WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – ORNA LARKIN, HEAD PASTRY CHEF
Orna Larkin is the Head Pastry Chef at the InterContinental Hotel in Dublin. Not one to court the press, she is one of the most talented pastry chefs in Ireland. There is a generation of pastry chefs (think Karen Smith, Graine Mullins and Niamh Barry to mention just a few ) just now which is taking the country by storm and I’m expecting people to start talking about Orna a lot more.
Pay attention to this woman, and when you can, go eat her cakes. I know I am!
I’m talking to women in the food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
I have always wanted to be a chef, it’s something that intrigued me even as a child, and so my plan was to realise that dream. When I left school however I made the decision to enter UCD as a commerce student. In my mind a business degree could only serve to help me in later life, regardless of which career I ended up following. It was soon very apparent that being a chef was all that I could think about, and so I left UCD and moved to London to study both cuisine and patisserie in Le Cordon Bleu. On my return home I applied for both the hot kitchen and the pastry kitchen of every five star hotel I could find, I was keen to get my foot in the door and honestly had no preference between the two! When my executive chef, Alberto Rossi, hired me he placed me or his pastry kitchen in the Four Seasons in Ballsbridge and that’s where I’ve been ever since. I don’t see myself ever going back to the hot kitchen now, I think I’ve really found what I love in pastry. I’m so glad to this day that I first studied commerce as it showed me how intensely I wanted the career that I have now.
How does your career fulfill you?
I crave creative freedom in all aspects of my life and that is exactly what I get in my career. The ability to experiment every day and then to have members of the public taste new dishes created from a thought in my mind is incredible to me.
The other thing that I love about my job is that no two days are the same. I’m lucky to work in a hotel as large as the InterContinental with so many different outlets, including fairly big banquet halls. One day I could be feeding over a thousand people from five different menus and the next I could spend a quiet afternoon experimenting with a new afternoon tea menu. That variety keeps my job interesting.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Orna Larkin?
I strive to always push myself creatively, and I would hope that I will continue to learn new skills and deepen my understanding of the Irish food industry over the course of my career.
With the Covid pandemic it’s difficult to say exactly where I see my career heading at this point in time but life as a chef is never boring so I feel confident that regardless of how things progress for me I will be having fun.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
There are too many to choose from! Paula Stakelum from Ashford Castle consistently amazes me with what she can create, her Instagram is definitely one of my most viewed! Paula Hannigan is another pastry chef who I admire and who I can say from experience is one of the loveliest chefs I have met to date. Saying this, any woman who succeeds in a male dominated industry such as the one that we are in is an inspiration in my eyes.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry?
I think that this series you’re doing is putting an amazing spotlight on Irish women in food, Katia! Another initiative that I would love to see happen would be an official network for women in the Irish food industry, a space where we could share stories and connect with one another.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
There have been many moments that I feel proud of, from cooking for the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, to the equally special moment of finding out that I got my first job in a kitchen after years of dreaming of being a chef. Looking back on my career I’m proud of every hard days work.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Probably not to worry so much! As a commis chef I have memories of waking up in a sweat, after dreams of forgetting mise en place due for the following morning!
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Communication is definitely the number one skill I value in the kitchen. The nature of the job means that I can’t be there for every hour of service, and that’s where communication plays such a vital role. I make sure that my team always know that I’m at the other end of the phone if they need anything while I’m not in the kitchen, and as a result of this I have made some lifelong friends through my work.
Are you a savoury or sweet kind of person? Please tell us about a real treat.
I’m probably more of a savoury person, although I think that has something to do with being surrounded by sugar all day! In the somewhat limited world we’re currently in due to the covid restrictions my almost daily treat involves an oat milk flat white and avocado toast from catalyst coffee in bray.