Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Niamh Barry, Pastry Chef
Niamh Barry is a Senior Chef de Partie in the Pastry section at Ashford Castle.
I’m so chuffed to introduce you to Niamh Barry today. She’s located in Cong, a wonderful part of Ireland, up in County Mayo. If you’re over on twitter, you might have seen some of her work. It is always nothing short of stunning and I am so excited to see where her skills take her.
I’m not sure if she knows Karen Smith but they are both big advocates for Valrhona Chocolate and I’m forever inspired by the flavour combinations they highlight.
I have huge expectations for Niamh Barry and so should you. No pressure.
I’m talking to women the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
Since I was really little I’ve loved food, my grannies are both great cooks, as is my mother as well, a great chef. Food is an important thing in our family and i guess growing and eating good food is something that’s become a part of me. So when it came to choosing a career, it seemed pretty inevitable really! I did consider teaching for a while but after doing competitions in secondary school I realised that i liked to cook, especially under pressure.
How does your career fulfill you?
In more ways than I ever could have imagined really. I love to work with my hands, creating and physically doing something. The hours are long and it’s physically hard work but I could not imagine having a 9-5 desk job, it;s not for me it all. I love that I learn something new every day, I push myself and try to better myself, I love that about my job. I also love how we learn from each other, even small things it;s great, Also showing someone how to do something and then seeing them do it themselves and progress, I don’t think there’s anything more fulfilling than teaching, bringing on and developing other chefs, seeing them grow in knowledge and confidence is really something special. I love it.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Niamh Barry?
At the moment I’m senior chef de partie in pastry in Ashford Castle, I’m pretty content there and I feel like I’ve come on a lot in the last couple of months, as a chef and on a personal level. I love the team I’m working with and I’m really enjoying life at the moment. I do like to plan ahead but I’ve realised the hard way that lifes hard to plan for and you never really know what can happen. For now I plan to continue learning and bettering myself and working hard, it’s what I always do and it’s usually brought good and exciting outcomes.
In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry in Ireland?
I’ve worked in a number of kitchens so far in my career, most of which have been very positive experiences for me. With the exception of Ashford they have all been mainly male dominated kitchens but I’ve been lucky, the majority of guys I;ve worked with are like big brothers to me, even the ones I don’t work with anymore are still there for me if I needed them. I think pressure in the kitchen is a big challenge, I like working under pressure and it really can mould character but there are limits, and pressure can be really destructive. I have faced an experience in which a panic attack I had, was pretty much ignored and kind of turned into a joke. It was a bad experience but for me it’s highlighted a lack of understanding and support in the industry. The support starts in our own work environment. We work under high pressure, and everyone has a life going on outside work. I think it’s very important to look out for the people you work with. We need to show that it’s okay to have emotion in the kitchen (that you don’t have to hide in the freezer for a cry…). That by having a more open and communicative kitchen, you’ll actually have a much stronger team.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
It’s impossible for me to choose just one! I can’t name them all but here are a few that really stand out.
-Danni Barry was a huge inspiration to me when I started out into cheffing, she has achieved so much but hasn’t an ounce of an ego, I have a lot of respect for her.
-Kate Lawlor and Janice Casey Bracken have also been fantastic role models for me, they absolutely champion Irish produce and are very encouraging mentors to young chefs like myself.
-Maria Flynn from Ballymakenny farm is a producer that really inspires me, not only is she one of the most genuinely nice people you will meet, I love how she is so contagiously passionate about what she does. Maria is a legend.
-Last but not certainly not least, Paula Stakelum, my current head pastry chef is a massive inspiration to me. Her hard work, leadership and dedication to her pastry team is outstanding. It’s a privilege to work with her.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?
Obviously articles like women of the Irish food industry are raising women’s profile in a big way. But personally I believe that women really need to get behind each other, build each other up and support each other. The community of women in the Irish food industry is very small, so I think it’s important that we are there for each other and promote each other, like supporting pop ups and projects.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
I feel very lucky to say I have had a number of moments I am proud of throughout my career. But I would say that cooking for Chef Daniel Hannigans Food for Thought events are something I am very proud of. The initiative behind the events is something very close to my heart and I am very proud to have played a small part in some of his fantastic events.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would definitely tell my younger self not to worry so much, when you work hard and give everything 110% the rest just falls into place and worrying is actually pointless. If you’ve done your best, there’s not really much more you can do.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
There’s a number of skills required, like organisation, attention to detail and patience. Honestly though in this career the most important requirement is a good attitude. If you have a good attitude, you can do an awful lot.. It’s my favourite thing to see in a chef when they join the team, you can teach anyone skills, but a good attitude is something you seem to have or you don’t.
If someone wanted to bake for you what should they make?
Aw, I am a woman of simple taste! The simpler the better, it’s hard to beat a really good scone, or sponge cake.