By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Soon after graduating from Holy Trinity High School in 1998, Sean Nelson was off to seek adventure in the world of culinary art.
Today, as an executive chef at Esplanade Hotel, located on the sea coast in Bray, Ireland, he is living his dream.
“I love being a chef. I wouldn’t change my job for anything in the world,” Nelson said. “I have a passion for food, and as a leader of an award-winning culinary team, I love the stress, the buzz out of the kitchen heat, and the drama.”
As an executive chef for the hotel, Nelson has overall responsibility for all of the food that comes out of the kitchen for hotel functions, including the bar, room service, and restaurant menus.
During the winter he works eight-hour days, and in the summer he works 12-hour days.
“Being a chef at the hotel is a very intense job,” Nelson said. “We cater to tours in the summer, which could consist of anywhere from 20 to 200 people eating dinner every evening in the restaurant.”
“I do all hotel functions up to 350 people. We normally do around 210 functions per year, and I have to make sure all of my staff’s cooking meets hotel standards.”
Before working at the Esplanade Hotel, Nelson had the opportunity to prove he is a chef extraordinaire, whipping up fantastic meals at the Lynham’s Hotel in Laragh County, a popular resort hotel in the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. He also ran a restaurant in Hanover, Germany at the 2000 World’s Fair, and he was the youngest sous chef at Mystic Lake Resort and Casino in Shakopee for four years, before he returned to Ireland, and Lynham for four years as an executive chef.
In 2009, Nelson married Ruth Unay in Tagytay City, Philippines. The couple returned to Dublin, where Ruth is a registered general nurse at St. Jospeh’s in Dublin. She has been employed there since 2001.
Since 2006, Nelson has participated in an estimated 20 different competitions.
“It (competition) pushes me to become a more well-rounded chef. As a chef, you will never stop learning and creating new culinary dishes,” Nelson said.
“My favorite competition was last year in Dublin. It was called the Ireland Senior Chef Mystery Basket because we weren’t told what ingredients we would be using until we got there,” Nelson said.
In that competition, Nelson was one of 20 chefs competing, by invitation only. He earned third place.
“In competition you want to win, of course, but you will never forget the experience,” Nelson said.
His most recent competition was in February at the Ireland Senior Global Chef’s Challenge, where 10 of the best chefs in Ireland, through invitation only, competed preparing a three-course meal for eight people.
“We had to use flat iron steak as a starter, halibut as a main course, strawberries as a dessert, and somewhere in the menu, we had to incorporate Wasabi and sesame seasoning,” Nelson said.
Nelson was disappointed with his fourth place win, but said it won’t keep him from future contests.
Living and working in Ireland has been beneficial to Nelson’s culinary career, he said, and he likes the lifestyle there. A chef working in Ireland gets six weeks of paid vacation per year.
“I love to explore and travel which usually means three weeks in the Philippines, two weeks in America, and one week in Europe per year,” Nelson said.
Because Nelson has reached the top position in his chef’s career (executive chef), his next major move will be to have a restaurant of his own.
He estimates his move will take place within the next three years.
“Where, is still undetermined at the moment,” Nelson said.