Perhaps it was the roar of the crowd at the All-Ireland hurling final, getting the kids ready for back to school or clinking glasses with friends that you haven’t seen in a really long time – whatever the moment, there has been a sense of excitement permeating through society that finally, we are getting back to normal.
And for food lovers, the return of Taste of Dublin this weekend marks one of the first big food event to open its doors since the start of the pandemic.
Of course, things will be different.
Waiters will be delivering our food and everyone will be in their own pods but that electric atmosphere that radiates throughout the Iveagh Gardens is guaranteed to return.
Chefs who we’ve only seen on our screens will be back on stage and we’ll hear the sizzle of steak and the wafting aromas of baking cakes as they talk us through their creations.
One chef we’ll be lining up to see is Aoife Noonan. In her 10 years as a pastry chef, Aoife has elevated the term “patisserie” to another level, because she brings a sense of fun and adventure to everything she makes.
This weekend at Taste of Dublin, she is serving up a chocolate and cherry mille feuille. Speaking passionately about her creation, she says: “It’s going to be layers of chocolate puff pastry made into a cube and then I have a salted chocolate Namelaka, which is like a cream hidden inside with a mahleb and cherry spice gel. Mahleb is made from the ground stones of a particular variety of cherry and has a strong almond flavour. There is always a sense of nervousness doing a demo – will it turn out exactly how it’s planned? But that’s part of the excitement too.”
Taste of Dublin and the many other food festivals around the country that Aoife has demoed at has led her to where she is today. The patisserie expert who previously worked in the two Michelin-star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and Glover Alley on St Stephen’s Green has stepped away from kitchen life for now and is running her own online classes as well as one of the most impressive cake drops in the country.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
However, Aoife says it has been a long road to where she is today. In fact, she brings it back to that all-important question that you get asked as a child – what do you want to be when you grow up?
Laughing she says: “I always wanted to be a teacher. My mom only reminded me of it recently, that when I was a kid and we were playing, I was always the teacher. When it came to it though, when I got to Leaving Cert I didn’t know what I wanted to do. There was a different course on every line of my CAO form – early childhood studies, music, English but it was culinary arts that I had on the top line, mostly because home ec was my favourite subject.”
However, when it came to the heat of the kitchen, Aoife wasn’t sure if it was for her. “I remember doing work experience in kitchens and thinking, no, this high-pressured intense atmosphere is not where I want to be.”
So how did she go from that to 10 years in top restaurants?
Aoife started her pastry career in the kitchens of BANG Restaurant & Bar in Dublin but it was a chance encounter with the head chef in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud that brought her to the next level.
“He said he would give me a trial and even though, I really didn’t think I could do it, I knew I would be mad not to give it a go. I said I would give myself a month, I ended up staying there nearly four years.
“I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned,” she continues, “it was definitely the pinnacle point in my career, I just didn’t know it at the time. I did enjoy it yes, it was very hard and testing but I wouldn’t have kept with it for so long if I didn’t know I was thriving.”
After that, there were exciting ventures including work as executive group pastry chef on John Farrell’s trendy Dublin restaurants which at the time included Luna, the Butcher Grill and 777.
Working with Andy McFadden as he set up Glover Alley was also a highlight. “It was a new restaurant, new team, new menu, new everything so building it from scratch was exciting and different.”
Taking a breath
However, in 2019, Aoife took a moment to stop and think and realised she didn’t want to be in kitchens for the rest of her career.
“I learnt so much in those 10 years but I needed and wanted a change. I took some breathing space and really asked myself, what do I love?
“I started doing some work with Avonmore as their brand ambassador on professional cream in China and I thought back on the demos I did at Taste of Dublin, at the West Waterford Food Festival, at all the other wonderful festivals across the country and I realised this is what I love, being creative with pastry but also sharing the skills that I have amassed over the years, essentially being a teacher,” she says.
So in July 2021, she went live with her first online class. “It took time to explore and build this new venture but I didn’t want it to be just another online class. There were lot of chefs doing really great cook-a-longs during the pandemic. But for me, I wanted to offer something different. I wanted it to be more than just an online platform, I wanted to give people something they hadn’t experienced before.
“I want the classes to appeal to everyone, no matter what their experience is. I have classes such as cake basics where I teach people to make really amazing sponges and buttercreams, the fundamentals essentially. And then in autumn, I am running a masterclass for keen bakers where over four weeks, it will elevate them to the next level.
“I have amassed a lot of tips and tricks from years working in kitchens and I want to share them with people. Little things like freezing your pastry before you bake it so it doesn’t shrink or rolling your pastry out between two pieces of parchment paper so it doesn’t stick to the table. This helps make good chefs great, no matter what level they’re at.”
And then sometimes, people don’t want to learn, they want to enjoy the creations of an expert.
“I couldn’t just give up being a pastry chef completely, I love the creativity, the challenge of creating something really amazing and impressive. So as much as I am challenging the people who attend my classes, I wanted to keep challenging myself and to keep learning so I am also doing a cake drop every month within Dublin and surrounding counties. I want to create cakes you just can’t get anywhere else.”
So for September, Aoife is creating a Valhona Chocolate and Tonka Bean Flan (€45). She explains: “It’s a chocolate puff pastry and it’s got this dark chocolate tonka bean baked custard inside, it’s stunning. The puff pastry is really crunchy and delicious and the tonka bean adds an unusual subtle flavour. Then when you sprinkle sugar on it and bake it, the sugar caramelises and it becomes really shiny and crispy and sweet.”
No doubt all this talk has made your mouth water and Aoife lets us in on a final revelation, she isn’t just doing a demo at Taste of Dublin, she has teamed up with the Cupcake Bloke to create a cupcake that reflects her favourite tastes and techniques which will be on sale at the event. Laughing she says:
“It’s inspired by a French champagne breakfast, so it’s a brioche peach and strawberry cupcake with a fromage blanc frosting and inside you get a pipette of champagne. Totally decadent but hey, Taste is back so we’re celebrating.”
Taste of Dublin has always pushed boundaries and here are some of the most exciting dishes we’ll be trying this weekend.
1 Naughty Neighbour by Daniel Hannigan will be serving up beef and Guinness doughnuts with parmesan mayonnaise.
2 Bahay – We can’t wait to try the glazed Filipino BBQ Ribs with banana ketchup and a garlic soy glaze – it’s the banana ketchup that really has us interested.
3 Three Twenty Ice Cream Lab is taking things to the next level with liquid nitrogen ice cream and salted caramel brownies.
4 King Sitric – We’ll be hitting up the oyster bar to try Kelly Oysters from Co Galway. They will be served in a variety of ways but we’re most excited about enjoying them torched with bacon or served raw with a Gunpowder Gin and tonic topping with grapefruit.
5 Hang Dai – You really haven’t experienced Chinese prawn toast until you’ve tried it from Hang Dai.
For more information on Aoife’s classes and her cake drops, log onto www.aoifenoonan.com. For tickets for Taste of Dublin, running until 5 September in the Iveagh Gardens, log onto dublin.tastefestivals.com