All Star Series: Joanne Leahy

All Star Series

Welcome to the second edition of our all-star series, where we highlight an alumnus of our Modern Skills for Modern Chefs program and discuss what they’ve done since their course finished.

This week, we’re looking at Joanne Leahy. A Kilkenny native, Joanne is a mom and a chef at a busy Kilkenny restaurant. She took our Modern Skills for Modern Chefs course in the autumn of 2018, developed a serious passion for pastry, and hasn’t looked back since!

DSC 0003
Joanne (centre) at the Savour Kilkenny Launch (2018) with classmates and School of Food Board Members Bob Jull and Edwina St. Lawrence

“I started hairdressing at the age of 15, but after I had my eldest girl at 21 I became allergic to hair-dye and other chemicals,” she explains. “I decided to work part time, as a shop assistant, until the kids were old enough for me to go back to school. I always knew, from a young age, I’d become a chef or a hairdresser. It just took me a little while to get there!”

From the beginning of our September 2018 course, Joanne stood out as a leader, team player and had serious talent for food. Her knife skills and confidence developed, but what really brought out her passion were our days working on classical pastry technique.

“By bread week, I knew exactly where my passion was heading,” she laughs. “Pastry became my fixation for the duration of the course, with the tutors encouraging me every step of the way.”

DSC 0224

From choux to salted caramel or an elegant gateaux basque, Joanne took to our pastry classes with vigor and excitement. She worked hard and practiced her pastry skills every spare moment she had – even when she was home with her family. She encouraged her daughter to help out in the kitchen, and soon her daughter was taking part in children’s cooking competitions; having caught the pastry bug from her mom. From her Modern Skills for Modern Chefs work placement, Joanne was offered a full-time job and has been there since. But that’s not the end of her story!

“On my day off I’m doing a year long patisserie degree,” she says. “My tutor’s name is Paula Hannigan (winner of the 2019 Valrhona Patisserie Championship) and she is bloody amazing! She’s the head pastry chef at The Cliff House in Waterford. I’ve since been offered a promotion at work and have been put in charge of a weekly dessert special.”

DSC 0305
One of Joanne’s pastry creations during Modern Skills for Modern Chefs: Tres Leches Cake

Joanne credits the School of Food and Modern Skills for Modern Chefs for her success so far, but here at the school, we applaud Joanne for getting herself to where she is. She is so vivacious and passionate about what she does, she works hard and we loved having her here and getting to know her. We are better for having her as an alumnus!

“I cannot recommend this course enough,” she states. “Without it, I would have never found my passion!”

DSC 0271