The St. Petersburg woman has inspired a new wave of Irish cuisine. She died at the age of 81.

By the time Noreen Kinney moved to Cork, Ireland in the 1970s, she had already had a lifetime of adventure.. Born and raised in India, she frequented secretarial school in London, where she also trained with the British Olympic diving team. She worked for three years for the son-in-law of the Shah of Iran. She played the piano on the set of a Columbia Pictures film in Italy. She met her husband in London. They lived in Australia.

In the early 1970s, the Kinneys moved to Ireland with their two young daughters.

There, Ms Kinney did something she had never trained for, but spent her life studying. She started a revolution in Irish cuisines that has helped transform the country’s cuisine.

“I’m not really qualified for anything,” she told the Independent Irish in January 1974.

She spent the rest of her years proving she was wrong.

Ms Kinney, who lived in St. Petersburg, died on September 26 of a stroke. She was 81 and leaves behind two daughters, five grandchildren and many valuable recipes, including her recipe for Irish Soda Bread, which you will find at the end of this story.

Noreen Kinney and her husband, Fred Kinney, lived around the world before settling in Ireland. Ms. Kinney has been made an Honorary Life Member of the American Culinary Federation and inducted into the American Academy of Chefs. [ Courtesy Rachel Wheeler ]

Cooking in evening dress

Ms. Kinney didn’t grow up with pots and pans in the kitchen learning family recipes.

But she savored the flavors in every place she lived and often found herself in kitchens and markets, asking how it was made.

In Cork, Ms Kinney saw the potential that went beyond potatoes and cabbage. So she put on evening wear and offered some cooking demonstrations.

“This turned out to be so popular that Noreen was encouraged to spread her wings and last Wednesday and Thursday she started two six-week courses at Leprechaun restaurant, Patrick Street, Cork,” a newspaper clipping read of January 24, 1974. “Despite the wind, rain, high water, and broken phone lines, both are complete and, if last Wednesday night’s crowds are any indication, will be the forerunner of many more.

Mrs. Kinney was not trying to teach people how to cook. She wanted them to know what other people were cooking in the world and how it could improve their own dishes.

She said something then in the Chief of Limerick, which she would repeat for years:

“This country is virgin territory to become a gourmet paradise.

Noreen Kinney with her two daughters and their dog.  Ms. Kinney has cared for Shih Tzus for most of her life.
Noreen Kinney with her two daughters and their dog. Ms. Kinney has cared for Shih Tzus for most of her life. “She has been an active ambassador in promoting Ireland, its food and cuisine and in organizing food tours in Ireland,” said Matt McNulty, former Managing Director of Irish Tourism. [ Courtesy Rachel Wheeler ]

Date Noreen

Mrs. Kinney excelled in the kitchen, but she had no intention of staying there.

The cooking demonstrations led to a culinary tour, which led to a company column, “Out and About with Noreen,” in the Liège Examiner. She wrote a monthly column for a magazine. She founded the Irish Gourmet Society. She has written several cookbooks.

Rachel Wheeler and her sister, Muirgheal Montecalvo, were little when their mom started her food tours, and they had go a few times. Wheeler remembers collecting money and handing out tickets.

At home, Ms. Kinney cooked simple and delicious meals: Paprika Chicken, Chicken Muirgheal, Montecalvo’s favorite, and Rachel Salad, a tuna dish that Wheeler loved.

They didn’t know their mom was a big deal, Wheeler said.

Ms Kinney and her husband eventually separated and later divorced, and when her daughters moved to Florida Ms Kinney followed. In 1990 she made her home in St. Petersburg, but continued to promote Irish cuisine.

In 1996, the Irish Tourist Board appointed Ms Kinney as Honorary Culinary Ambassador to the United States. In 2002, the Irish Food Board honored her as a pioneer of the new Irish cuisine movement.

In the United States, Ms. Kinney founded the Cordon d’Or International Culinary Academy Awards. Janet Keeler, then culinary editor of Tampa Bay Times, covered this first awards ceremony in the library community room. Two years later, the event was at Vinoy Renaissance station.

Ms Kinney did not act any differently at the historic hotel than at the library, Keeler said.

“It felt like a big thing and she was on full blast all the time.”

Mrs Kinney, right, with her daughters, top left, and her grandchildren, bottom left.
Mrs Kinney, right, with her daughters, top left, and her grandchildren, bottom left. [ Courtesy Rachel Wheeler ]

“She wrote her own rules”

Around 2015, Ms. Kinney hired Belinda Hanks as a housekeeper. “But I never cleaned anything,” Hanks said.

She took Ms Kinney to lunch (Indian restaurants were a favorite), the British grocery store (to stock up on teas and candy), and helped curate a lifetime of awards, news clips and albums. Ms Kinney was a brand ambassador for Kerrygold Butter and Baileys Irish Cream, and she had plenty of them in her kitchen.

Hanks listened Ms Kinney’s stories for years, and she is still struck by her friend’s daring – getting a divorce when she did, championing her cause in her career, talking with her really good British accent about things she found unacceptable.

“She wrote her own rules,” Hanks said. “She wrote her own rules with everyone in her life, from her parents to her husband to her kids to everyone she’s done business with. She was his own wife.

Here’s Ms. Kinney’s Irish Soda Bread recipe, which was published in the Wisconsin State Journal on March 12, 2008.

Noreen Kinney's Irish Soda Bread recipe was published in the Wisconsin State Journal on March 12, 2008.
Noreen Kinney’s Irish Soda Bread recipe was published in the Wisconsin State Journal on March 12, 2008. [ Via ]

Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

Correction: Ms Kinney met her husband in London, not in Italy. It has been corrected. We apologize for the mistake.

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