If you travel to Waterford in Ireland, you’ll find Lismore Castle; an incredible structure with an equally remarkable history.
Built in 1185 by Prince John, the castle was later owned by Sir Walter Raleigh and over the years it has been visited by the likes of Fred Astaire, J.F. Kennedy, John Betjeman, Cecil Beaton and Lucian Freud.
Today it is owned by the Duke of Devonshire and managed by his son and daughter-in-law, Lord and Lady Burlington – who Beth-Ann Smith credits with giving her the most wonderful career opportunity.
At the age of 30, Beth-Ann, who had always loved food, knew that she needed to make a change in her life and decided to embark on a course at The Ballymaloe Cookery School, while three months pregnant.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” she told Mirror Online as she recalls how she went on to work as the private chef at Lismore Castle.
After having her baby and doing various jobs, she was stunned to receive a call from the castle enquiring about her availability as they were in need of someone to assist with a few meals.
“Lord and Lady Burlington absolutely loved my food and asked me to stay. It was fabulous,” Beth-Ann said.
“I’m delighted with how it turned out, but at the time I was very new to chef work.
“I remember I had to cook a dinner for 30 to 40 people and my repertoire was so small because I was just off the starting blocks.
“They would say ‘We have 30 or 40 guests coming for the weekend’ and I would say ‘Yes of course that’s no problem!’
“I literally had stacks of books by my bed that I was trying to absorb each night so I could make sure I knew enough to pull it together and deliver what they wanted.”
Luckily Beth-Ann enjoys being thrown in at the deep end and all worked out well – so well in fact, that she ended up staying at the castle for 12 years.
The 45-year-old has opened up about what it was like to work in such a special place and what her role there really involved.
“It was amazing. I lived about a mile away and went in and out of the castle everyday. It was wonderful being there, it’s so full of history and stories, I found it fascinating.”
A typical day for Beth-Ann would see her arrive at Lismore Castle between 6 and 7am in order to prepare breakfast, which would go on for several hours.
“As I was preparing breakfast, the gardeners would come down with a list of what was fresh,” she explained.
“They had this beautiful old kitchen garden and every single morning I would get a list of what was fresh to be picked and from that I would make my menu for the day depending what was in season.
“We got wonderful vegetables in everyday.”
After breakfast Beth-Ann would prepare some food for the butlers, before getting lunch ready for the family and their guests.
“Lunch was a three-course meal with a cheese course in the middle. It was always in the dining room, so kind of formal in a way, but more easy going than dinner in the evening, which was a more dressed up affair.
“Later on in the afternoon there would be afternoon tea in the Drawing room, a stunning room set high up over the Blackwater river, at around 4.30pm or 5pm, with cakes, sandwiches, biscuits, scones and all of that.”
She continued: “Dinner was then in the evening, a three-course meal with a starter, main and dessert at around 9pm.”
And if all that doesn’t sound like enough for her to be getting on with, Beth-Ann adds that there were various other people who would have needed feeding throughout the day, such as children and their nannies.
As well as preparing food for the family and staff to enjoy, the chef also fed numerous other people during her time at Lismore Castle.
“The family were only at the castle, eight or ten weeks of the year,” she says. “It was their bolt hole.
“The entire of the castle was rented out so you’d have the Burlington family there one week and the next a group of people would come from somewhere else, like Texas and then the following week there might be people staying from New York.
“They’d all come down to the kitchen to chat and sometimes do a cookery class. It was really a delight to meet all these fascinating people who would come in and out.
“The kitchen is an amazing leveller, no matter who they were, how grand or famous, everyone was normal in the kitchen.”
When it comes to her favourite memories of working in the castle, a few instantly sprung to mind.
“There’s an art gallery at the castle and every season there was a wonderful gala dinner to celebrate the opening of a new exhibition.
“There would be around 70 to 80 people dining and it was really fabulous – I loved how busy these evenings were.”
As well as these dinners, Beth-Ann fondly remembers a wonderful birthday party which was thrown for Lord and Lady Burlington’s daughter.
“The family used to come and stay at the castle around her birthday and would throw a big tea party inviting all of the children who lived in the town
“One year we decided on a Willy Wonka themed party. There was an extravaganza of baking resulting in a myriad of bright, weird and wonderful cakes and treats in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. for her birthday. “
She added: “I wanted it to be something she and all the other kids would remember when they got older. It was really magical.”
No longer working at the castle, Beth-Ann is now the co-owner of The Lismore Food Company along with brothers Owen and Ken Madden.
Launched in October 2014, the company produces and sells a range of treats, including sweet and savoury biscuits and confections.
You can find out more and browse their full range at https://www.thelismorefoodcompany.com/
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