Paul Kelly, Executive Pastry Chef, Merrion Hotel, Dublin

The Staff Canteen

Paul Kelly spent almost a decade working on his understanding of food and of the industry. His first foray into the pastry section came when he was taken on as a pastry chef at The Park Hotel in Kenmare working under Bruno Schmidt. Since then Paul has spent the last 20 years perfecting his skills in the world of pastry and is currently executive pastry chef at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin. Paul is also known for his role as a judge on The Great Irish Bake Off and as the Cacao Barry Ambassador to Ireland.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Paul about transitioning from the hot kitchen to pastry and what has kept him at The Merrion Hotel after almost 20 years of service.

Baked Alaska 

How did you get into the industry?

As a child, I was very creative and artistic. I would spend my days drawing pictures and playing with Mecano and Lego. I was only allowed into the kitchen when it was time to clean up!

Then, in the late 80’s to early 90’s, unemployment in Ireland was very high so my mother signed me up for a 3 month catering course - I haven’t looked back since!

Have you always worked in pastry or have you been in other areas of the kitchen as well?

I trained as an all-round commis chef and spent 8 years developing my understanding of food and techniques, primarily in Michelin star restaurants, and every year I would stage in 2 and 3 Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe during my time off. 

My first role as a full time pastry chef came when I joined The Park Hotel in Kenmare, where I worked under Bruno Schmidt. The transition from hot kitchen to pastry was the toughest point in my career. It was like my head and hands were from two different bodies. But throughout the experience I grew to love and respect the art of pastry work.

How did becoming Cacao Barry’s Irish ambassador come about?

My Ambassador role came about through my work with Or Noir. They were looking for a Chef with a 5* Deluxe background and they also liked the fact that I was actively involved in the culinary educational system in Ireland.

Can you tell us a little bit more about what it involves and what it means to you?

I am very honoured to be Ireland’s Cacao Barry Ambassador.  It’s fantastic to be a member of such an elite group of Ambassadors from all over the world. It opens the doors to cutting edge information and training, which is a great privilege to have access to, giving me the opportunity to continually develop my skills and knowledge. My role as an ambassador is to take all this information and pass it on to others.

You have been at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin since it opened all most 20 years ago, what has kept you there for that length of time?

Yes – I have been at The Merrion Hotel for 20 years but to be honest, it feels like I arrived only yesterday! I guess The Merrion is a lot like me, guest focused, driven, unique but most of all, humble and takes nothing for granted. I feel as though I have grown with the hotel and we continue to reinvent ourselves together.  I feel quite privileged to have been a part of The Merrion and all that it has achieved since 1997.

 Info bar

Signature dishes 

Mango and Passion Fruit Baked Alaska with Malibu Analgise

Pistachio and Raspberry Bakewell with Candied Orange Ice Cream

Trio of Merrion Signature Chocolate with Calamansi Jelly

 Desert island desserts 

Top 5 desserts that they would take to a desert island

Strawberries from Co. Wexford (my hometown) with ice cream – for some home comfort!

Chocolate Brittle

Honey & Rhubarb Choux Crumble

Orange and Vanilla Cheesecake

Black Forest Gâteau

How did being a judge on The Great Irish Bake Off come about?

Being a judge quite possibly came about due to my profile in the industry for over the last 20 years. I am very active in my role as a pastry chef – when I’m not training myself I will be lecturing in the Dublin Institute of Technology in Culinary Arts, Artisan or Advanced Pastry; training the next generation; doing demonstrations or judging competitions throughout Ireland. 

How do you think TV shows like The Great Irish Bake Off have helped the pastry section?

I think that the Great Irish Bake Off has been great for pastry and baking in Ireland.  The show has given the public the opportunity to apply for what is sure to be the best experience of their lives! If they are lucky enough to qualify for the final 12 they will embark on an epic journey of discovery.

The Great Irish Bake Off also gives the general public a brief insight into the planning, precision and presentation which are all part of a pastry chef’s daily life, while also promoting home baking.

What do you think is one of the more difficult areas for a young pastry chef to learn?

For young apprentices, consistency is the most difficult skill they need to master. To be a great pastry chef you need to be passionate about all aspects of the job, that means everything from cleaning your section to finishing a wedding cake.

You also have to be creative and not afraid of failure - failure is part of life and as time goes on you get better at accepting it as inevitability and relish learning from your mistakes.

At this point in my career I actually love where failure can lead you! I know this sounds strange, but from failure can only come success. The feeling of perfecting a new dish after several attempts and seeing our guests enjoying it, or figuring out how to put your own twist on a favourite classic is well worth fighting for!

How much attention do you give to trends within pastry?

Cellar Restaurant, The Merrion


Trends are everything. I spend a lot of money on purchasing books, visiting trendy hotels and restaurants both in Ireland and further afield, and spending huge amounts of time online just to keep my knowledge at the level it should be.  Every year I make time to go away and visit cutting edge pastry shops and bakeries.  I also attend the World Chocolate Masters which is jaw-droopingly amazing!

 Are there any particular areas of pastry you would like to learn more about?

 There isn't any area of pastry that I would not like to learn more about. Pastry is constantly evolving and there is always someone out there coming up with something new and exciting.  It never stops.

Who has inspired you throughout your career?

I have been inspired by so many people over the years and it would be unfair to single out one person or moment, but I would like to say that the characteristics in a person that inspire me the most are a strong work ethic, the ability to evolve and having a mutual respect.

You have created your own chocolate. Can you tell us a little more about that, is this something the general public can buy?

The Merrion’s Or Noir signature chocolate is exclusively available to our guests at the moment - it is in bar form in the mini bar, in truffle form in our exclusive Merrion Chocolate Boxes and I cook with it in the kitchen.  It has taken us many years to develop but we now have our own collection of dark 67%, milk and white chocolate. We are the only hotel in the world to have all three in production. 

What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future are very simple, continue to develop myself and our product whilst enjoying every second of what life throws at you - both inside and out of the kitchen!

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th August 2016

Paul Kelly, Executive Pastry Chef, Merrion Hotel, Dublin