Published on 10/22/18


Paula Stakelum is the executive Estate Pastry Chef at Ashford Castle. She has been at Ashford Castle for 7 years and is responsible for all the pastry items for all outlets on the Estate. For her, it all starts with finding a special ingredient. At Ashford Castle Estate, the journey and path chefs take along the way to get to the final dish is how they exceed their guest’s expectations.



Petit Four: The Bonbon I have created is part of my theme “Tree”. When I’m outside in the Autumn, through my eyes I’m surrounded by beautiful gold, amber and red colors. This has given the inspiration for the visual appearance of my chocolate bonbons. I created “Sloe” Gin, where I crushed the berries with sugar and infused them in Shortcross. I've used the “Sloe Gin” in a gel, so you have the burst of flavor and in the ganache to complement the MANJARI 64%. For texture in the Bonbon, I’ve created a wild hazelnut praliné, using wild hazelnuts from the estate together with Valrhona’s 66% HAZELNUT PRALINÉ.

Plated Dessert: The dessert I have created is called “#SpreagthaAgAnEastát”, The Irish phrase “#InspiredByTheEstate”. When I think about MANJARI 64% and taste it, instantly the freshness, acidic and sharp notes come to my scenes. When creating desserts, I want our guests to experience more than just a plated dessert; it should be more than food on a plate. It’s my belief that dessert should be equal in taste and visual appeal. I have created this dessert using 2 Estates; MANJARI 64% – The first Valrhona single origin chocolate of Madagascar and Ashford Castle Estate in Mayo, Ireland. I’m most creative when I’m Inspired by the Estate at Ashford Castle. I try to capture a moment that I’ve experienced on the estate by using the seasonally foraged ingredients within my desserts. In the spring of 2017, the beautiful pine tips started to grow on the pine trees in the forest. When they are ready to be picked, you are absorbed by their aroma when passing through the woodland. Once harvested, I infused them in rapeseed oil, to capture that aroma. I have delicately used this pine oil to create the jelly element and MANJARI and Pine Crémeux. I believe the pine and MANJARI 64% marry beautifully together. To balance the pine and MANJARI 64% in the dessert, I have used Crab Apple to create a capsule on the plate and also inside the Bavarois. The Crab Apple custard was created to balance the texture and flavor in the dessert. My hope is that when you taste the crab apple and pine elements with the MANJARI 64%, it will give you the impression of tasting the forest at its best, both the forest in Madagascar and in Ashford Castle together on 1 plate!


Valrhona: Could you please introduce yourself in a few words (name, age, title) and tell us a bit about your career as a pastry chef?
Paula Stakelum: I’m Paula Stakelum, I’m 32 and the Executive Pastry Chef at Ashford Castle in Ireland. I studied in CIT to become a chef and furthered my studies in GMIT studying a BA in Culinary Arts, specializing in Pastry. I took the position in Ashford Castle in 2010.

Valrhona: Where do you work? Which establishment, in which city?
Paula Stakelum: I work at Ashford Castle, Cong, Co. Mayo, Ireland.

Valrhona: Which great chefs have you worked with? Are there any you would particularly like to work with?
Paula Stakelum: I’ve been lucky to have done stages and worked with some amazing chefs. I would love to learn from Antonio Bachour at some point in the future.

Valrhona: Have you ever participated in a competition before? If so, which one?
Paula Stakelum: Yes in 2017 I won the Irish “Valrhona Patisserie Championship”.

Valrhona: How did you find out about the C3 competition? What does the C3 competition mean to you?
Paula Stakelum: Through Valrhona, after winning the Irish Competition. C3 is everything at the moment. It motivates me to create at a higher level, to push myself, my thoughts, push my boundaries to create something truly special.

Valrhona: How would you describe your signature style as a pastry chef?
Paula Stakelum: For me, a dessert has to be more than just a dessert on the plate, yes it has to be visually sharp and beautiful, taste amazing, but there is something else… there needs to be a story and a connection with the dessert to where its created. I love creating desserts beginning with special ingredients. I love to explore the estate, watch ingredients grow, and pick them at their very best. Anybody can buy the best ingredients in the world, but when you pick something that is at that moment at its very best, the aroma and taste is so specific to the estate, it’s exclusively special for our guests. You can’t buy that, and that’s incredible! This Is Me!!

Valrhona: What sort of person are you?
Paula Stakelum: I work very hard because I want to be the best and Inspire people around me to be the best also. I’m honest, kind and creative!

Valrhona: How have you been preparing for the C3 competition and for how long?
Paula Stakelum: I started to prepare in June 2017 with my written entry. Of course, I altered it close to the entry deadline! Then from January, I worked every day on elements of the dessert and bonbons!

Valrhona: Can you tell us the secret to your chocolate blend?
Paula Stakelum: We are currently creating our own Chocolate Blend with Valrhona, It’s a secret right now! But I can tell you it will be “Ashford Castle”, and “Valrhona” together to create an amazing Chocolate that you will only taste at Ashford Castle.

Valrhona: What inspires you?
Paula Stakelum: 3 things inspire me: people, places, and ingredients! Everything I create always has a great story behind it, and I love stories, I use these stories to connect with people, especially the service team! People inspire desserts, I don’t do it alone! When you meet the person behind the product, it just makes it more special for me. I’m very lucky that I’m surrounded by incredible people here at Ashford, Mrs. Tollman, Mr. Rochford, or GM, and Phillippe Fairneau, Our Executive Chef, are very inspiring and they ensure I have the resources to create and achieve what we do here at Ashford. When Mrs Tollman visits, we will often create desserts together. Mrs. Tollman has her background in pastry so we really understand each other. She is amazing.

Valrhona: What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
Paula Stakelum: Of course, it’s Chocolate!


StarChefs: If you could visit any chocolate origin, where would it be and why?
Paula Stakelum: I would like to visit Africa. We have just created our own bespoke “Ashford Castle Chocolate” it is a blend of beans from Africa! To see some of them first hand would be special!

StarChefs: Who is your mentor, and what's the most important lesson he/she taught you?
Paula Stakelum:  I’m very lucky to have people who have invested in me throughout my career so far. I will always remember the day Niall Rochford, my General Manager said to me “It’s not about how hard you fall, but about how fast you can pick yourself up again!”. When there are days that not everything goes smoothly, I remember this moment and I'll push forward and become stronger and better from it! He always says, “Positive persistence pays off!!” He is right, I truly trust him! 

StarChefs: What's the first truly delicious pastry you remember eating? Where were you?
Paula Stakelum: I remember most recently being in Paris and visiting this small pastry shop called Aux Merveilleux de Fred, they only make meringues! But the most beautiful two meringue hearts sandwiched together with whipped chantilly cream then heavily rolled in flaked chocolate. They were incredible! 

StarChefs: Who is the unsung hero of your pastry department? What is his/her title, and why is he/she so valuable?
Paula Stakelum:  Our head kitchen porter, Arthur is the unsung hero, he ensures all his team looks after the pastry. They wash pot after pot and molds for us, all the time! We never have to look for anything, it’s always there! What a super team! 

StarChefs: If you were a flavor, what would you be and why?
Paula Stakelum: I would be a pine tree, the flavor and aroma of the pine is different and unique in different locations on the Ashford Estate, and changes with time as the trees grow. Just like the pine trees I’m progressing and growing all the time, too!