Pauline Reilly, head chef at the g hotel in Galway, is one of few women at the helm in professional kitchens in Ireland, but she has never found her gender to be an issue
Pauline Reilly, head chef at the g Hotel in Galway
How does an honours degree student of science, specialising in anatomy, about to embark on the final year of undergraduate studies, find herself on the bottom rung of the professional kitchen hierarchy instead?
“I was in Galway looking for a place to live [for the coming term] and I passed the Great Southern hotel and up outside the hotel was a sign saying ‘Interviews for professional cookery’ and I went in and did my interview and I got on very well. So I went home that day and I had nowhere to live, but I had a whole new career.”
Pauline Reilly, head chef at the g hotel in Galway hasn’t had a moment’s regret since that career trajectory put her on a new path, and having followed her studies with work experience under Stefan Matz at Ashford Castle and Wade Murphy at Lisloughrey Lodge, she now leads a team of 22 kitchen staff.
There are six women in Reilly’s kitchen, including herself, and key positions held by women at the g include manager Triona Gannon and food and beverage manager Sharon Waldron.
Kitchens are notoriously macho environments, but Reilly has always held her own. “You’d be tried and tested now and again, but be firm but fair. If someone knows what they’re at you’re going to respect them and you’re going to take instruction from them whether they’re male or female. It’s how you approach things too, if you go in like a bulldog . . . I saw good things from good people on how to lead a team.”
Initially Reilly worked as a sous chef at the g, but left to take up her first head chef role at Harvey’s Point in Donegal. Eight months later an opening for head chef came up and she returned to the Galway hotel.
This weekend a 200-capacity events suite is being officially launched at the g, and menu design and delivery for this area of the hotel, as well as gigi’s restaurant and the hotel’s lounges are all within Reilly’s remit. “It’s challenging, I won’t say it’s no problem, because there will always be issues, but I am a quick thinker, that’s one of my attributes.”
In addition, she will be cooking with, and for, some of Ireland’s best-known chefs, including Ross Lewis, Kevin Thornton and Denis Cotter, at the David Gumbleton memorial prize gala dinner – a seven-course tasting menu for 140 guests, on May 1st. “It’s very exciting, there will be pressure on the day, but we’re getting GMIT involved so we’ll have four student chefs from there to help out.”
Student chefs . . . how much help will they be to her at such a big event? “I don’t know how to say no to enthusiasm,” Reilly replies.
The softly-spoken 32-year-old describes her style of cooking as “modern Irish with French techniques in the background”.
“That’s how I trained with Stefan, and Wade would have helped me put a little bit of a modern twist on it. They’re nearly polar opposites, the two characters, but they mesh very well on me. Wade was very funky, very different. When I worked with foie gras, for example, in Ashford with Stefan, it was your classic foie gras French recipes, whereas if I was doing foie gras with Wade, it was something off the wall altogether. He used to have a foie gras sundae on the menu and I remember seeing it for the first time and saying ‘you are off your rocker with this’ but it was a beautiful dish.”
She’s reached the lofty heights of head chef, but would she like to open her own place? “I would love to, down the line, a nice 40-seater, maybe on the coast. It’s every chef’s goal isn’t it?”