This Friday, Shane Smith will be on best man duty at his friend’s wedding in Inishowen in Co Donegal.
But first thing Saturday, he will swap his suit for his chef’s whites and hit the road to his native county for his demo at Taste of Cavan.
Now that’s what we call commitment.
“But there’s something very personal about Taste of Cavan,” smiles Shane, when we meet at Airfield Estate in Dundrum, Co Dublin, where he is head pastry chef.
A 38-acre working farm, garden, café and heritage haven smack bang in the middle of suburbia – and just a stone’s throw from the shopping centre – Shane admits thinking, “this is just too good to be true” when he first came for his job interview.
From the creamy milk of the doe-eyed Jersey cows in the dairy to the bounties of the ornamental and food gardens, his role is to incorporate the freshest ingredients into the sweet and savoury treats he bakes for the cafe: whether it’s a rhubarb galette with ginger frangipane, lavender shortbread with strawberries and cream, an orange elderflower polenta cake, sage scones or chive bread.
“For me, it couldn’t be any more rewarding as a chef,” he says. “We’re able to showcase and shout from the rooftops what we do.”
But as well as the day job – or dawn job, seeing as he starts at 6am – Shane is also a regular on TV3’s Saturday AM and Sunday AM shows, as well as sharing his own recipes through his website, social media channels and, increasingly, through demonstrations at festivals like Taste of Cavan, where he has one major goal.
“My whole ethos is to show people that pastry is not scary,” he stresses. “Yeah, you need to be organised, you need to have everything weighed up; but you can start with the basics and work your way up.”
PURSUING A PASSION
It’s always been about pastry – the imagination, the precision, the skill – for Shane. Raised in Lavey, Co Cavan, by his parents Sean and Bernie along with his siblings Declan and Denise, his abiding childhood memory is of a “big bag of flour” on the kitchen table.
Indeed, it’s to Cavan that he still returns to develop most of his recipes for his blog – much to the delight of the neighbours who get to sample his efforts.
“Mum is dropping cakes here, there and everywhere,” he laughs. “People would be stopping her saying: ‘Is that lad of your’s home the weekend?’”
Having originally trained as a chef at Killybegs in Donegal, Shane started his professional career in Knockranny House Hotel in Westport, often staying long past his shift to help out in the pastry section to hone his craft. Indeed, Shane went on to complete a degree in pastry at GMIT and take over the dessert section at Knockranny, with stints at The g Hotel in Galway and Fallon & Byrne in Dublin before joining the team at Airfield Estate a year and a half ago.
As well as running the bakery, his role is also to oversee product development using ingredients from the farm; for instance, an ice cream range using milk from the Jersey herd is currently in the pipeline.
“It’s been made very clear from day one: ‘Do what you want,’” says Shane of the creative freedom given to him at Airfield, though adds that sometimes it’s simply about getting the classics right.
“Whether it’s a bakewell slice done with homemade jam or whether it’s a really good apple pie with a good pastry, that’s what people like, and it takes skill,” he says.
“I always say to the guys that would be training here in the kitchen: whether it’s a magnificent chocolate torte that you’re making or a very humble scone, the same love has to go in to it.”
PRACTICE & PATIENCE
Shane acknowledges that pastry can be intimidating but that you really just need two ingredients to succeed: practice and patience.
“There’s no point going into a kitchen and beating yourself up if the first batch of pastry doesn’t work. It’s about learning from that mistake and then build on that,” he says.
And there’s nothing that he loves more than inspiring home cooks who attend his demos at events like Taste of Cavan.
“Something like that is very humbling for me: that they took 40 minutes out of their day to come and sit down at a demo I’m doing and to come up afterwards and say ‘thank you’ to me and ‘I learned from that and I’m going to try that out at home’. That for me makes it all worthwhile,” he smiles. CL
Recipes: A Taste
Shane Smith shares some of his favourite recipes celebrating Cavan producers; but of course, if you live in a different county, feel free to substitute with ingredients from your local artisans.
Corleggy baked Cavan-bert with Mixed Seed Tear & Share Bread
225g strong flour
Pinch of salt
3.5g (half sachet dried yeast)
150ml warm water
Pinch of caster sugar
1 Cavanbert Corleggy cheese
1 clove of garlic
1 In a bowl, mix the flour, salt, sugar, butter and dried yeast.
2 Add the warm water and mix for five minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
3 Turn out on to a floured surface and knead to form a smooth round shape.
4 Place this in a greased bowl and cover with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
5 When this stage is reached, turn the dough back on to the work surface and knock out any air.
6 Divide into eight pieces and shape into neat rolls and then dip the top of each roll into water and then into the different seeds.
7 Place the rolls on a floured tray in a circle, leaving space between each roll as it will expand during proving and baking. Also allow space in the centre for the baked cheese.
8 Leave this to prove for a further 30 minutes or until all the rolls are doubled in size.
9 Take a whole Cavanbert and score the top with a small knife. Place some rosemary and sliced garlic into these scores. Place this in the centre of the bread rolls and put in a preheated oven at 180°C for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
10 Take care when removing as the cheese will be very hot and melted.
12 Alternatively, if your cheese is quite soft to begin with, you can bake them both separately.
>> Aine’s truffle tart
Makes: 1 x rectangle tart (14” x 5”)
250g caster sugar
500g plain flour
1 Cream the butter and sugar together until pale in colour.
2 Gradually add the eggs, combine.
3 Finally, add the flour. Do not over mix at this stage.
4 Turn the mix out on to a floured surface and gently knead to form a ball.
5 Wrap in cling film and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.
6 When rested, return to the floured surface and roll out.
7 Grease and flour your tart tin and carefully cover with the rolled out pastry. Chill for 25 minutes.
8 Line the tart’s shell with parchment and fill with baking beans and blind bake in a pre-heated oven at 165°C for eight to 10 minutes. Remove the baking beans and return the tart to the oven for a further four to five minutes to finish baking or until golden brown.
9 Set aside to cool.
625g dark Aine’s Chocolate 55%, chopped
320ml single cream
1 Heat the cream and pour over the chopped chocolate and set to one side. Leave for 10 minutes and stir until smooth
100g 55% dark chocolate, chopped
1 For the truffles, simply heat the cream, pour over the chocolate and butter and set aside until the chocolate is melted. Whisk together and place in the fridge.
2 Once set, taking a teaspoon, scoop out some chocolate and roll into neat balls. These can be dusted with cocoa, chocolate chips or left plain. Keep cold until needed.
1 Spoon the chocolate ganache filling into the pre-baked tart shell and chill for one hour.
2 Before you serve, top with the home-made truffles.
Taste of Cavan runs from 11-12 August in Cavan Equestrian Centre, with Shane Smith’s demo at 1pm. For further information and inspiration, visit www.tasteofcavan.ie and www.chefshanesmith.ie