Robert Ditty, baker
Baking is a special skill .. . I learned it from my father in the family business and developed it further by working abroad in a variety of places as a student.
Not everyone is cut out to be a baker. . . You need to be able to get up in the morning and to enjoy working directly with the product.
My shops specialise in. . . traditional Northern Irish breads and good food simply made.
My favourite is. . . a soda farl straight from the griddle with lots of butter.
I’m famous for. . . my oatcakes which are now sold all over the world. We have our home market here in Ireland and in Britain, we also sell our oatcakes as far afield as Japan, Australia, the US and the Middle East.
The thing that I’m most proud of is. . . that our oatcakes were chosen as part of the menu for the State Banquet to honour the Queen’s visit to Ireland in May 2011.
Tradition is important. . . because it provides a good starting or reference point – particularly where food is concerned .
My typical day . . .starts at 6am when I help finish the night’s production in the bakery and see that it is properly dispatched. I then go on to work at anything from sorting out a staffing problem, to trying to negotiate a better price from our suppliers, to product development and writing new recipes.
I love what I do. . . except when things go wrong. Everything that goes out the door has my name on it and I feel it personally when there has been a mistake or something has failed for some reason. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often.
The best advice I’ve ever been given is. . . “If it doesn’t frighten you, then think bigger.”
If I wasn’t doing this . . .I would like to do aid work in Africa. My eyes were opened on a trip to some rural settlements in Kenya last year where help had been provided to develop beekeeping as a source of income. I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the deprivation and difference from my own circumstances, but the experience has taught me otherwise.
When I’m not working. . . I am beekeeping or gardening or reading.
My earliest food memory is. . . purple hands from picking bilberries one glorious sunny day in Donegal when I was about five or six.
The best thing I’ve ever eaten is. . . barbecued goat served up on a plate of leaves on the ground by a Masai tribesman with a sharpened twig for a fork.
My dream dinner party guests would be. . . Myrtle Allen, Barry McGuigan, Paul Young, Louie Giglio, Pablo Picasso, Adele and Mary McAleese.
And I’d cook them. . . Lough Neagh eel on potato bread, roast Sperrin lamb with vegetables from my own garden, followed by Bramley apple crumble made from our walnut oaties.
My ideal day off . . .starts with an early morning walk along the strand at Rathmullan with Helen, my wife, and our two spaniels Riley and Molly, followed by a leisurely breakfast at Rathmullan House. The afternoon would be taken up with a drive along the north coast overlooking the Atlantic then back to Rathmullan House for dinner.
I’m passionate about. . . my faith and Irish food.
I’m really good at . . .developing an idea and making it a reality. This could be food, of course, but it could be something else which can be touched and felt or made tangible through people doing things together to achieve a common goal.
I wish I was better at. . . dieting!
Not many people know this about me, but. . . I still do fine-art.
My guilty pleasure is. . . buying expensive Irish art.
In conversation with Marie-Claire Digby
Ditty’s Bakery is at 44, Main Street Castledawson Co Derry and 3, Rainey Street, Magherafelt Co Derry