On November 3rd, Megan Delaney was crowned Aramark Ireland’s Chef of the Year after impressing the judges with her plant-forward menu. Megan competed against six of Aramark’s finest chefs in a thrilling live cook off. Megan is one of Aramark’s rising stars, and also took part in our International Women’s Day webinars earlier this year, to discuss her experience as a young female chef.
We spoke to Megan about her role with Aramark, being crowned Chef of the Year and what’s next going forward.
Tell us about yourself:
I have been working as a chef for 10 years now. I studied Culinary Arts in Technological University Dublin (formerly Dublin Institute of Technology), where I specialised in Pastry – in part due to my serious sweet tooth. I love making desserts and, of course, sampling the end product!
I have been working for Aramark since January 2020, where I am based in SAP in Citywest, Dublin.
After work, you can find me looking after my horses. Horse riding is a big passion of mine and I am lucky to have my own horses. Thanks to my Monday to Friday job, I get to compete with them most weekends.
What motivated you to take part in the competition?
Being completely honest, there was definitely some encouragement needed from Derek O’Reilly, Culinary Director, and Farid Derradji, Executive Chef! But, in hindsight, I am very happy that they did encourage me.
I do like to challenge myself and saw the competition as a great opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone and try something different. I had a lot of support from many members of the Aramark team. I also saw the competition as a learning experience. I had never entered a live cooking competition before, so my main goal was just to have both my dishes cooked within the time and be happy with my food.
How did you come up with your winning dishes for the Chef of the Year Competition?
For the competition, I cooked a main dish of tempura of stuffed courgette flower, seared monkfish, curried pumpkin velouté and cauliflower rice, followed by a white chocolate and raspberry fondant.
The theme for the competition this year was plant-forward dining and sustainability. With the competition being held just a few days after Halloween, I decided Pumpkin would be a great ingredient to use as they were in season and readily available.
During the pandemic, Aramark came up with the idea of growing our own little vegetable gardens onsite in both SAP Dublin and Galway. In the garden we had yellow courgettes growing and I noticed the courgette flowers and thought they would be a great addition to my dish. I like cooking with spices and found the combination of the curry spices with the pumpkin, monkfish and the tempura of chickpea/roasted cashew filled courgette flower was quite successful.
The brief for the dessert was to make a hot dessert with fair trade chocolate being the main ingredient. Despite Pastry being my favourite thing to cook, I struggled to come up with something a bit different to fit this brief as the only ideas that were coming to mind were a chocolate soufflé and a classic chocolate fondant. I wanted to use white chocolate and eventually came up with the idea of doing a white chocolate and raspberry fondant as I had never tried one or seen one before.
I also got some really great advice off previous winner, David Joyce, who helped me come up with some ideas on how to present my dishes.
What does it mean for you to be named Aramark Ireland’s Chef of the Year?
It is very humbling to be named Aramark Ireland’s Chef of the Year. I went into the competition with the view that it would be a learning experience and just wanted to do myself and my mentors proud.
I really appreciate all the support and wonderful feedback I received. It is an amazing achievement and has really boosted my confidence. I was, and still am, in shock that I won the competition. My fellow competitors created some fantastic dishes, and it was really interesting to see how they interpreted the brief. It was a privilege to cook alongside them.
You also recently took part in an International Women’s Day panel and discussed your experience as a female chef in a male-dominated industry. Do you enjoy pushing yourself outside of your boundaries and trying new things?
Taking part in the International Women’s Day Panel really inspired me. To hear the stories behind the many successful women who took part, and their experiences, was really motivational.
I like to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself, as the experience gained in doing so helps me grow and makes me a better chef. A common saying in the chef world is “every day is a school day”, so it is important to try new things to broaden my knowledge.
I am thankful to the team of people I work with as they encourage and motivate me on a daily basis.