Cover story, The Mail, You Magazine @pollypocketsy TikTok star
The Cork Catchphrase Cook: TikTok sensation @PollyPocketsy
When you hear her accent narrating her colourful cooking videos, it’s easy to tell Paulette O'Mahony hails from Cork. Her online persona, @Pollypocketsy, is a hit on TikTok, with over 1.4 million followers and over 60 million views of her videos.
She’s become TikTok famous for teaching her simple, easy recipes that often have just a couple of ingredients.
In these chatty videos, the self-taught cook borrows from all kinds of influences, including skills she learned from her parents growing up in Fairhill, Cork, and cookery courses taken while travelling through Thailand, Vietnam, and China. With one cook book already published in America, @Pollypocketsy “ just wants to show everyone that cooking healthy food isn’t that hard”. Her videos are entertaining; but Paulette is also highly skilled at making quick, delicious food, and her fans are growing by the thousands every month.
We chat to her about her childhood in Cork, taking care of her disabled mother, growing vegetables in Germany, and how she turned the necessity to cook for her family into her dream career.
During her time at North Presentation Secondary School in Faranree, with her dad working late hours, Paulette learned how to feed her family healthy food on a budget. Her mother was bedridden with polio, and for most of Paulette’s childhood, she was unable to walk, getting around in a wheelchair or crutches.
“The times when my mom was well enough to get around on crutches, she would make incredible food, so I definitely inherited some of her skills, but because she was so unwell, I was helping her in the kitchen from age six, and I was cooking myself from nine or ten! Peeling potatoes for six was the worst job, but I am the fastest potato peeler now,” she tells me.
She has a twin brother, Jonathan, and two younger brothers, Graham and Adam, and she started cooking meals for the family at the age of eight. When her dad, Pat, was home, she told me he was also handy in the kitchen: “Oh, my dad was a brilliant cook. He would make Christmas dinner every year, and whatever way he did it, it turned out so good every time. So I definitely got a bit of my flair for cooking from him too”.
Slowly, she began to enjoy her role as the cook, realising the creativity that could come with the knowledge. “It's funny looking back; I really didn’t like cooking and baking when I was a kid because it was a necessity and I had to do it, and because I didn’t enjoy it, I was always trying to find ways to make meals quicker and easier. It was only later, when I started to get interested in healthy options and learning about complimentary flavours, that I started to look at it all differently. I started using herbs and saw the way they change the flavour of a whole meal, and that all just made me fall a bit in love with cooking.”
After school, she bypassed college and stayed close to home. She went straight into the workforce, trying a variety of jobs, from a local electronics company to a timeshare exchange company, then selling insurance, working all over West Cork. “I loved that job,” she tells me. “The people down there are class, and it was great working around such beautiful scenery in Clonakilty, Rosscarbery, and Skibereen.”
She was still cooking, caring for her mother, and learning all she could about nutrition. “When my mum gained weight from being immobile, I started doing a lot of research about food and nutrition. I made her a lot of food with beans and pulses to help her lose weight, and she was very determined, drinking nutritious juices, which all helped her lose over three stone. That encouraged me to read labels more carefully and also to make as much food from scratch as possible so I knew exactly what was in it.
Paulette then got an office job in Glanmire, Cork, working alongside her dad, her brother Graham, and her twin Jonathan. “They were great times, and I was so sad to leave, but I had met my boyfriend, and we decided we were going to go travelling together. First we moved to Germany, and soon after that, we went off around the world together, visiting China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, The Maldives, and so many more places.”
Spending time in Asia and Indonesia, Paulette learned about Chinese and Thai cuisine, and that influence can be seen in her TikTok recipes, not least in her famous invention of Deep Fried Ice cream Spring Rolls! Incredibly, a cooking course in Thailand was her first official training. After returning from her travels, she came back to Germany, got married to her partner Igor, and began working in his family business. His family greenhouse business sells flowers, vegetables, fruits, and all kinds of herbs, which Paulette uses in her videos. She harvests tomatoes and cucumbers, makes pickles and preserves for the winter, pasta sauces, and soups, and shows her followers how to do it.
I've got a huge basement where all the jars are stored! I’m really passionate about making everything from scratch.”
