Interview: Karen Smith for the Cacao Collective Blog

Interview: Karen Smith for the Cacao Collective Blog

Name: Karen Smith

Place of work:
China Sichuan

Where did it all start? How did you fall in love with cooking, pastry and chocolate?
 I’ve always loved baking and pastry. When I was small, I was always following my mum around the kitchen and I would to go to my neighbour’s house where she taught me how to make sponge cakes and scones.

I didn’t like chocolate and sweets when I was a chid! I used to keep my Easter eggs until Christmas. But now, all that’s changed. I am completely obsessed with chocolate, and my colleagues, guests, and friends know that.
I also remember when I realized the dazzlingly different things that could be done with chocolate. It was when I made my first chocolate cremeux.

It was only since I have been working in China Sichuan, however, that my obsession with  chocolate has been allowed to truly develop.  I never thought I would be making chocolate sculptures and chocolate bonbons with liquid centres of kumquat and Sichuan pepper. I’ve learned the science behind chocolate, and why it behaves in the way that it does.

What or who is your greatest source of inspiration?
I don’t have one specific source of inspiration; I find the most of my inspiration through everyday occurrences.

The people who are my greatest sources of inspiration are my parents. They have taught me to keep going and follow what makes you happy to keep pushing forward and to unapologetically be myself.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Every day something different is happening. I know two days will never be the same and working with a great team from such different cultural and culinary backgrounds to me means that each day we learn from each other and our dishes reflect that.

For me the knowledge that in some way through food we get to help people celebrate a special occasion or just help make their day better is so rewarding. 

Where do you find the inspiration for your work?
find inspiration in so many places from classical dishes to nature, fashion and architecture. Also, in talking to people about their palates, their likes and dislikes, their food memories and the emotions food evokes in them.

What has been your favourite culinary creation so far?
I made a dessert that polarised opinions and has become one of my favourite flavor pairings. It was a Chinese five spice, dark chocolate (Fleur de Cao 70%) and raspberry dish. It was a chocolate and Chinese five spice ganache with chocolate brownie bits, raspberry sorbet, raspberry meringue and raspberry gel.  I have also adapted this recipe into a molded chocolate bonbon.

Do you have a favourite Cacao Barry chocolate?
There is so many to choose from. Currently my favorite milk chocolate is the Alunga 41% and my favorite dark is the Fleur de Cao 70%.

What are your aspirations as a Chef for the future?
The world of pastry and chocolate is so vast I want to continue to challenge myself creatively.  There is a lot happening in the Irish food scene at the moment and it’s evolving fast so I am not sure what’s next for me. I would love to go to China and experience the food culture over there!

Check out her recipe for the Chinese Five Spice and Raspberry BonBon.