Wednesday, 21 March 2012

My Cliff House Hotel Journey, The Beginning



Picture the scene. It's New Years Eve, I'm sipping my favourite beverage, a bottle of Corona and Lime, fire is going, iPad balanced on my lap, chatting to all my new found pals on Twitter. To some, it might appear as an uneventful New Years eve, but to me, I was in my element. After a less that fantastic 2011 almost behind me, I was feeling positive and grateful for battling some demons as we all have to face at some stage in our lives.

You know I love to cook. You're here after all. Every evening, I race home from work, put on my apron and blast some tunes from my iPod and take comfort in my kitchen zone, stirring, melting, blitzing, pureeing, dancing, and lying on the floor oven gazing. You could say, it's my daily therapy and lights the fire in my spoilt belly. As my favourite film, Ratatouille signature quote states; “anyone can cook... but only the fearless can be great". I'm not claiming to be great, stubbornly fearless certainly and unashamedly aiming for greatness.

   I tweeted that I'd love the opportunity to work in a professional kitchen to which the great Martijn Kajuiter, Michelin star Dutch chef replied “Sure, be my guest". And so the story began. I'm only on chapter one, pardon the pun, but I'd love for you to jump aboard the foodie train.

March 17th, 2012, I arrived to the Cliff House Hotel after an eventful traipse across the country on La le Padraig. Diversions, 'road closed' signs and grumpy gardai didn't do much for my nerves. 4 hours later, I arrived at the hotel, greeted by my new found and unlikely chum, 6 ft 8, gentle and ferocious Michelin man himself Martijn Kajuiter. What I was most nervous about was how I would perceived by the young Trojan chefs that dedicate their lives to their jobs. I perceived myself as an “in your face” smiley foodie type. So how on earth would I be received in this kitchen. I was surprised, really pleasantly surprised. Martijn announced my arrival, and whilst the team was polite, they continued diligently preparing for the Saturday night service ahead. 

Martijn brought me through the kitchen, my eyes devoured the surroundings, bamboozling my brain as I tried to retain everything in sight. This was a different ball game to anything I had ever experienced. I cast my mind back to when I worked as a waitress, aged 18, in the infamous Hi-way Bar and Restaurant in Limerick dishing out steaks and mixed grills to burley builders and post pub grub seekers. I worked my backside off at that restaurant and it was there where I discovered my love of people. My food love affair was to come later in life, right about...........Now. 

It was about 5pm, I donned my chefs jacket and apron, and joined the kitchen habitat. I wasn't sure where to place myself, always aware of my gender and potential nuisance to the masters and apprentices at work. After about 30 seconds, I eased, as it was clear these guys and I had a lot in common. Food, the appreciation and adoration of food was in our hearts. 

There was a lull in the kitchen for about 15 minutes, about 6.45pm. I could feel the rising tension, like a kettle coming to the boil. Not in a bad way, but an expectant hush....5,4,3,2,1. "Let's go disco!" And the kitchen party started. So this is what it's all about. I asked, I quizzed, I observed and I danced around the kitchen, drinking in and savouring the atmosphere. I was in a Michelin star kitchen for Heaven's sake, and I hadn't even read 'The Secret'. 

What struck me was the passion that flared. Everything has GOT to be impeccable. There is no room for even the smallest of mistakes. And if one is made it's felt like tremors from an earthquake. I've never experienced an earthquake, but it's got to be like this. The way you see it on the TV? Yes, that's kinda it. But, I loved it. I loved it the same way I love thunder and lightning. It's scary but I feel alive as I witness it because it a force of nature and can't be helped. But after the thunderbolt, there is calm and work resumes and everyone is even more determined to achieve that flawless finish that I witnessed on every plate that those lucky diners got that night.

I have to admit, I was in awe as I saw Martijn stride through the kitchen observing everyone’s station, and picking up the slightest of imperfections, demonstrating how to rectify and achieve ultimate impeccability. These imperfections are invisible to the naked eye, but like I said, this is the madness of Michelin. The attention to detail was incredible, ingredients from the coastal shore of Ardmore, and the adjoining gardens. The use of smoking apparatuses, water baths, dehydrators and all the cheffy gear is somewhat bigger than my epicurean grasp right now. It's a journey and when I am more familiar with the twists and turns I'll share them with you. 


