Diaspora spotlight: Emily McCorkell, founder, Lo & Slo
Philadelphia native Emily McCorkell moved to Derry in 2005. After marrying a local man, relocating to Dublin, and having two children, the family were left devastated when a sudden illness struck her husband. They returned to Derry to rebuild their lives and Emily, inspired by flavours from home, began developing her own hot sauce. Lo & Slo launched in 2018 and in addition to its award-winning Barbecue Sauce and Vinegar Mop, now produces delicious dry rubs and hot street food. You can try Lo & Slo, a member of the LegenDerry Food and Drink Network, for yourself at the Christmas Winterland Market in Derry’s Guildhall Square from December 12th to 15th.
You created Lo & Slo sauces during a very difficult time for you and your family. What were those early days like?
I was stress cooking and force-feeding people! I had a lot of insomnia and I was either baking or cooking or making sauces – anything with food – to take the chaos of our lives and bring a sense of peace and control. My brother visited from the States and saw there was a gap in the market here for an American doing BBQ. With investment help from him, I was able to take it to the Foodovation Centre (in Derry’s North West Regional College), and buy packaging and ingredients. I also got lots of advice at council events and would go and speak to different chefs and butchers with my notebook. I don’t have a business background, so it’s been such a learning curve.
How did it feel to see the finished product for the first time?
It was very, very surreal. Especially because we came out of such a tumultuous time for the family. To see something tangible I could hold, it felt like the key to our future. But it was also really scary. When we took the sauces to last year’s Slow Food Festival, it was incredible. My favourite memory was watching people’s faces as they tasted them. These were strangers who believed in me, my sauce and my business.
How has the business grown since then?
We now have a production unit, rubs and a seasoning blend (with local dulse seaweed). And we’ve moved into hot food catering – I opened up Gumtree one day and stumbled across a food truck for sale locally, all kitted out, so we bought it. After making some small changes, we took it to the LegenDerry Street Food Festival this July. I couldn’t have anticipated how well we did there. I’m also looking into exporting the sauces.
Tell us about the LegenDerry Food and Drink Network?
It’s fabulous. It links up producers of food and drink, chefs, people in hospitality, and tourism. It’s also championing something unique in our city, the Lough Foyle Irish Flat Oyster. It’s about how the food network will benefit the city, and when the city does well, businesses do well.
How has Derry changed since you moved here 14 years ago?
My dad is from New York and I grew up in Philadelphia. In Derry, everything closed at 5pm and I didn’t know how people got anything done! Things have changed now. The only evening option then was to go out drinking, but now there are things like late night coffee shops and more exercise clubs. And there’s so much great food now; there’s an inverse diaspora where local people like Stephen Forbes (from Mekong Street Food) have come back with flavours from their travels. And there are places like La Tia Juana’s, and 2 North, where people who’ve made Derry their home are sharing cuisine from their own countries.
What are your go-to places for food here?
My dad knew all the alleyways to go down for really good Chinese food in New York, so whenever I get stressed or tired, those are the flavours I crave and I go to Mekong Street Food. The Walled City Brewery does probably the best pork burger I’ve ever had. Sean Harrigan at the Sooty Olive is doing really cool things, and 9ine Hostages on Waterloo Street does really good coffee – I like their pour-over coffee. And I love Doherty’s stew with special mince. I don’t try and make it myself, they do it so well.
What was Christmas like growing up in Philadelphia?
It was really normal to get at least two feet of snow. We would have cleared the snow from the grill outside and just cooked on it. It was cold but it was fun. We didn’t have lots of traditions so my memories are different from every year, but my mom always made cookies. When I moved here, she used to send me parcels full of different cookies.
What are your plans this Christmas?
We’re spending it here. We’ll have the Christmas boxes with pyjamas, and hot chocolate the night before. On Christmas Day we’re cooking dinner and bringing it over to my in-laws – I’m making some special stuffing with cranberries, chestnuts and orange zest but otherwise it will be the traditional Christmas dinner.
What would you say to someone thinking of moving to Derry?
Pack warm clothes! No, I think if anybody has moved away, I would definitely encourage them to give it a second chance. The warmth of the people has stayed the same, but the place has changed so much.
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