QUESTION TIME…WITH TARA GARTLAN, PASTRY CHEF AT CHAPTER ONE BY MICKAEL VILJANEN AND HOST OF THE CHEF SUPPER CLUB’S SIX-WEEK ‘FROM SCRATCH’ GLUTEN-FREE BAKING COURSE.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in October of 2021.
Tell us about your new ‘From Scratch’ series.
I’m sharing lots of my personal-favourite recipes, along with a lot of pastry chef tricks. These are recipes that I love to bake and, of course, eat! The majority already happen to be gluten-free, such as soufflés, custards, macarons and ganaches. The recipes that I’ve adapted to be gluten-free – such as crumble, shortbread, crackers, and a sponge – are my absolute staples. Some of things, once I explain them, will seem very obvious, but they really do make a difference in achieving consistency in your baking.
How has the last year been for you?
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It’s been a strange year, with lots of stops and starts. I’ve always been a busy person – I’m happiest when I have lots going on. It was a strange adjustment from working so much to everything being on pause. It’s been great to be a part of this new chapter at Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen.
Tell us about your career so far.
My career has moved quickly, and I’ve been lucky to work with, and make friends with, a lot of talented people who have helped guide me to where I am today. I dropped out of college and started working in a hotel as a waitress. I managed to worm my way into the kitchen after thinking it looked like fun and something I could do. I decided to study culinary arts in DIT Cathal Brugha Street after annoying my head chef on a daily basis, with questions he couldn’t answer.
What was your best professional decision?
Probably walking in and handing my CV into the Greenhouse. In the time I’ve been there, I’ve learned so much and grown personally, as well as in technical ability, thanks to Mickael Viljanen and the team.
What was your most challenging moment?
It was probably when I was diagnosed with coeliac disease during college and while working. I was very unwell for the six months or so that it took for me to get an official diagnosis. I struggled with my energy levels and couldn’t keep food down, which, you can imagine, is quite problematic as a chef. It was also a hard adjustment to start to double-check the ingredients of anything I eat before I taste it.
What three attributes do you wish you had?
Can I wish away my coeliac disease in this hypothetical? Because, in that case, I only wish for one attribute.
What is your favourite restaurant?
This is such a difficult question. There are so many talented chefs in Ireland! I love Gráinne O’Keefe’s style of cooking, and I’m looking forward to dining at her restaurant, Mae. My first meal out of Lockdown III was at Ahmet Dede’s Customs House after staying there for a week, and it was a fantastic meal and experience.
Favourite holiday destination?
I haven’t been outside of Ireland in the last two years, like a lot of people. Recently, the most beautiful place I’ve been to in Ireland has to be Baltimore. I was lucky enough to have the best hosts while in Baltimore, the talented Ahmet Dede and his business partner, Maria, who are wonderful people.
If you could do any other job – apart from the job you are doing now – what would it be, and why?
I originally studied Spanish, French, Latin and Portuguese in NUIM – I wanted to be a translator. I ended up dropping out of college before my final year. If I wasn’t a chef, that’s probably the only other career I can imagine.
Do you have any pet hates?
In a professional kitchen, it’s when someone shows up for a stage or a trial without a notebook, pen and marker.
What is the best advice that you ever received?
At the beginning of my career, I received two excellent pieces of advice that I’ve always carried with me: ‘If you wouldn’t eat it yourself, don’t serve it,’ and ‘It’s never personal.’ Things get said in the heat of the moment, and it really never is personal. You can say a lot of things that you don’t mean during a bad day in the kitchen, and then it’s over. Later on, you can laugh with your colleagues, and it’s water under the bridge. Name one thing that you always have in your refrigerator. Butter.
Your death row meal ...?
I grew up in New York, and one of the things I miss most are crunchy Cheetos. I know they are not good for you, so I don’t often eat crunchy Cheetos, but I absolutely love them. So, it would have to be two large bags of crunchy Cheetos and 20 lemon macarons, washed down with champagne. That may sound weird to most, but those are some of my favourite things.
What is the most enjoyable part of your career?
One of the highlights of my career was being part of the team at the Greenhouse when Mickael Viljanen got his second star, in 2019. It was also quite an honour to be part of the opening team at Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen.
What has been your biggest disappointment to date?
Last year, when restaurants closed down for lockdown on Christmas Eve, it was truly a depressing day. Christmas is normally my favourite time of year, and it was more than a bit heartbreaking – restaurants closing up without knowing when we would reopen.
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