Just two years ago, pastry chef Gráinne Mullins’ career trajectory looked very different. Fresh from winning the prestigious Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year, her feet were firmly planted in the culinary industry and she was offered countless opportunities as a result, including a job in a high-end restaurant in Bali. As was the case for so many, the pandemic hit, upending her plans and keeping Gráinne in Ireland. “2020 was to be my year and I was so excited for all that it had in store, but the world kind of crumbled and travelling just wasn’t an option,” she says. “The first lockdown was very hard for me, it was such a change of pace and I had no idea what my next step would be.”
However, Gráinne sought comfort in the kitchen and not one to lay idle, she began baking sweet treats for family, friends and neighbours at home in rural Galway to stay busy. “I was just trying to keep myself going, giving myself something to do and somewhere to be each day. I suppose I learned swiftly that I’m the kind of person that needs to have a sense of purpose,” she says. “At Easter time, I got an idea to hand-paint chocolate eggs for everyone. I took photos, posted them on social media and was flooded with messages from people wondering if they could buy them. Then, I was like, okay, there could be a potential business here.”
And so, Grá Chocolates was born. Made using premium Irish ingredients and Valrhona chocolate, each individual bonbon can take up to three days to complete and are all handpainted to abstractly reflect the flavour profile inside. “I like to call it edible art,” she says. “We use different textures, different colours, different patterns, all to create a statement design on the outside of the chocolates. There’s so much attention to detail involved in every single step of the production, and as a bit of a perfectionist, there’s a lot of trial and error too.”
Having both created her business and expanded it as the country moved through the Covid-19 crisis, Gráinne is well aware of just how reliant we, as a society, are on technology. “From liaising with suppliers across the country to staying on top of orders and promoting new flavours on Instagram, my phone is never not in my hand,” she says. “I love the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 for its compact size and how the re-designed Cover Screen allows me to view notifications and messages without opening it and getting distracted.” Users can now keep up with their schedule, check the weather, monitor their daily step count and even capture ultra-crisp selfies right from the Cover Screen using enhanced Quick Shot by double-clicking the power key.
Committed, Yet Flexible
While offering customers a unique foodie experience came somewhat naturally to the self-taught chef, business acumen wasn’t something she initially had in abundance. “After school, I studied Science at NUIG and quickly knew my heart wasn’t in it, so I took a year out to move to the South of France and see if a career in kitchens was 100 per cent what I wanted,” she says. “I started working in a Michelin-starred restaurant, climbed the ranks and was promoted to head pastry chef there within the year.” During her time in France, Gráinne gained invaluable experience but still knew very little about running her own company. To combat this, Gráinne threw herself into studying three online business courses, consecutively. “I suppose, just like when I started in kitchens, I wasn’t going to let the fact that I didn’t have a specific degree hold me back. I just knew I’d have to do twice the research and work doubly as hard.”
Now selling in Brown Thomas and with a collaboration lined up with the Galway Races, how the young chef and her team of 14 employees have managed to grow the artisanal chocolate brand from the kitchen at her family’s home is testimony to her dedication. Her recipe for success? “It comes down to my motto; Dream it, believe it, achieve it,” she says. “Having our own purpose-built Grá Chocolate Factory has always been a goal of mine and all going well, we will have moved into our new premises in time to celebrate our second anniversary this summer.”
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