For Audrey Crone, Executive Chef at Unilever Food Solutions, food and roasts in particular were an important part of growing up.
“My mother’s roast beef dinner, I can taste it now, she couldn’t get the Yorkshire puddings right (she used to get my little brother to make them), but it was amazing, lashings of gravy over everything,” she said, when asked about the best roast dinner she has ever tasted.
Audrey wanted to be a chef from a young age however her career path wasn’t as straightforward as she had hoped. She was initially denied entrance to culinary school, being told she “Didn’t have the aptitude to be a chef”. That didn’t deter Audrey or her mother, who jumped in and found a tourism course in Sallynoggin for Audrey to attend.
Audrey picks up the story: “Students here went on from that course to DIT Cathal Brugha street which is where I completed the Professional cookery course and was finally on my path to becoming a chef.”
“Following this I worked in various hotels and restaurants in Ireland and abroad and it is when I worked at Citywest Hotel with Derek Mc Loughlin that I was encouraged to enter culinary competitions and continue my education. While working full time I completed my BSc Hon in International Culinary Arts in Newry and Kilkeel Institute for Further and Higher Education,” she continued.
Audrey became Executive Development Chef for BaxterStorey Ireland in 2008, a position she held for 9 years, before making the move to Unilever Food Solutions in 2018 as Executive Chef for Ireland.
Along the way, Audrey has kept up her interest in culinary competitions, winning the Irish Hospitality Institute Catering manager of the year in 2007 and being named joint assistant chairman of judges for the national culinary championships, Chef Ireland, in 2016 and subsequent years.
Part of her work includes supporting many of the chefs and customers who contact Unilever Food Solutions on a daily basis, giving tips, advice and more. “I might be developing recipes and trends based solutions for customers or collaborating on training materials or masterclasses to inspire them and help them progress and face the challenges in industry such as plant based cooking or food waste reduction,” she said.
“Sharing knowledge, tools, skills and capabilities to keep up with their customers changing tastes for their personal development, the benefit of their business, but for the future of our planet too. These are all part of the reason why I am proud to work for Unilever.”
For the Knorr Great Irish Roast competition, Audrey is heavily involved in the shortlisting – “But [is] mostly someone who loves a great roast dinner,” she admits.
The competition is back for 2021 and entries are now open. This year there are two categories – Meat Roast, and Vegetarian or Vegan Roast. Each category winner will receive a number of valuable awards, including a €3,000 voucher, 50,000 Chef Rewards Points, and national and local PR. All entrants will receive 500 Chefs Rewards Points.
The key, for Audrey, to a great roast dinner is a combination of the right ingredients, cooked to perfection, and served fresh. “The quality of the meat is key, nice marbling in the meat will add flavour and stop it drying out,” she said. “The roast potatoes can make or break it, they need to be crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, I like to use Maris Piper for my roasties, cut them into chunks, par boil them and then roast giving you a lovely crispy surface.
“The best local seasonal vegetables are a must and of course the crowning glory of the gravy, lashings of it all over everything unites the dish and gives you that comforting hug on a plate,” said Audrey.
When asked to give advice to kitchens, Audrey had this to say: “Look to seasonality and use the best local vegetables and sustainably sourced ingredients, add a little love and creativity although remember to respect the integrity of the food, you owe that to the farmer.”
The Knorr Great Irish Roast competition is open to any business that serves roasts to the public. This includes pubs, hotels, restaurants, cafés, golf clubs, leisure venues, and garden centres.