Written by Melanie May
Tara Gartlan is a very talented pastry chef who has worked in the kitchens of some of Dublin’s, nay the country’s, top restaurants. Rare enough for someone who creates beautiful baked goods for a living, Tara is also a coeliac. The good news for fellow coeliacs is that Tara shares gorgeous gluten-free recipes on her blog and Instagram so you can enjoy a sweet treat without the wheat.
We caught up with Tara to find out all about her career and top tips for making great cookies at home.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Where did your interest in baking come from?
I come from a family of women who are absolutely phenomenal cooks. These women can just make food out of nothing. So, I’ve always been surrounded by food and they got me into cooking and baking. They taught me how to make jams, Christmas puddings, little bits here and there.
What made you turn your hobby into a career?
I went to college to study languages when I was 19. I hated it. I was miserable. So, I dropped out and got a job in a hotel. I was a waitress but I was in love with the kitchen and everything going on in it. One day, the head chef asked if anyone had any interest in cooking and he would train them up in pasty. And that’s how it started.
I loved the kitchen atmosphere and the sense of achievement at the end of the day. So, a few years later, I went to Cathal Brugha Street to study culinary arts where I specialised in major pastry.
Why did you choose pastry?
I’ve always enjoyed pastry as it’s a bit more like science, there are a few more rules. If you follow the rules and the science behind baking, you are always guaranteed that the recipe will work. It will never not work. These technical aspects appealed to me.
Tell us about the journey from college to the kitchen.
Whilst in college I worked in different restaurant kitchens as I wanted to gain experience. It’s fine learning how to make a soufflé in college, but can you make 10 of them in a stressful situation?
I got a chance to work in Luna with Aoife Noonan. She’s an amazing pastry chef with a wealth of knowledge. I learned a fair bit from her, which was great. I then went to Glovers Alley with her.
When I left Glovers Alley, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. But one day, I just walked in off the street and handed my CV into the Greenhouse. A few minutes later, Mick (Mickael Viljanen) rang me and asked me to come for a trial the next day. I did, and I absolutely loved it.
I was there for two years making all the bread, desserts, chocolates, petit fours and lots of little bits here and there.
With restaurants shut, what have you been getting up to? It’s unusual for chefs to have so much time off!
Over the past ten years, because of work, I’ve missed lots of family occasions. So during the lockdowns I’ve been baking lots of lovely things for family birthdays, christenings and anniversaries. I can’t physically hug people but at least I can bake for them. It’s been really nice.
My mam is a photographer, so I’ve also been learning lots of food photography from her. I’ve been recipe testing and making lots of jam and knitting, cause I’m a 90-year-old woman. I’ve been reading, too. I finally have time to read.
You’ve also been blogging quite a bit.
Yeah. I don’t get a lot of free time and when I do I like to spend it with friends. So, the recipes I share on my blog and Instagram are for people who, like me, don’t have that much free time or maybe aren’t that experienced in pastry. There’s no point in sharing something absolutely terrifying, people just won’t make it.
All the recipes are gluten-free, too. I was diagnosed with coeliac disease in my second year of college. Back then, the only recipes I could find had all these strange ingredients that I couldn’t find in the supermarket. Ingredients that had to be ordered from Amazon. It was annoying. I just wanted to bake something easy and accessible with ingredients that I already have in my pantry.
I don’t have regular flour in my house. I don’t use it at all. So there is no point in sharing a recipe that I wouldn’t be able to eat.
Any tips for people following the recipes at home or who just want to improve their baking in general?
Using the correct sugar is important. For example, I use Demerara sugar in my cookie recipes because it’s a less refined sugar and it is crunchier. It gives a nice texture and adds a little bit of structure to the cookie. You’ll see if you use caster sugar, or even soft brown sugar, you get a completely different cookie. It will lose its structure because of the texture. So it’s really important to not make substitutes unless you understand the properties of the ingredients. It’s the same for flour. I use gluten-free flour, but I also state when normal flour can be substituted in the recipe because I understand the properties of different flours.
For all those gluten-free bakers out there, can you recommend some pantry staples?
I love the Doves Farm gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and bread soda. They are very consistent products. Aldi gluten-free flour is also very good.
Buckwheat flour is also great. It is a misnomer because the plant is not related to wheat. It’s my favourite flour for making cookies. It gives you a chewy, fudgy texture. Like a Marks & Spencer cookie texture.
If we were to snoop in your kitchen, what guilty pleasure or quirky ingredients might we find?
I always have lime marmalade because it makes an easy, quick glaze. It’s my home baking trick. I use it as a substitute for nappage, which is a pectin thickened stock syrup. If you melt the marmalade down with a little bit of lemon juice or water or a flavoured liquor you can make a glaze. You put it on bread, tarts, fruit cakes, to give a beautiful glossy shine.
I also always have Reese’s Pieces and peanut butter. I grew up in America and have been a Reese’s Pieces kid my entire life.
For more baking inspiration, follow Tara on Instagram and check out the gluten-free recipes on her blog.
You’ll be able to try Tara’s creations in Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen when it opens later this summer. We cannot wait!