Written by Melanie May
Master Pastry Chef, Shane Smith has over 22 years’ experience working in some of the world’s most celebrated pastry kitchens across the globe. Most recently he’s been baking up a storm on social media with his scrumptious, sweet and savoury recipes and fun cook-alongs.
We caught up with Shane to uncover the secrets to his social media success and his top tips for successful baking at home.
You can catch up with I Love Cooking & Shane Smith’s Afternoon Tea Recipe series here.
Take us back to the beginning. How did you get started or interesting in baking?
For as long as I can remember I had an interest in food. My mum always baked when we were kids and I also remember helping my Granny bake during the summer holidays. She used to make the most delicious jam tarts and would leave them to cool on the kitchen window ledge, just high enough so we couldn’t reach them.
I asked my mum to bring me to a CERT open day in my local hotel when I was 16, they were giving a talk about working in the hospitality industry. As part of the presentation, we were given a tour of the different departments in the hotel. The Head Chef gave us a quick food demo and I knew there and then that a career in food was most definitely for me.
I asked at reception on the way out for weekend work and a few weeks later I was in the same kitchen preparing vegetables and helping out with the basics. I was hooked from day one.
You are a master pastry chef. What does that actually mean?
I have been working as a chef for almost 22 years, I graduated from my certificate course from Tourism College Killybegs in 2002 and a few years later I went to Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and completed the degree course, graduating with distinction in advanced and specialised pastry.
After my college years, I have been very lucky to travel the globe working in some brilliant pastry kitchens, my favourite being Maze by Gordon Ramsay in London. Continued learning is very important to me and I have carried out stages in one- and two-star Michelin restaurants over the years.
What were you doing before the pandemic?
Like everyone, I was in the rat race of working every hour under the sun and perhaps not living in the moment. My favourite pastime is travelling and I was very lucky to travel all over Vietnam and Cambodia in January 2020 just before everything shut down. I take such inspiration from different cuisines and cooking methods, so I cannot wait for when we can jump on an airplane again soon.
What have you been doing during the pandemic?
I decided in March, a few days into the first lock-down that I would take to the kitchen. Whenever I’m stressed or have a deadline I procrasti-bake, I’m able to switch off to everything around me and just enjoy the process. This led to a cupboard creation series on my social channels that really blew up. My goal has always been to show people that you don’t need 25 ingredients to bake something delicious and people really related to it. There’s a bank of over 100 IGTV recipes videos to date.
I have been doing pastry consultancy, recipe development, food styling and photography for a few years now so during the pandemic, I was able to offer a full package to brands and companies which worked in my favour. This has kept me very busy which I am extremely grateful for.
Can you tell us how social media has helped your work and career especially over the last 14 months?
While the country was at home on their phones during the lockdowns, I knew it was the perfect time to sharing my simple step by step baking/cooking tutorials online, this led me to a large audience I had not tapped into before.
I have been active on social media for years so I know how important it is to build my brand. I suppose for years I never really committed fully to it and there were so many things I wanted to do but never had the time.
The pandemic gave me the time I needed to focus and create great content for my followers and has opened up so many doors for me. I have also grown my recipe collection to over 250 on my website www.chefshanesmith.ie
I am now working with some sensational brands, ones I’ve always looked up to. For the first time in years, I feel seen and all my endless hours of work is starting to pay off. I don’t take this for granted and am very grateful for all these new opportunities.
Did you learn any new skills or take up any new hobbies?
My way of getting through the past 18 months has been to bury myself in work, I have learned so much about myself when it comes to building my brand. Never did I think I would be on Zoom calls, delivering pitches with the head of some huge brands. Some of which lead to projects and lots didn’t and this is all part of the process. I think people share the sweet side of life online but there were many projects I have worked hard on and between one thing or another they didn’t make it across the line. I have learned to dust myself off, get up and go at it again.
On a side note, I did buy a bike during lockdown 1.0 but I have to admit it’s been used as a clothes horse more than an actual bike!
What lessons have you learned over the last year during the restrictions?