Since she met her husband, there’s been a noticeable Russian-German element to her videos as she tries out recipes with a nod to his heritage. “He’s my ultimate food tester, and he makes no qualms about telling me if the food is good or not. He’ll say things like, Do you know what would go great with this?’ And I always have something in my head like ‘bacon’ for example, and we both shout 'bacon' at exactly the same time”.
Her TikTok story only began at the start of Lockdown in 2020. She initially started out doing comedy sketches. “I was always writing, singing, and acting, so I made loads of terribly comedy videos,” but when her occasional cooking videos started to get thousands of views and a couple went viral, she steered her content along that route and hasn’t looked back. After just one year, she had grown to over one million followers. Today, she’s nearing 1.5 million with an incredible 63 million views of her content. @PollyPocketsy gives the viewer more than just a cooking video; she also tells funny little stories. “Truths and half truths,” she tells me, “stuff that happened to me or someone I know mostly” . Her catch phrases are wholesome and fun, with her ‘Oh My My, you have to try this’ ending every video. These catch phrases feel authentic, and she assures me they are just "silly little things" she says at home herself when there are no cameras rolling.
Sadly, as Paulette’s career on TikTok was taking off, her mother’s health began to decline rapidly. “I was stuck in Germany during COVID, so I didn’t get to see my mum as often as I’d like. I had planned to visit for her birthday, but when she hadn’t been replying to my messages, I knew something was wrong. On Monday, she was brought to the hospital. I got there Thursday, and it was the longest journey of my life. I was sick with worry, and then I was told she had stage four cancer”.
Paulette got to see her mother just before she passed away. “I brushed her hair, and I kept a piece for a locket I got later, and I filed her nails and kept the nail file. I knew she was ready to go, and she passed the very next day. I was so lucky to get to say goodbye. It’s still a shock now, 10 months later. She was the most important person in my life. A huge Liverpool supporter and an even bigger Kilkenny Cats supporter, she was 73 when she died but didn’t look a day over 50.”
Paulette travelled back to Germany and is now happily settled there, but she tells me she misses Cork every day. “Every time I fly over the Irish coastline, my heart swells up and I get tears in my eyes because Cork is such a great place, full of culture, so warm and kind and open! Everyone who comes to Cork always has a great time, and I’m so proud of where I come from. I love walking down Patrick Street or down Grand Parade, where I used to live in an apartment next to Sir Henries Night Club before it was knocked down. Cork has changed so much in the last few years, so every time I’m home, it’s like a new adventure discovering new little cafes and shops that have opened up. I will always be a proud Irish girl and Corkonian at heart!”
It turns out she misses the food as much as the city, telling me she can’t get good Irish soda bread or decent crisps in Germany. Her eyes light up, and she sounds so passionate when she talks about Tayto: “Tayto are the best crisps ever, and Kerrygold butter is streets ahead of any other. As for Cadbury chocolate, Barry’s tea bags, and McDonnell curry Knorr soups, I love them all and can’t get enough. Maybe I could do a collab with them, then I’d never run out”.
Summer 2022 saw her first book published, Oh So Tasty, which is currently only available in the US. Nearly half of her 1.3 million followers are scattered throughout America, so a US publishing house got in touch and asked her to create the book for the US market.
“My aim with Oh So Tasty and future books that I plan to write is really just to show people that anyone can make food in minutes. Everyone can cook if they just set aside a little bit of time and patience. I want people to know that it's easier than it looks nearly all of the time.”
Advice for anyone starting out in Tiktok: "Depending on what your niche is, look up what length videos Tiktok want when you are starting, because they want different length videos at different times. I’d just say to anyone starting out, don’t get disheartened. It took me ages to get lots of followers on Instagram. I only had a couple of thousand until one of my videos went viral.” Since December last year, she has amassed over 470,000 followers.
She hopes to get some cookery books published this side of the world, but in the meantime, you can see her daily online on either Instagram or TikTok. She's given us some of her favourite recipes to try at home.
Follow @pollypocketsy on Tiktok and Instagram. Follow the link in her bio, and it will link directly to all her recipes on the Whisk website.