Being a home-grown girl who went to school in Mitchelstown, mother-of-one Norma Kelly harboured a dream to open her own business back in her neck of the woods.
Is that what seduced her from the bright lights of Dublin to the shelter of the Galtee mountains under which the River Gradoge basks?
“That would be my husband!” says Norma, who is the proprietor of Praline, a pastry shop and cafe, since 2017. The shop evolved into a pastry and chocolate shop serving a selection of individual French pastries and cake slices as well as freshly made sandwiches.
Norma’s fabulous occasion cakes and pastries are selling like hot cakes.
“I came home five years ago when I met Patrick,” says Norma.
“We are married four years now and we have a daughter, Vivienne who is two. And we have two dogs!”
Did romance blossom in the deliciousness of the warm, fuzzy pastry kitchen where delicate flavours and eggy buttery scoops make a voodoo of magic together?
“No, he’s a Quantity Surveyor,” says Norma, laughing.
“We started going out together in Dublin. But he did bring me back to Cork. Patrick is from Anglesboro.”
And he is able to cook.
“Patrick likes to cook,” says Norma.
“He does most of the cooking at home which is great!”
Norma’s love of pastry and baking was honed in the homely kitchens of her mother and her grandmother.
“Both my mother and my grandmother were great bakers,” says Norma.
“Granny made her own jam. At home there was never cakes bought. They were always baked from scratch. Baking was in the family as long as I can remember.
“I was baking since I was a smallie,” says Norma, who still clearly treasures memories of the warm, toasty feeling of her grandmother’s kitchen, and who learned the rudiments of baking skills at the apron of her mother.
“My mum was a nurse,” says Norma.
“If she hadn’t gone into the nursing profession; she would have loved to have worked as a baker or as a chef. I was the first one to seriously consider a career in catering.”
Norma cut her teeth in her local hotel.
“My friend worked in the Fir Grove Hotel in Mitchelstown. She asked me if I’d like to come in to work there. So I did.”
Norma felt right at home.
“I started on the wash-up,” she says.
I lived in the kitchen. I absolutely loved it. When I was studying for my Leaving Cert the following year, I knew that I’d go into the catering industry.”
It was tough leaving home to follow her dream.
“Most of my classmates went to college in Cork. I went to DIT to study culinary arts. It was tough,” admits Norma.
But she found her feet in the capital and soon her appetite was whetted to concentrate on becoming a pastry chef.
“I got to love Dublin, ending up staying there for 14 years! And I knew pretty quickly my leaning was towards making pastry.
“I worked in lots of Dublin restaurants,” says Norma.
She got a taste of some of the top pastry kitchens in Ireland.
“I worked for Gary Rhodes as a pastry chef and for Fallon & Byrne for a number of years.”
With her light touch, her knowledge of the importance of using quality local ingredients and her natural genetic know-how of creating crispy flaky pastry, Norma, on the top of her game, was in big demand.
“I got a teaching position in DIT part-time for five years,” says Norma.
“I still hold a full-time position there, which is on hold for the moment.
“Before, I was commuting to Dublin for work.”
Her dream to open her own business selling her own crafted culinary creations didn’t stay on hold for very long.
“I always wanted to open my own business, a pastry and chocolate shop,” says Norma.
“I learned how to do chocolate work in Dublin taking part in the Irish heat of the Cocao Berry Competiton UK. That gave me fantastic experience working with chocolate.”
She put her chocolate work to good use.
“Last Easter was brilliant. All the Easter eggs I made sold out!
“The chocolate truffle bars went down a treat.”
In 2017, Norma realised her childhood dream.
“I opened the shop in a unit at the back of Tesco. It is not on the main street; it is in quite a difficult location.”
But good news travels far.
Word spread about Norma’s simply delicious home-made pastry and chocolate delights throughout the vales of Mitchelstown and beyond.
“I worked at it and I built it up, learning the business side of things as I went along,” says Norma.
“The shop got busier and busier. Originally, I opened as a pastry shop and cafe that could seat 20 people. As the pastries and chocolate became more popular and the cake orders grew, I concentrated on take-away service.
“My regular customers are wonderful; they are so loyal. They brighten up my day.”
Vivienne brightens up her mother’s day too.
“She loves the messy stuff!” says Norma.
“Vivienne gets stuck in mixing the eggs.”
She’s hands-on like her mum.
“Baking day is Monday and she loves throwing sprinkles at the cookies!”
Norma is as enthused as her daughter about her craft.
“Creating delicious pastry and cakes with quality local ingredients is very satisfying,” says Norma.
She also spreads the art of pastry making in her locality.
“I began pastry classes in my old secondary school in the Home Economics room last Christmas before the pandemic. The classes were full. I had more planned for March. I set up Zoom pastry-making classes where you can collect a pastry pack in the shop and then log in. I’ll be making pastries and cakes in my shop kitchen leading up to Christmas.”
What is the secret to light, crispy pastry?
“A light touch and little handling,” says Norma.
“You knead bread. You don’t knead pastry. And use good ingredients.”
What would she say to others who might want to realise their dream to open a business?
“You must believe in your product,” says Norma.
“If you have a good product, you will come to the fore. Being consistent is really important as well. It can be difficult at the start but by persevering, you will learn the business side of things as you go along.”
Norma was a quick learner.
“You have to be able to adapt quickly.”
Does she indulge in her culinary creations?
“I do like chocolate, especially a chocolate bar with honeycomb in it,” she says.
“I do indulge sometimes.”
She deserves to.
“I’m busy all day and I’m on my feet all day.”
She doesn’t bring her work home.
“No. I don’t have to!” she says.
Patrick likes to cook. Remember!