You were recently made Director of Chocolate and Patisserie, what does this role mean to you?

I’m very grateful to the Tollman family, Jonathan Raggett and Niall Rochford for their continuous support and belief in me that led to the appointment of this role. I’m very excited, as it will allow me to do what I love best: be creative!

What does a typical day at Ashford Castle look like for you?

Currently, I’m working on Christmas amenities and our whole chocolate concept throughout the castle. Lots of time is being spent in our 'Chocolate Laboratory' at the moment.

What is your favourite part of your role?

I’ve only just started the new role, however, I’m really looking forward to working closely with my Red Carnation Hotels colleagues, so that we can create together. Recently, I feel like a child at Christmas, waking up early excited to go to work - now anything is possible as I’ve been given the gift of time to create.

Paula Stakelum pastry creation

Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with Vahlrona and their recent event in London?

We work very closely with Valrhona and we have created a bespoke chocolate couverture exclusively for the Ashford Castle Estate. The chocolate is called ‘Legend’, inspired by the legendary history of Ashford and Mrs Tollman whom we refer to as “a true legend”. We created chocolate with a 55% cocoa content, for a rich milk chocolate tasting experience. The cocoa beans for the chocolate are sustainably sourced in Africa.

We chose to work with Valrhona as we believe it is the best chocolate in the world. We also share the same beliefs regarding sourcing, sustainability and quality. It is so important to our sustainability ethos that we create with meaning. We believe ‘Legend’ reflects the TreadRight Foundation’s belief that we should ‘Make Travel Matter’.

Recently, we received news that we would become Valrhona 'Cercle V Gold'. I attended an event in London to mark the first gathering of an elite group of pastry chefs. Being the only Irish pastry chef in attendance made everyone at Ashford Castle incredibly proud! Together, we have set out to make a difference, inspire the next generation and create a sustainable future for pastry chefs. Being in a room with my peers was quite daunting at first, however, everyone in this circle is very humble and we all share the same vision. I can’t wait to see what we can do together!

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

When I was in school I worked part-time in a local hotel where I'm from in Tipperary. I just knew it was for me!

Ashford Castle chocolates

Was there a moment when you decided to focus on patisserie?

I don’t think there was one defining moment. When I joined Ashford 12 years ago that’s when I fully focused on pastry.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a pastry chef?

It all started when I was working in the Ardilaun Hotel in Galway, working on the starter and pastry section. I had the opportunity to return to college part-time, where I gained a BA in Culinary Arts specialising in pastry. When I finished the course, I took up the role at Ashford.

How would you sum up your personal creative style in the kitchen?

I like everything I do to be very sharp. The beginning of creating something always begins with an ingredient that must taste as it should. Then, it has to look exceptional. But, most importantly, when we create it has to have meaning - that’s what makes it special.

Paula Stakelum in the kitchen making pastries

What is your favourite chocolate treat to make for guests?

We have recently created a chocolate amenity called 'Stanley', an Irish Wolfhound made of chocolate that sits on a base full of chocolate delights. We have a resident wolfhound, Mulligan, who our guests love to walk in the mornings. 'Stanley' gets his namesake from the legendary Mr Stanley Tollman. Irish Wolfhounds have a heart as big as the rest of them. They are gentle and noble yet swift and alert, all traits reflective of Mr Tollman.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the world of chocolate and patisserie?

The world of opportunities is endless when you can see it. It’s a very exciting career!