Ballymaloe Cookery School. It’s all over. Twelve weeks gone, in the blink of an eye.
Week 12 at Ballymaloe began with my final morning cooking in the kitchen. I felt a little sad walking over from my room in the Coach House knowing it would be my last time cooking at the school (except for the practical exam of course!). I used the time wisely, catching up on some techniques that I had yet to do, namely poaching an egg and making Hollandaise sauce, as well as my assigned work – Roast Loin of Pork with Crackling and Spiced Aubergines. It was a successful final morning, every dish came out as I wanted it to. Monday’s demo was a crazy affair. The previous week, Darina had sent around a sheet for us to write requests e.g., questions, queries, techniques or recipes that hadn’t been covered etc. And wow, did they answer our requests! Together Rory and Darina flew through everything from making bagels to boning a chicken. I’m not sure how they managed to cover so many topics! Monday evening was spent studying for the upcoming exams later in the week.
On Tuesday morning Rory gave us our final demo of the course, again another poignant realisation. The demo included a beautiful Poached Organic Salmon and Beef Carpaccio. Throughout the morning, I could sense tension in the room, the anticipation of the pending exams was starting to reveal itself, my fellow students and I were becoming anxious and nervous. Understandably so! The Ballymaloe Cookery School Final Exams consist of a three hour practical exam (three course meal with wine pairings and a bread served to three tasters) on either Wednesday or Thursday, three written exams on Friday followed by the dreaded Recognition Tests on herbs, salad leaves, cuts of meat, fish and citrus fruits. Some students were allowed preparation time ahead of their practical, if, for example, they had an ice-cream to make or if their choice of meat needed marinating. This prep time was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, plus the draw for which bread Wednesday’s practical students would have to make, so by the time the morning demo was over there were plenty of nerves about.
I count myself one of the lucky ones. My practical wasn’t until Thursday at 12 pm, so I had two solid days to hit the books and relax (a little) before my exam AND I didn’t need any prep time for my menu. I was initially happy about this but as some of my house-mates returned from their prep with a dessert complete or all of their meat ready to go, I wondered if it may have been a mistake. But I needn’t have worried as my practical went well for the most part. The tasters for my exam were Emer, Darina herself and JR Ryall, Pastry Chef at Ballymaloe House. Apart from a few silly mistakes – including forgetting to blind bake my pastry for an hour, I worked my way a little slower than I would have liked through my three courses and bread. I served Moules Provençale with Wild Rocket and French Dressing for starter, Leg of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary, Colcannon, Glazed Carrots, Fresh Mint Chutney and Gravy for main course, Lemon Tart with Disaronno Cream for dessert and a Brown Soda Bread. I was happy with my presentation for mains and dessert but I feel I let myself down with the starter. I over-dressed the salad and watched it wilt quickly as I left the kitchen for the tasters to come in.
After SEVERAL(!) glasses of wine to wind down and a quick-fire revision session with the Coach House girls, it was time for the written exams on Friday morning. These exams were tough – really tough. I was expecting them to be relatively difficult but they surpassed anything I had imagined. Details from all aspects of the course were required and although I answered almost everything, there was plenty of guess work happening. We won’t get our results until May but hopefully I did enough to pass!
In the lead up to starting the course, I read lots of other bloggers experiences of Ballymaloe. I noted that there seems to be a tradition of hitting the pub as soon as the exams finish. Unfortunately for our class, our final exams fell on Good Friday – the pubs were closed! Just our luck! To compensate, I opened a nice bottle of vino and slowly packed up my things, ready for the journey home the following morning. Rory and some of the teachers cooked us a farewell dinner Friday evening. It was a great way to conclude and celebrate our time at the cookery school, with the best food I had eaten over the twelve weeks. The hogget was exceptional and I managed to get an extra portion to enjoy – no wonder I’ve put on a pound a week! We had a great night chatting and enjoying a few drinks, all of us together for the last time.
After a breakfast pizza and a hot coffee on Saturday morning, the time came to leave Ballymaloe Cookery School. It was an emotional morning for some, there were plenty of tears, goodbyes and good wishes were exchanged. I have had the most life-changing twelve weeks at Ballymaloe – I have met, been taught by and cooked alongside amazing people. I have learnt so many new skills and I have belief and confidence in my abilities. I am ready. To the future………
Quotes of the week:
“You must never compromise but you must be strategic” – Rory
“Anyway when they moved after I left they got three stars down on Park Lane” – Rory on working at a 2 Michelin Star restaurant
“Oh my little thing is looking slightly flacid” – Rory after taking his Baked Alaska from the oven.
“If something goes wrong tomorrow, there’s almost always a way out….and I don’t mean the gate” – Rory, comforting us before our practical exams.
“The Earth has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed” – Gandhi