Domini Kemp trained as a chef at Leith’s in London in 1996, before co-writing “New Irish Cooking” and working in the Michelin-starred Peacock Alley, Dublin. In 1999, she founded itsa, together with her sister Peaches Kemp. They opened the first itsa outlet on Abbey Street. Since then, the company has grown to 5 brands and over 100 employees across 14 locations, as well as catering and event management. The brands include itsa, Joe’s, Hatch & Sons, Alchemy Juice Co. and Feast Catering & Events. The group also runs the cafes@ IMMA, plus Table Restaurant in Brown Thomas, Cork. Their outdoor catering and event management (FEAST Catering) is resident wedding caterer in Powerscourt House, Co. Wicklow.
Domini was food-writer for The Irish Times Saturday Magazine from 2008-2016 and regularly appears on the Today Show on RTE. She is also on the steering committee for Social Enterprise change in Ireland and was involved in this government policy for change regarding employment for ex-offenders and social enterprise initiatives. She is a member of the Irish Food Writers Guild and a Eurotoques Chef. The Kemp Sisters won the IMAGE “Businesswoman of the Year” award, November 2009 and were nominated as one of the finalists for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, in 2011. After a breast cancer diagnosis in 2013, Domini drastically changed her eating habits and to coincide with this change of direction to low-carb and healthy fat eating, she created the health, juice and wholefoods range “Alchemy Juice Co”. She wrote her fifth cookbook, “The Ketogenic Kitchen” with co-author, Patricia Daly, which has been a best-seller in the US and due for release in Germany. Domini is studying for an MA in Gastronomy & Food Studies in DIT.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
I think leadership is something that tugs away at you: maybe it’s frustration with status quo, a determination to do things for yourself… but equally, I have seen very timid and shy people become great leaders with the right support, good mentors and a healthy dose of confidence. Look at someone like Donald Trump – who is definitely not lacking in confidence or self-belief – but is he a good leader? I think leaders have to be strong and that they must be decisive. But you cannot lead unless you understand your opponent or why there is opposition.
When you are filling a leadership role in your organisation what qualities do you look for from candidates?
Empathy, 360 vision, understanding and confidence to see a job through. Leaders cannot be knee-jerk decision makers…but doing nothing and hoping problems go away is not leading! It’s ostrich-style management.
If you had to leave your organisation for 1 year what would you ask of your team and what advice would you give them?
I would encourage them to have their own style and not just to copy what’s been done before. But that they value the responsibility – and to ensure our reputation, qualities and company culture is upheld.
What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?
I try to keep learning, have an open mind and to recognise when something is not working. I have good instincts and I am always inspired by the work of others. Making sure that the company’s energy and enthusiasm remain high is really vital to keeping a company relevant.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
I recently saw Hilary Clinton interviewed by Ryan Tubridy and she was like a different person to the presidential candidate who campaigned against Trump. She was so honest and open about the personal failings she felt by having lost the election to a man who ran a really dirty campaign. It was heartbreaking to watch – thinking what could have been. The election was unfair and unjust, the media and candidates resorting to low tactics and sensationalist populism. But despite all this, she was back working again and was not defeated. It was a good reminder about holding your head up and that you can’t run away, but must keep working hard to help change things around you.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
People love reading autobiographies about other successful business people, but I am much more interested in history, philosophy and science: how we got here, why we repeat the same things and how we might change things from recurring!