Ballymaloe Cookery School – 12 Week Certificate Course Advice, Tips & Tricks

Ballymaloe Cookery School – 12 Week Certificate Course Advice, Tips & Tricks

It’s been just over a month since I returned from my 12 week stint at Ballymaloe Cookery School. It was an amazing experience but it has proved more difficult than I thought to re-adjust to reality, now that I’m home. This is my 10 step guide for the new and incoming students who have just started the 3 month Summer course and for anyone who may study at Ballymaloe in the future. If any past students have any other words of wisdom, feel free to add your thoughts to the comment section below!

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  1. Ballymaloe Cookery School is set on an organic farm in East Cork, Ireland so the weather can be bloody cold and wet! While the cottages and school itself are always warm, you’ll want to get out for fresh air and walks to escape the madness, so be sure to bring a good pair of wellies and pack plenty of warm clothes.
  2. Be calm and keep your cool. Living with complete strangers for 12 weeks is bound to lead to tension at times. I was lucky in the Coach House that we all got on so well but there are still occasions when biting your tongue for the sake of the greater good is necessary. In my opinion, if somebody is upsetting you, say it, but be conscious that it may be you with the issue or in need of a break! Be kind to each other, everyone is away from family and loved ones and it can be difficult.
  3. The chairs in the Demonstration Room are horrendously uncomfortable. Try to secure a black plastic one if you can, as the blue wooden ones are only for those who like extra punishment!
  4. If you like to be up the front for demos, then claim your seat EARLY. I liked to hover between the first and second rows but I always had to reserve my seat when I arrived in the morning. You may feel like you’re up at 6 am to claim the sun-loungers closest to the pool in Benalmadena but you gotta do what you gotta do!
  5. Start filing on day 1 and continue it EVERYDAY. You will receive between 20-50 sheets of recipes and notes PER DAY, so do yourself a favour and file them properly every evening and keep an index. Otherwise the stress of filing for hours at the weekend to catch up awaits.
  6. Keep up-to-date with what’s in season and visit the glasshouses regularly to see what’s growing. The 6 & 12 week exams include a salad leaf recognition test and it’s essential that you are aware of how the leaves change as the months progress.
  7. Bring a car or befriend someone who drives. The school is located close to the tiny village of Shanagarray but there isn’t much there. The closest supermarket is in Midleton and you will need a car to get there.
  8. Take advantage of the skill and wisdom of the teachers. The Ballymaloe teachers are friendly, approachable, highly knowledgeable and skilled at their craft. Ask them LOTS of questions and ask for help if and when you need it.
  9. Look after your technique sheet and try to get through as many things as possible. Divide up the work with your partner to ensure you are both getting as many techniques ticked as possible and on quieter days add a couple in if you get the chance.
  10. Finally, try not to stress and try to ENJOY every minute of it. Ballymaloe Cookery School is a unique place where you will live food for 12 weeks. It’s easy to get worked up about exams and techniques but don’t – enjoy your time and act like a sponge at demo. It will all work out, breathe deeply and go for it!

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4 thoughts on “Ballymaloe Cookery School – 12 Week Certificate Course Advice, Tips & Tricks”

  • Hey Peter,
    Any chance you could give an idea of what the bedrooms are like? I’m starting on the September course in a single occupancy room (hopefully) and I have no idea what to expect……small pokey (or cosy) single bed with no room to swing a cat is the impression i’m getting….
    Am I right?
    Rebecca

    • Hi Rebecca,

      All of the houses are different. I was in the Coach House and although I was single occupancy, I was in a room with two beds, a little study area and a reasonably sized bathroom. I never heard anybody giving out about the size of the rooms and any that I seen were cosy but not too small. I wouldn’t be expecting a huge room but not a box room either! They are very liberal with the heating too so I wouldn’t be worrying about bringing too many extra duvets etc either! If you’ve any other questions just shout, hope you enjoy the course and learn loads 🙂

      Pete

  • Hi Pete, great review–thank you. I am considering doing this program. Not planning a career as I am 61 and unlikely to have the drive and energy to work my way up that particular ladder. However I love cooking and I love sustainability and thinking about ways I could put that to good use. My question is what level of experience do you need, and what was the typical profile of the participants? Also, I’m very familiar with the Ballymaloe brand, but did you consider other courses?

    Kind regards, Kevin

    • Hi Kevin, thank you for the kind words. The 12 week course is designed to cater for everyone. There were complete beginners and a couple of trained chefs with everything in between. I went in as a pretty decent home cook and found the pace to be good with no massive technique issues to deal with. I did consider other courses but none offered the all round experience of Ballymaloe. I am also interested in sustainability and I found that no other course had the same focus as this one. While the cooking is obviously a massive part of the course, I would describe it also as a lifestyle course. The focus on the best quality organic and local ingredients is really quite incredible. The farm itself produces the majority of the food used in the kitchens and you can be as involved as you’d like to be in that side of it. Although plenty of people go there to train to be chefs – that isn’t really the focus of the course and it’s well suited to someone like you (and me) who wants an all round immersive experience. If you have anymore questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

      Pete

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