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.
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.
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.
“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 www.weebuns.com
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
200g icing sugar sifted
Hot water from a boiled kettle
Food colouring (optional)
6oz soft butter
6oz icing sugar
Vanilla paste (optional)
Roasted chicken with potatoes and turmeric
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)