The dessert menus at Ashford Castle’s dining rooms present giddy flourishes of show-stopping gateaux, pillow-soft parfaits and heavenly soufflés. Executive Head Pastry Chef Paula Stakelum draws her inspiration from the estate’s seasonal bounty as well as Ireland’s natural larder. Here, the award-winning pâtissier tells us about her career highlights and her favourite sugary treat (chocolate, of course!). Find out what inspires her, as well as her latest creation, a delectable chocolate available exclusively at the castle.
What do you love about your job?
“I’m responsible for making the pastry for the whole estate, which includes Ashford Castle and The Lodge at Ashford Castle. We have 13 different outlets on the estate that each offers delicious desserts for our guests, from Afternoon Tea in the regal environs of The Connaught Room to Wilde’s at The Lodge’s smart seasonal menu. I have 13 pastry chefs who work alongside me. The pastry team works together as one and they are a real family to me. When you work with people who think just like you do, it’s the best job in the world.”
What’s so unique about working at Ashford Castle?
“The estate itself is so beautiful and inspiring. I watch ingredients grow in the gardens and pick them when they’re at their very best. The weather changes in Ireland all the time, so no season is ever the same as the previous year. My favourite ingredient to harvest is wood sorrel. It’s at its best in the spring, and last year saw a second growth in early September. We have created an incredible recipe with it, which we believe best captures the essence of the estate.”
What are some of your biggest accomplishments to date?
“In 2017, I won the Irish Valrhona Pâtisserie Championship. The year after, I took part in the C3 Valrhona international patisserie competition and, after winning the Paris heat, I placed among the top eight pastry chefs in the world. This year, I was named as one of six 2019 Food On The Edge ambassadors. We were selected for our efforts to enrich Ireland’s food landscape in exciting and innovative ways.”
What are you passionate about beyond the kitchen?
“I like to run and, over the past few months, I have taken up road biking. I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen, so time spent outdoors is quite special for me. It’s usually then that I’ll have a eureka moment, the beginning of a new creation. I’m really interested in social media and food photography, too.”
If you could only eat one thing…
“It would have to be chocolate, of course. The brand new Legend by Ashford Castle chocolate couverture that we’ve just launched is my favourite. I smile every time I create something new with it.”
Legend by Ashford Castle was developed hand-in-hand with luxury producer Valrhona. It’s a 55 per cent cocoa chocolate, infused with notes of fresh milk. Valrhona sustainably harvests its cocoa in Africa to support the local farming communities and their environment.
Sample Paula’s delicious desserts and the Legend by Ashford Castle chocolate bar when visiting Red Carnation Hotels’ Ashford Castle.