well. The mixture should be soft enough to fall easily off the spoon (do not over mix).
  • 4 Spoon into bun cases, no more than half full and cook for approximately 10-15 minutes until light golden.
  • 5 Cool on a wire rack and ice.
  • Glace Icing

    200g icing sugar sifted

    Hot water from a boiled kettle

    Food colouring (optional)

  • 1 Sieve the sugar into a small bowl and add a little bit of hot water at a time. Using a spoon, mix until smooth and until it is the right consistency – it should have the consistency of double cream.
  • 2 Add a little food colouring if required.
  • Buttercream Icing

    6oz soft butter

    6oz icing sugar

    Vanilla paste (optional)

  • 1 Beat the butter, icing sugar and vanilla together (with a whisk or in a food mixer) until light and fluffy. This will take at least five minutes.
  • Roasted chicken with potatoes and turmeric.

    Roasted chicken with potatoes and turmeric

    Serves four

    This is best marinated for a few hours or overnight, but is still delicious if cooked immediately.

    4 chicken drumsticks and thighs (skin on or off)

    3 tablespoons olive oil

    1 tablespoon lemon juice

    1 tablespoon sweet paprika (or use ½ hot paprika)

    ½ tablespoon turmeric

    Salt and pepper

    3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

    500g waxy potatoes (Charlotte or Vivaldi)

  • 1 Heat oven to 200°C (180°C fan).
  • 2 Dry the chicken joints and place in a bowl. Add the spices, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and pepper, mix in well and leave to marinade for a few hours or overnight.
  • 3 Season with salt just before cooking.
  • 4 When ready to cook, heat the oven and heat a large roasting tray which is big enough to hold the chicken and potatoes in a single layer. If needs be, cook the potatoes on a separate tray. If they’re not in a single layer they will not roast well.
  • 5 When the tray is really hot, remove it and add the chicken pieces, making sure they are coated in some oil. They should sizzle as they touch the tray.
  • 6 Put them back in the oven immediately and prepare the potatoes. Peel, wash and dry, and then cut into bite-sized chunks. When the potatoes are ready add these to the roasting tray and put back in the oven.
  • 7 Continue cooking for 30 minutes or so, turning now and again until the chicken and potatoes are golden and cooked through.
  • 8 Serve simply with some braised spinach or with a green salad dressed with good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.