Meet Ireland’s response to Willy Wonka – Paula Stakelum, Pastry Chef and Chocolate Artist at Ashford Castle

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For Paula Stakelum, from Thurles, chocolate isn’t just an Easter treat, it’s the artistic medium through which she works magic every week. As the pastry chef at the five-star Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo, she regularly makes up to 10kg of finished chocolates per day, working with a team of 10 pastry chefs.

Under normal circumstances, Easter would be a peak time for Paula, with specialty chocolates and eggs to be made in abundance. However, this year the 35-year-old finds herself with more free time and a thoughtful mood as the castle prepares to reopen when the pandemic ends.

“My earliest memories of chocolate are probably the same as everyone’s,” Stakelum says. “As kids we all loved Cadbury, but then who doesn’t? As a pastry chef, however, I can identify the moment when I realized that chocolate was a truly special ingredient and that I was there for life.


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