‘I have good memories of cooking. We had our own garden and would cook everything from scratch’
In the second part of a new series, in association with the all-new BMW 1 Series, we meet award-winning pastry chef Gráinne Mullins, to discuss how her career journey is driven by an ability to recognise and respect good quality
Gráinne Mullins: Young Chef of the Year 2019: “Growing up, I always have good memories of cooking. Nobody in the family was a professional, but everyone had a great interest in cooking.” Photographs: Andrew Downes, Xposure
An appreciation of quality is at the heart of Mullins’s work, the award-winning pastry chef from Galway who took home the Young Chef of the Year 2019 accolade. As a purveyor of high-end experiences, Mullins was ideally placed to put BMW’s third generation, all-new 1 Series to the test in the wilds of Connemara.
“I’m still in shock to be honest with you,” she says, reflecting on the win of the acclaimed Euro-Toques award late last year. “It was a tough journey, but I’m very glad I entered. I thought if I just got through one or two rounds then it would still be a good experience, so to get through all the rounds and win was incredible.”
The Euro-Toques win is the culmination of years of hard work that led Mullins off well-worn paths in pursuit of her passion.
“Growing up, I always have good memories of cooking. Nobody in the family was a professional, but everyone had a great interest in cooking,” she says.
“We had our own garden, and we had a lot of fresh produce and we would cook everything from scratch. The first time I ever got into a professional kitchen was when I had to do work experience for transition year, I worked in a local café and I really fell in love with it then.”
From there Mullins carved her own path, trying to make a choice between her love of cooking and her passion for science.
“After school, I went to study science, and I kept up working in kitchens every moment I could and progressing there as well,” she says.
“I decided to take a year out and see whether I wanted to follow pastry cooking, or if I wanted to stick with my science course, and that really set everything in motion for me.”
The year out gave Mullins an opportunity to work in the Michelin-starred Restaurant Dan B. at Ventebren, in the south of France. After two years working as pastry chef there, she moved on to work as head pastry chef in another Michelin-starred restaurant, Ox in Belfast.
“I learned so much working in these establishments,” she says.
“I think the Michelin star is a fantastic accolade, it means you’re going to find a high standard of cooking and, very often, very high-quality ingredients. But I think a lot of it is about precision as well – things really need to be organised and consistent; you want to offer the customer an experience that is the same each time, and that is as close to perfection as you can get. That’s often what you’ll find in award-winning restaurants.”
The experience gave Mullins an eye for precision and craftsmanship in many forms.
“I love the design of this car,” she says after driving the BMW 1 Series on her commute to work at Lignum in Loughrea. “It is really beautiful to look at, and I also found it incredibly comfortable to drive. It’s obvious you’re dealing with quality design and engineering.”
The art (and science) of pastry cooking
Working with pastry gave Mullins a way to marry her love of cooking with her keen interest in science.
“Being a pastry chef is part science and part art,” she says.
“Pastry has a really strict side, where everything in the recipe must be in its place, and if you follow the recipe, it’s always right. If you make a mistake, it’s very clear what the mistake was and when it happened. As well as having this formula it is also artistic, it is a way that I can show my creative side. I love playing with colours, and making something aesthetically pleasing. There’s a real joy to know that somebody is enjoying it as well. You are giving happiness through food.”
Perhaps it should be no surprise then that it was the subtler tech touches woven into the driving experience that made the most impact with Mullins.
“There are features in the car that I thought were implemented so well,” she says, “like the simplicity of connecting to Bluetooth for my messages and emails, and the fact that there was a wireless charging point for my phone. Being able to change the aesthetics to suit your mood by controlling the interior lighting was also a really nice touch.”
The 1 Series implements BMW’s award-winning ConnectedDrive system, which also allows the driver to use their phone as a digital key to unlock the car, as well as integration with Alexa and popular apps like Spotify and Deezer for streaming music, all of which can be accessed through voice commands.
“On the weekend I wanted to get out and about so I went on a longer drive to Barna in Connemara to try to source some quality, local ingredients,” she says.
“Even though I was driving through a storm on the way, I felt extremely safe and secure. When I go foraging, I look for edible ingredients in forest areas and by the seaside. In the forest you can find herbs like wood sorrel and berries when they are in season, and there can be lots of edible flowers.”
“By the seaside, I can find different seaweeds such as carrageen, that I can use as a setting agent. There are also many sea herbs that grow on the seashore. I like going out and foraging what I can, though it means I can end up off the beaten track, that’s actually where the Reverse Assistant became useful, you can just let the car remember how you drove into a spot and it will reverse you back out of it automatically.”
Fuel efficiency is kept as low as possible in the car’s Eco Pro mode, a feature that sits close to the heart of many younger drivers.
“I’m always very conscious of the environment,” says Mullins. “I do recycle in the kitchen, and I do anything I can to cut down and try to be sustainable. It is not always easy in fine dining, as you have to be almost surgical about how you prepare dishes.”
From the south of France to the Connemara seashore, her journey as a chef has been driven by an ability to recognise and respect good quality.
“Winning Young Chef of the Year has been absolutely amazing,” she says. “I have learned so much, and made so many friends.”
“As a community of chefs, Euro-Toques really come together and it is so nice to have that support. I think it’s fair to say people thought it was a bit mad to stop college and go to France, but in hindsight it was such a big part of me becoming who I am today. The respect that both customers and chefs have for food there is palpable, they have some incredible produce and they are so proud of it,” she says.
“For me, an essential part of cooking is using high-quality ingredients, I really love when I get to meet producers and understand their story, and understand why they’re doing it and where it came from. I think that knowing the history and heritage of a product, which can also be said for BMW, gives you more respect for that product, and you can showcase it better, and enjoy it more.”
For more information on the all-new BMW 1 Series, visit discover.bmw.ie/models/bmw-1-series/