Like many, I’ve learned how important family and friends are to me. Pre-pandemic, I was so preoccupied with the daily grind that I took my eye off the important things in life. The world coming to a halt has most definitely taught me to appreciate the simple things in life. I have also learned to stop being a busy fool, I now value my time so much more. It’s not all cupcakes and sprinkles, so I have learned to take a step back more often and be proud of everything I have had to overcome and achieved. I try to remind myself of this when I have one of those days.
What are you currently working on?
Thankfully, I am really busy creating content for some brilliant Irish companies and brands. Food photography is one of the new loves in my life. I have so much to learn but I love the full circle process from taking the idea in my head, making, styling and shooting it.
I have built up a truly fantastic baking community across all my social channels, so I try to drop one IGTV a week with a new delicious bake to keep people inspired.
I started a tasty recipe series this week that’s due to drop in September. I’m really excited to share that with everyone.
I have always loved sharing my recipes in print and I’m always delighted to be working with the Irish Times and Irish Independent over the past year and most recently with Irish Country Living. I also have a monthly recipe column with The Anglo Celt newspaper in my home county of Cavan.
It’s been great to keep my slot on The Today Show with RTE and love getting to Cork any chance I can.
Any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
I have a few fingers in a few pies (pardon the pun) that are due in autumn with some companies that I have not worked with before so that is keeping me busy at the minute.
I’m going to be that really annoying person that I normally roll my eyes at but I am currently in talks about teaming up with an amazing household brand but that’s all I can say for the moment — watch this space <insert eye-roll>
Congratulations on becoming a Kenwood Brand Ambassador. Can you tell us what that means and what we can expect from you and Kenwood?
When the amazing team at Kenwood reached out to me about a Brand Ambassador role, I almost died! Dramatic much??
I think it’s so important to pair up with brands that are in line with your own personal brand/values and I could not think of a better partnership.
I have been working with Kenwood since 2020 and over the year, they really liked me, my recipes and style, so to get this nod of approval from such an iconic company confirmed to me that I was going in the right direction. We have had loads of meetings about my new role and the direction we want to take it in. I’m creating a unique Kenwood recipe every month which I style and shoot myself. We recorded a really exciting video series last month that is due out shortly and is absolutely perfect for summer.
Lots more IGTV and Facebook Lives on the cards along with another video series due later on in the year.
I’m kept really busy but as cliche as it sounds, getting up first thing in the morning to create delicious sweet and savoury bakes for Kenwood doesn’t feel like work. It’s a dream come true.
What are your top baking tips for people following recipes at home?
When it comes to baking, invest in weighing scales, they don’t need to be expensive. I have taken the time to create a recipe by weighing out the ingredients so, if you’re looking for the same result, it is important to take an extra 5 minutes to weigh things up.
Read the recipe in full before you begin. We’ve all scanned a recipe quickly and realised halfway through that it needs to chill overnight or you may not have a certain piece of equipment.
Use the best of ingredients. I’m a big believer that if you start with delicious seasonal Irish ingredients then you’re already off to a great start.
If I had a euro for every time I overcooked a cake or split a cake batter, I would be a rich man. It’s completely normal to have baking fails. The important thing to do is ask why? Try and learn from it and make adjustments for the next time. Don’t let it put you off.
What three ingredients do you always have at home?
I know this sounds cliché, but I always have eggs, flour and sugar. These three ingredients can be turned into so many delicious things, whether it be a sponge, a tart, crumble, pastry, biscuits or a cake batter. Once you have the base ingredients then you can have fun reaching to the back of the cupboard to add in different flavours. Some of my tastiest recipes have been made by default. Every day is a school day.
If we were to snoop in your cupboards or fridge what guilty pleasure or quirky things might we find?
I love rooting through the shelves at my local supermarket for new products so this is always changing. At the minute, the ingredients I can’t live without are:
- Butler’s Organic eggs.
- A jar of Olly’s Farm honey.
- Chan Chan Irish Black Garlic Peanut Chilli Rayu is addictive and great for a quick fix dinner.
- I always have an emergency block of frozen Roll It All-butter Puff Pastry in the freezer.
- When in season, McCormack Family Farms’ edible flowers. They add a great pop of colour to my recipes.