My Career: I found the recipe for my dream job

In our My Career feature in Women on Wednesday we caught up with Orla McAndrew
My Career: I found the recipe for my dream job
Orla McAndrew - Creative Director at Orla Mc Andrew Catering

My Career: Orla McAndrew, Creative Director at Orla McAndrew Catering

Name: Orla McAndrew.

Age: 40.

Lives: Firmount, Donoughmore.

Job title: Creative Director at Orla McAndrew Catering

Salary bracket: €30,000 to €45,000

Education background: I have had several trips to university, never quite sure “what I wanted to be when I grew up”!

Degree in Business and Culinary Arts from IT Tralee, Diploma in Speciality Food Production from UCC, Higher Diploma in Co-operative Organisations, Food Marketing and Rural Development from UCC.

Hobbies: Eating, cooking, recipe books, anything to do with food really!

Describe your job in five words: Creative. satisfying. Different. Exciting. Challenging.

Describe yourself in five words: Grounded. Passionate. Talented. Conscientious. Driven.

Personality needed for this kind of work? Flexibility is really important as every single job is completely different. You have to be able to work with all sorts of variables and still create something professional, unique and of value to your customer.

How long are you doing this job? I started this business under a year ago but have been working in the food industry in one capacity or another since I was a teenager.

How did you get this job? I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do when I left school but opted to study a degree in international business and languages from North London University. That left me with no clear job title and no real clue as to what I would do with my life.

I was always drawn to kitchens for part time work whilst a student but certainly never considered a career as a chef because I was fully aware of the unsociable hours and poor pay. However, in the end I succumbed to my passion and went back to college as a mature student to study a degree in Business and Culinary Arts from ITTralee. I absolutely loved the course and couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

I got to work with some of the industry’s finest chefs during those three years of training and was also fortunate enough to be mentored by Ovation Events Management Company for the six-part RTÉ series The Masters Apprentice.

This led to an offer of a job as an Event Manager for three of Killarney’s best loved hotels, The Killarney Park, The Malton (Great Southern) and The Ross. Whilst this wasn’t exactly what I had hoped to achieve from going back to college, I felt it was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to turn down.

After a year, I realised that my true passion was in the kitchen and I left Event Management to launch a stall at several of Cork’s best Farmers’ Markets. I traded under the name Lily Reilly’s Pantry, selling home baked sweet and savoury tarts. My god, that was a year! It nearly killed me! But I learned so much about how NOT to operate a business! I threw in the towel a little defeated but knew at the back of my mind that what I learned during the experience would be invaluable to me in the future.

After that, I spent some time in Scotland with my now husband and I managed a busy pizzeria on The Grass Market. I also began working as a freelance chef for an amazing caterer and was exposed to the operational side of outside catering. I knew immediately this was something that one day, down the line, I would like to try for myself. Fast forward to two kids later and another on the way, and I randomly met a girl in the Regional Park one day who said she was getting married in eight weeks and didn’t have a caterer. I thought about it for about a second and told her I thought I could do it for her. So I did! And that was the beginning of Orla McAndrew Catering!

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? Culinary flair and event management experience are definite prerequisites to this type of work. Delivering exquisite food under all sorts of circumstances takes a lot of background work and calmness.

Describe a day at work: Because my job is so varied there is no such thing as a typical day but most of the events I cater take place at the weekends. This means I usually spend Monday getting everything from the previous event back in order. I take Tuesdays off. From Wednesday I begin ordering for and planning the following weekends event. Thursday and Friday are spent in the Kitchen and Saturday/Sunday we arrive onsite to help people deliver an exquisite meal experience for their guests.

How many hours do you work a week? I really only take Tuesdays off and work part- time Monday and Wednesday. The other days can be upwards of 12 hours.

What do you wear to work? My crisp, clean chef whites! Always feel prepared with my uniform on.

Is your industry male or female dominated? The outside catering industry has a good mixture of male and female chefs. I work very closely with Eunice Power who is a formidable mentor and also appreciate lots of help and advice from James Grimes here in Cork.

Is your job stressful? How? Rate it on a scale of 1-10: It can be quite stressful in terms of time deadlines but it is a stress I absolutely thrive on. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you have delivered an outstanding dining experience for your customer and their guests. It’s truly exhilarating, if a little exhausting!

Do you work with others or on your own? My sister Claire is my right hand woman and we work very closely together. I have a couple more key staff who I couldn’t survive without and a few I can call on as necessary. It’s a wonderful mix.

When do you plan to retire or give up working? I am so enthused by the work, I don’t ever envisaged a time when I won’t want to do it. I’ve found my absolute dream job! So much so that it never feels like work. I literally love what I do!

Best bits: The very best part of what I do is meeting my customers and working with them to create an entirely bespoke menu based on their particular event. Devising, creating and delivering really good quality, locally sourced foods. It’s just a dream job. Also, the fact I can still be a stay at home mom to my three beautiful girls with the support of my husband at the weekends and my own mum and dad during the week. It’s great to be able to breastfeed my baby and work full time as well.

Worst bits: I can’t think of any negatives. I suppose the wash up is a bit of a pain!

Advice to those who want your job? It’s not glamorous... it is hard. But there’s such an amazing sense of achievement after every event. All the hard work pays off when you know your customer is delighted!

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