The kitchen is like a simmering stockpot. With carefully selected ingredients, you bring to a simmer. It reaches boiling point, with stock bubbling furiously, if you take your eye off, it may bubble over. But with effort and attention to detail, you've got something really special, really worthwhile, and it's evident what all the effort is for.
I cannot wait to return to The Cliff House Hotel. Each time I go back, I will learn more, participate more and hopefully learn more. Where will this lead? Who knows, but I'd love for you to break the road with me.












29 comments:

  1. Well done Helena! You sure have come a long way.... May your long journey continue..... I have worked in a few Michelin star kitchens and I think it's great that Martyn has spotted your passion and allowed you to experience food at the highest level.....

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  2. Wonderful post Helena! This can only be the beginning of something amazing!!! Lui

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  3. Lovely piece Helena I hope your journey brings you joy btw I'm @acheeseboard gwens my real name!!

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  4. Ooh I love it!! It's like we have a spy on the inside!!! :-)

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  5. Excellent post Helena - what a fabulous experience and thanks for having us along! We're living it with you x

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  6. Great piece - well done . If the rest of your journey is this comPelling we are in for a real treat. Thanks for sharing Helena :) Rosemarie (roj1am)

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  7. Well done Cronin, very well written miss McDonald would be proud :-) a lovely read x

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  8. Your post was very nicely written and I really enjoyed reading about your whole experience. You are so right to grab an opportunity like this - Sounds like you had great fun.

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  9. Thanks everyone. I'm excited with your responses- its spurring me on to def continue with the storybook xx

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  10. Wow Helena - that's sounds wonderful. Just remember your trip to Hunters Lodge in July will be a bit more, eh, "rustic"!! xx

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    1. Cannot wait Fiona...thats gonna be magic!

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  11. Well done you - both on the night and the write-up! See you around West Waterford again soon! C

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    1. yes, three weeks sure! look forward to it Claire!!

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  12. Such an amazing account of what promises to be a whopping great adventure! Good for you for seizing the day - and the kitchen utensils. Looking forward to seeing where this tasty road takes you!

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  13. Wow. Very impressive. Good luck, hope everything works out!

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  14. What an amazing experience and adventure! Loved your photos and your story.

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  15. Thanks stef, your blog is very impressive. Who are u on twitter?

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    1. Glad you like it. :) I'm not actually anyone on Twitter, for a software engineer I'm a bit of a luddite when it comes to social networking. I really should get my finger out and sign up! Really looking forward to your updates on your stint in the Cliff House, would be very interested to hear about what sort of mad equipment and techniques they're using.

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    2. I will thanks :)) how did you come across my blog? Just interested to know how it gets out there

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    3. I can't really remember tbh, been dropping in for ages, just never left a comment! I think it was either through the Irish Food Bloggers site or the blogroll on icanhascook.

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  16. Dont know what I'm more envious of. Your prose writting ability or the fact you got to do it. Congrats I loved it.
    Rory Wilkinson

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    1. Thanks rory, a novice on all accounts

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  17. Excellent account of what seems like the beginning of a wildly tasty adventure! Good on you Helena, do happy for you and can't wait to hear more :) x

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  18. What a fantastic adventure Helena and you wrote about it beautifully.

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  19. Lovely post Helena....I would LOVE to know what each of those YUMMY photos are of...the pops looks amazing, what on earth are they? I dragged Richard to the Cliff House the week after they rec'd the Michelin and it was an unforgettable experience. Hope you did the Cliff walk too =) I think you are going back in April, look forward to hearing more! Imen xx

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    1. Hey Imen, Here's the link to the online donations
      http://www.mycharity.ie/event/helphelenagiveback

      I'll change the blog name the next few weeks. I just don't have enough hours in the day!!! Ps- yes I'm going back to the Cliff House hotel next month.

      Can't wait xx

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