Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Grainne Mullins, Pastry Chef
Grainne Mullins has had a mad career for one so young.
At 41 years of age, I’ve got the most disorganised life. I’m floating around like a mad yoke. Grainne Mullins, still in her twenties, has worked in some of the best kitchens in Ireland (this includes Ashford Castle, La Table De Ventabren, CliffHouse Hotel, Ox and Lignum).
At this early stage of her career, she is synonymous with success and Michelin stars. She’s also all about the most incredible desserts and I would love for her and Karen Smith to open a tea house and feed me all day every day. Is it too much to ask?
I’m talking to women in the food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
I was brought up in a household that had a huge respect for good food so from a very young age it was instilled in me that quality local produce was the best option. I was encouraged to help in the kitchen and garden and having this hands on experience teaches you from a young age the difference quality produce has. My parents are both great home cooks, my father would bake fresh bread every Saturday and my mother loved when we would pick the apples from the garden and forage blackberries to make a beautiful pie or crumble. As I got older I wanted to explore working in a kitchen for work experience. I loved it and I was lucky enough to get a job out of it. When choosing my college course I decided to study science. I continued to work part time in kitchens and the most exciting part of my day was when my college day would finish and I could get back into the kitchen. This made me decide to take a year out and see what career path I wanted to follow. I loved every moment of working in kitchens and my career has just progressed since.
How does your career fulfill you?
I have always enjoyed cooking for people. The satisfaction you get from someone smiling and relishing the food you have cooked with your bare hands is incomparable. As chefs, we are people pleasers as well as being extremely passionate and in love with food.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Grainne Mullins?
I love to travel and experience other food cultures. I can definitely see myself exploring more of the world’s cuisines and in the future, I would love to come back home and set up my own pastry shop. As a chef, the world is your oyster so I plan to make the most of every moment of it while I can.
In your opinion, what challenges do women face in the food industry?
I think women face both challenges and opportunities in the food industry. It’s a difficult industry for everyone involved as it requires long hours of very intense work, often at very unsociable times. This gets more difficult as a woman starts to think about wanting to have a family or to spend more time with friends. There is also a challenge of being taken seriously as I think it’s often the preconception that you will not be willing to work hard or put the effort in.
I don’t like to focus on this too much as I believe that the industry is changing and it is down to women sticking up for themselves and it being more recognised.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
There are many women in the food industry that I look up to for many reasons. Clare Smyth is a fantastic inspiration as she is extremely successful. She was the first and only female chef to run a 3 Michelin star restaurant in the UK and as a Northern Irish woman, this is such an achievement and something that inspires many women in the industry. I was lucky enough to meet her and she was truly inspiring as she spoke about the industry.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry?
I think there is a great push for women to be recognized in the food industry but I do believe that we should not be singled out and we should be involved in the industry as a whole. It shouldn’t need to be highlighted that we are women just that we are industry professionals who are working just as hard as their male counterparts. I think the gender balance will come organically if we continue to showcase the hardworking individuals that make this industry what it is.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
The proudest moment has to be winning the title of Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year. The relief of having finished on the day of the final was overwhelming and then after all of the hard work to have been awarded the title it was a moment of pure shock and happiness. The support I received during the competition and after has been absolutely outstanding.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell her to continue to work hard as it will pay off in the future. Also, take in as much information as you can from everyone around you as in this career you never stop learning, not even for a second. I would also remind her to always treat people as you yourself would want to be treated.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
To be a chef you need to be hard-working, resilient and determined. There will be challenges that you face throughout your career and you need to pull yourself out on the better side. If you put your head down and work hard it will be noticed and it will pay off. It is a tough environment to work in but if you believe in yourself you will succeed.
What is a spice you think is underrated and how can it be used better?
In the past year I have been lucky enough to visit the spice souks in both Marrakesh and Dubai and that intoxicating smell of spices is something that I just adore. I am a huge fan of cumin, I use it in curries, on eggs and in the likes of hummus. But when it comes to spices that can be used in desserts I just love star anise. The beautiful anise flavour pairs so well with fruits such as cranberries, pears, and even plums if you toast it slightly before cooking it with the fruit it will let the aromatics shine.