Cooking up a Career Dreams are Made of
Master Chef Brendan Cronin’s career in the hospitality industry has taken him all over globe—from his hometown in the west of Ireland to hotels in Limerick, Dublin, the Swiss Alps, Africa, and Asia. To this day, he remains the only Irish chef to have been given the prestigious international culinary title of ‘Chef de Cuisine Diplomé,’ or Swiss Master Chef; quite a feat for someone who’s had to struggle with overcoming the general misconception that the Irish can’t cook.
In his book, Cheffin’ from Potatoes to Caviar, Brendan takes us on a journey of cooking and travel. With humor and Irish wit, he tells the story of how he followed his dreams to become a skilled chef as he worked in some of the world’s most luxurious hotels. Filled with funny anecdotes from the kitchen, he ends each chapter with a mouth-watering recipe. Whether you’re a foodie, or just simply love to eat, you’ll enjoy this behind-the-scenes look into what it takes to become a professional chef in the fiercely competitive international hospitality industry.
An adventure of food and travel? I’m already hooked! I had the chance to speak with Brendan about his journey and book. Be sure to check out the delicious lobster salad with mango recipe he’s sharing with us after the Q & A!
MissAnaMon: What made you want to become a chef?
Brendan Cornin: I was encouraged by mother when I was about 12 years old, as she saw my interest in food when I helped her in the kitchen of our bed and breakfast on our small dairy farm in the west of Ireland. She set up an interview for me with a local hotel training college. I got accepted with a scholarship for my associate’s degree in Hotel Management and Culinary Arts, and left home to study and work there at the age of 14. My career developed from there, which is the story the book is based on.
MissAnaMon: Why did you write Cheffin’ from Potatoes to Caviar?
Brendan Cronin: My mother suggested it! After reading a few short stories on travel and cooking that I had written for a school project, she said, “Brendan, you should write a book about this.” I dismissed her comment at the time and the stories sat on the living room bookshelf for 12 years before I wrote Cheffin’ from Potatoes to Caviar. By the way, the title “Cheffin'” is what locals in my village assumed is what I would be doing professionally, as at the time in the farming community, it was unusual for men to cook. Women cooked and apparently chefs cheffed—hence the title. The tagline “from Potatoes to Caviar” is intended to reflect my professional transition from my childhood of picking potatoes on our farm to later on serving caviar in the five-star hotels of the world; the two extremes of culinary ingredients—the lowly starch and the revered delicacy, which actually go quite well together… with the addition of a little sour cream.
MissAnaMon: How did you overcome the “Irish can’t cook” misconception?
Brendan Cronin: It was difficult in the beginning in Switzerland, and later in Southeast Asia, because Ireland was not renowned for its cooking—actually, the opposite was true—and fellow chefs would look at me as if to say: “Who let this Irish guy in to cook in a five-star hotel kitchen?” But as time went by—and thanks to my many years working in Swiss hotel kitchens—it got much better. Obtaining my Certified Swiss Master Chef’s qualification put that misconception to bed. In the meantime, Irish cuisine has evolved in leaps and bounds!
MissAnaMon: How have your travels influenced your cooking?
Brendan Cronin: Tremendously! I acquired taste memories, which I describe in the book, that will stay with me forever. Through traveling I have developed a tremendous admiration for any chef/cook who prepares good and nutritious food, either professionally or in the home, regardless of their qualifications. My palate has broadened and I eat almost any food. I developed a respect for cultures and beliefs, and appreciate and respect the differences between people. This mindset has helped me get along with everyone I meet along the way in kitchens and restaurants around the world. As a result, I only applied for one position in my professional career—all the other positions were referrals or chefs contacting me directly. In essence, travel created a network for me.
Ingredients for 6 people:
6 cooked, shelled lobster tails
12 cooked, shelled lobster claws
6 cherry tomatoes
6 finely shredded romaine lettuce leaves (mesclun greens are a good substitute)
2 ripe mangos
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper mill to taste
Optional: chopped black truffles
Place the shredded romaine in the center of a large plate.
Slice the lobster tails and arrange attractively on the romaine.
Decorate the lobster tails with the mango sauce.
Finally, add the lobster claws with the point facing upward and add the cherry tomatoes and a sprig of chives.
To make the sauce:
Remove the stone and skin from the mango and cut the flesh into pieces.
Puree in a blender and drizzle in the oil with the motor running.
Add sherry vinegar to taste.
Season with salt and pepper mill.
Stir in a little sour cream or plain yogurt to the sauce for added creaminess and an extra sharp flavor.
A little extra on the side… I asked Brendan what his cooking tips are for those who are still learning their way around the kitchen. “Do not be intimidated by what is on TV reality shows. It’s television and supposed to be sensational. Use these shows as an inspiration but not as self-judgment (e.g. “I could never do that!”). Begin cooking simple dishes using fresh, local ingredients for friends and family. Experiment with flavors, presentation styles, and plate designs/colors. Ask for feedback and take it graciously; then incorporate it and taste again. Learn the basic culinary techniques as they’re the pathway to understanding how food reacts during the cooking process. There is something to be learned from everyone. Be respectful of the entire kitchen team, including the dishwasher!”