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Interviews

In the kitchen with Paula Stakelum

Ashford Castle's pastry chef talks chocolate, running and taco sauce.

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Have you ever wondered what chefs eat when they're not in their restaurants? Us too.

That's why in our new series In the kitchen with... we talk to some of our favourite chefs about their food habits outside of the workplace and today, we're chatting with award-winning pastry chef Paula Stakelum of Ashford Castle.  

Having known from a young age that she wanted to be a chef, Paula studied Professional Cookery at Cork Institute of Technology, before setting her sights on pastry and honing her skills further at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. She came to Ashford Castle as the head pastry chef around eight years ago and since then, she has created exceptionally delicious desserts across the whole estate. Regarded as one of the world’s leading pastry chefs, in 2017 she won the Irish Valrhona Pâtisserie Championship. The following year Paula took part in the C3 Valrhona International Pâtisserie Competition, and after winning the Paris heat was placed among the top eight pastry chefs in the world.

Here, Paula tells us more about her life outside of the Castle. 

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Do you cook a lot at home?

I rarely cook at home; my husband loves to cook, so I leave it to him. If I do cook, it’s never anything sweet.

Who do you usually eat with?

At the castle, our head chef Barry Lynch and I usually have our ‘tea’ together in the evening before we set up for service. At home, I eat with Owen [her husband] when I’m not working.

Are there any foods you have to or choose to avoid?

I don’t avoid anything at all. It’s all about the balance. It’s well known that I love chips although I try not to eat them with everything! I’m tasting desserts and eating chocolate all day most days. I run in the mornings and I’m very active all day, which helps to balance what I eat.

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What five ingredients do you always have in your kitchen?

Cheese, fresh bread, eggs, limes and coffee pods.

What's in your fridge right now?

Beer, Lillet, Vit Hits, Champagne and taco sauce.

What is your default dinner after a busy week?

Tacos - with chips of course. And it has to be a specific brand of taco sauce.

What is your favourite kitchen gadget?

A Step pallet knife, I would be lost without one.

READ MORE: In the kitchen with Jess Murphy

Ashford Castle.
Ashford Castle.

Do you have a favourite chef or cookbook?

Cédric Grolet – he is the king of pastry. His book Fruits is brilliant.

Have you ever had a kitchen disaster?

We have disasters all the time. I’ve learned over the years to be pragmatic when something happens and to find the best solution at that moment. Often your greatest disasters become your greatest triumphs. I recall one time when we totally overcooked the crème brûlée, so we blended it and added gelatine to set it fast. Now we cook our custard filling for eclairs like this all the time!

What's the best thing you've ever cooked?

I haven’t cooked it yet, and I may never cook it. When I create something, be it a dessert or chocolate, I will create what I believe to be the very best at that time, but I always find myself wanting to progress further.

It’s only when you take time to reflect and look back that you realise you’re making progress all the time. It’s a continuous process no matter how far advanced in your career you might be. That said, I’m really happy with the Legend chocolate that we have created; it’s perfect.

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What is the best cooking tip you've ever been given?

The most important thing about becoming a great pastry chef is that you need to be a great leader first; everything else after that will follow easily. I will always remember the moment Niall Rochford, our general manager, said: “It’s not how fast you fall, but how fast you pick yourself up again!”

What would be your last meal?

A pizza from Dough Bros in Galway.

What is your favourite dish to cook?

Every time we create something new with our Legend chocolate it makes me smile. I know our guests will be happy, and that’s what it’s all about.

READ MORE: Quick breakfast ideas to get you through this week 

Keep up with Paula on her Twitter and Instagram pages. You can keep up-to-date with news and offers from Ashford Castle at ashfordcastle.com or on Instagram.