When Brendan Cronin was growing up in County Mayo, Ireland, in the early 1960s, cooking was considered women's work.
When he told the workers on his father's farm, at age 16, that he was leaving to study culinary arts, he took a ribbing.
"Cheffin'? Is that what yer going to do? What's gotten into ye at'all?" he was asked. "Leave the cookin' to the women," they told him.
But for Cronin, cooking was not only a passion, but also a way out of an economy where his other options were staying on the farm or going on the dole.
In his new memoir, "Cheffin': From Potatoes to Caviar," which was published last week and is available on Amazon, Cronin describes how his skills first took him to school in Athenry, west of Galway, about 80 miles away.
"That was like a thousand miles," he said.
Eventually, as the book describes, he would travel far more than 1,000 miles to work in hotels in Switzerland, West Africa and Singapore.
At each new assignment, Cronin, who now runs La Chanterelle Restaurant as part of the hospitality management program at Endicott College, gained rank in the hierarchy of the kitchen.
He also learned new cuisines and cooking methods from a range of chefs, most of whom came from the continent, and several of whom were colorful characters.
In addition to describing these experiences in his memoir, Cronin, 57, also shares at the end of every chapter a recipe he learned from each stage of his career.
The dishes range from desserts to main courses. They range from "Sables" biscuits, or butter biscuits, that he made in Switzerland, to Grilled Thai Beef Salad (Yam Nua), which he learned from a sous chef in Bangkok.
There's a recipe for lobster salad with mango, which he picked up in Macau, and lamb cutlets with jumbo shrimp, which was served at a French restaurant in Lome, the capital of Togo.
But no matter how far from County Mayo Cronin traveled, it was the lessons he learned from his mother, Agnes, that formed the foundation of his career in cooking and hospitality.
In their tiny seaside village of Carne, Harry and Agnes Cronin took in lodgers to make ends meet, and Mrs. Cronin cooked three meals a day for their guests.
"I remember clearing the table with the lodgers afterward," Cronin said. "They would always tell my mother, 'That was a lovely meal.' No lodger ever complained."
At an age when he was too young to reach the top of the stove, Cronin stood on a wooden stool and watched her cook hearty meals on a turf-burning stove, then carried plates to the lodgers.
"Anything you could do on the farm to help someone else, that's how we got by," Cronin said.
His mother taught him to cook her coffee cake recipe when he was only 8 years old and served some he had made to visitors.
"It was a sponge cake with a coffee butter cream filling and icing sugar on top," Cronin wrote in the book. "They would not believe her when she told them her son Brendan had made the cake."
It was Cronin's mother who also encouraged him to apply to study culinary arts.
"She instilled in me a sense of Irish hospitality," Cronin wrote. "I learned from an early age the gift she gave to our lodgers was true hospitality, offered from the heart and with a real concern for the guests' comfort."
He includes the recipe for his mother's coffee cake in "Cheffin'," and another for the Irish brown soda bread that accompanied most of her meals.
The food she cooked on the farm still shapes Cronin's taste and makes him impatient with culinary fashions that call for overly complex flavors.
The commonly held belief that Irish food is bland, and the Irish can't cook, is a prejudice Cronin has had to dispel at every stage of his career.
As he became the only Irish chef ever to attain the title of "Chef de Cuisine Diplome," or Swiss Master Chef, he held fast to his faith in his mother's basics.
"She cooked simple fare at the time, but it was always good," Cronin said. "Fresh, fresh vegetables — of course, potatoes — and fresh meat, some fresh fish."
Cronin moved to the United States 17 years ago, with his wife and two children, to run the restaurant at Endicott, which is open to the public one night a week.
His job is to give students in hospitality management the experience of cooking and serving in a restaurant, so they will understand these processes when they are in charge.
Cronin watched the recent economic boom of the Celtic Tiger bring many foreign and continental influences to Irish restaurants and hotels.
As that boom has gone bust — "It's worse than tough," he said — he believes hospitality has a role to play in renewing Irish fortunes.
"It may play a significant role in reviving it, to getting tourists over," Cronin said. "It could be the savior."
Irish Coffee Cake
4 ounces sugar
4 ounces pastry flour
2 ounces melted butter
2 drops vanilla essence
Filling: (butter cream)
8 ounces unsalted butter
6 ounces icing sugar (confectioners' sugar)
5 teaspoons instant coffee
Whisk eggs and sugar to a foamy consistency until the whisk leaves a trace in the mixture.
Sieve flour, and fold gently into the mixture, being careful not to leave any flour residue on the bottom of the bowl.
Gently fold in the melted butter.
Pour mixture into a greased 9-inch baking tin.
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes.
Remove from tin; allow to cool on a wire tray.
For the filling: Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add instant coffee (dilute instant coffee in a few teaspoons of hot water).
Assembly: Cut the cake in half horizontally; spread the filling on one half. Place the second cake on top. Add some filling around the side. Sieve the icing sugar on top and serve.
My Mother's Irish Brown Soda Bread
8 ounces white bread flour (high gluten)
8 ounces whole wheat flour or bran (bran adds density — and fiber — to the baked loaf)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1.6 cups buttermilk or sour milk
2 oz. butter
Optional: 4 ounces raisins or 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
Add the butter and rub in with the fingertips until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs.
Stir in the buttermilk to form a dough.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface, knead very briefly and shape into a round, flat loaf about 2 inches thick.
Cut an "X" in the top with a sharp knife.
Sprinkle with a little flour, and bake on a floured baking sheet for approximately 50 minutes.
Tip: To check if the loaf is baked, lift the hot bread off the baking sheet and knock on the bottom of the loaf with your knuckles. A hollow sound indicates it is baked. A dull sound means it requires further baking.