Having first arrived at the Slieve on June 2nd, I waited with great anticipation for my first day of work on June 4th. It swung around quickly and I was suddenly getting a tour of my new home for the next seven months, The Oaks restaurant pastry section. Or as it’s known by everyone “the corner of doom” this was short lived as I was quickly carted over to the Percy French to help out as service was busy there and they needed an extra set of hands.
Our head chef Hazel McGill is great as she specializes in pastry so I’m very lucky. She really enjoys teaching and has the patience of a saint. Mind you she won’t be long telling you when you’re doing something wrong or how to improve on something. Every day is a day for learning here whether it’s experimental, gin, cucumber, and blueberry spheres for a tasting menu or using baking powder instead of baking soda for a batch of 300 muffins (won’t do that again).
Of course, it’s only 95% work J we do have the occasional day off which means we get to go exploring to Belfast or just around Newcastle. Newcastle has some amazing restaurants, coffee shops, and ice-cream shops on offer, my personal favourite so far Has been ‘Vanilla’ it serves great food at very reasonable prices also the wine list is pretty great its recommended by Michelin and I can see why., but the happening spot of all of Newcastle is “Quinns Spirit Grocer” a short walk away from our staff housing on the way, and a far walk home. It always busy which is great when you want to go on a mad one of a Tuesday because you're off on a Wednesday. But other than Newcastle Belfast is an hour bus journey away and offers a wealth of things to do from shopping, museums or even just a quick change of scenery and to get out of Newcastle. We're fortunate to have a classmate working in a sister hotel close to Belfast and although we’ve yet to cross paths I’m sure we will in the near future.
As mentioned before it’s a lot of work, but its thoroughly enjoyable work. The team in the kitchen is great and really have our best interests at heart, having felt like I had never worked in a “proper” kitchen before. I’ve seemed to have slipped into the oaks kitchen the same way I slip into skinny jeans. A little awkward at first but now I’m extremely comfortable and they seem to fit in perfectly. In pastry we have various roles and our products get sent throughout the hotel, to different restaurants, to bedrooms as welcome slates and everywhere in between our primary concern is split between afternoon tea and a la carte service but were also responsible for weddings functions and a large Sunday carvery style buffet where a selection of 12 different desserts is needed and repetition from week to week is frowned upon. The pastry section is by far the busiest of the kitchen and it is relentless, I’ve probably made enough wheaten bread over the last six weeks to feed me for the rest of my life. The menu is quite simple but is being reworked at the moment with feedback from the chefs as it hasn’t been changed since Christmas and is very much a Christmas menu with things like gingerbread parfait and warm apple pudding. That’s all to change now with my arrival and implementing some things we have learned both in production and pastry classes from 2nd
year as well as some of my own creations. I’ll keep everyone updated on the progress with some pictures in my next post. One thing I love about staying on the island of Ireland is the great quality products we have access to in the kitchen, for example, all our cheeses are sourced from Fingal Ferguson in Gubbeen as well as our meats for our charcuterie board. Food providence is extremely important to the Hastings hotel group. At breakfast, a booklet is at center stage on each table explaining where your breakfast came from. A wee touch which makes it that little more special.
The housing provided is great its £20 a week and a stone’s throw from the kitchen I have my own room with an extremely comfortable bed (needed after a 12 hour shift) and everyone living there works in the kitchens of the hotel so it’s like one big family and getting used to the northern accent I might as well have gone overseas as it’s a completely foreign language.
To wrap up I’m thoroughly enjoying my time at the Slieve Donard hotel and I believe I’ve really started to grow and have had a lot of my edges knocked off already so I should have got rid of a good few by the time my time comes to leave Ireland and head of to Toronto in January.
Over and out till next time
Rob J. Condren
PS; I will start taking more photos in work as I seem to have none.