“Food is the new rock and roll!” – Darina Allen
It’s getting down to business now. Just one week left, most of which will be taken up by exams. It’s hard to believe that time has vanished so quickly and the sheer amount I’ve learnt during the past eleven weeks – from properly sweating an onion to butchering a lamb, mastering puff pastry to plucking and gutting a pheasant, making homemade ice-cream to smoking a duck breast; it’s been quite an experience. A once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget.
Week 10 was an unmitigated success for me in the kitchen, beginning with Traditional Roast Duck on Monday and culminating with a mammoth Cassoulet on Friday. I prepared and served Pithivier (a classic French pastry dish), Seared Tuna, Seafood Chowder, Caramel Panna Cotta and a Brioche bread in-between but the entire week was really just a build up to the weekend’s event. On Sunday students of the Cookery School organised and hosted a Masquerade Pop-Up Dinner in association with the East Cork Slow Food Movement. I mentioned previously that I was leading the Mains for the evening. I had to design the main course dish for the menu and I spent the week before testing and re-testing the recipe. I had initially wanted to do Porchetta but was persuaded to serve Stuffed Lamb Breast instead. Stuffing and rolling using the traditional method didn’t give the desired visual effect, so instead the breasts were slow cooked, shredded, stuffed and rolled before being sliced and reheated slowly after setting. It worked out great and massive thanks are owed to Richard, Pat, Sorcha and Pam for their help in the lead up and to Tracie on the night of the event – a slave driver in the kitchen! The lamb was accompanied with Pearl Barley Risotto, Celeriac Puree, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and a Wild Garlic Salsa Verde. More on the Pop-Up event in a future post!
Week 10 also saw an upturn in the weather and consequently we were able to have our first Foraging Classes. Darina is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom on everything and anything edible and she gets so excited by foraged foods. On Friday we headed to the beach where she and fellow teacher Emer taught us about Seaweed and Shellfish. Without doubt my favourite part of the week was the ‘Discover California Wines’ talk and tasting at The Grainstore, Ballymaloe House led by Liam Campbell, Wine Editor at The Irish Independent. Liam was a wonderful speaker, I learnt so much in just an hour and a half and I added a few more wines to my ‘must buy’ list! Thursday morning was the deadline for our final menu to be submitted. After cooking it the weekend before and delighted with the result I decided to go with Leg of Lamb with Colcannon, Glazed Carrots, Fresh Mint Chutney and Gravy as my main course. I had settled on doing the Lemon Tart for dessert a few weeks beforehand but I had some difficulty selecting a starter. I eventually settled on Moules Provencale – what could be better than Mussels stuffed with Garlic Butter?
The weekend was taken up with prepping for the Pop-Up evening. Friday night, Lydia and myself got stuck into work and cooked, shredded, stuffed and rolled all of the lamb to give it enough time in the fridge for the fat to set firm. On Saturday, after a Broccoli disaster (more about that another time!), I took a quick trip to The Vintage and Antiques Fair at Ballymaloe House. It was great to get away from the kitchen for a few hours. Sunday was again spent prepping and cooking for the big event – not really a relaxing weekend at all but a fantastic experience and great fun nonetheless!
I was tired leading into Week 11. The school can take it out of you at the best of times but with a limited weekend of time to relax and wind down, it was tough to get moving on Monday. I made a delicious Thai Red Curry with Homemade Curry Paste and my first Dahl, a sort of spiced Lentil Stew. Tuesday was a MENTAL day with Beef Consumme and an Almond Praline Cake – I got out of the kitchen late but it was worth the extra time, I loved the cake and I was thrilled with my presentation. On Tuesday evening Darina and Tim kindly invited those of us who were involved in the Pop-Up event to their private home for dinner. It was a wonderful evening and a great way to relax before our Wine Exam at 8am the following morning! The food was great and it was so lovely to spend time in their beautiful home. My Wine Exam went well (thankfully) and after a quick coffee it was on to the ‘Sushi Demo’ led by Shermin, who also threw in some of her native Turkish dishes for us to try. I’ve never really had proper Sushi before and quite enjoyed it, although I did find even the tiniest amount of Wasabi overpowering. Wednesday afternoon ended with a tour of Ballymaloe House and Gardens. We started off by visiting some of the rooms, followed by a tour of The Grainstore venue and finished in the kitchen with Afternoon Tea in the conservatory. Ballymaloe House is an amazing space and building but the boiler blew my mind. Their boiler runs on ‘rape straw’, basically the waste from rapeseed. It heats the entire complex including some of the Allen’s homes. When it ran into difficulty last week and had to be shut down for a few days, they burned 800 litres of oil per day doing the same job – incredible!
After an extra but informative talk on recipe and food writing by Darina on Wednesday evening, I headed up the M8 for home. I had a job interview Thursday morning and so I stayed up for the weekend as we had Friday off anyway. I’ve had a great few days at home in Kildare, eating out, cooking, studying and spending quality time with Ali before my last week away. I’m looking forward to getting home for good again, being able to see Ali everyday, walking Penny on The Curragh more often, playing with our crazy cats, spending time with my family and cooking in my own kitchen. At the same time I know I will miss just about everything about Ballymaloe Cookery School – the food, the teachers, the students and even the freezing kitchens. It’s an amazing place, a place that I would encourage anyone to go to, even just for a visit. One week to go and my future is almost in sight – wish me luck!
Quotes of the Fortnight:
“He’s like a Thermomix….” – “But he’s cheaper” – Joan and Rachel have a bit of fun as Pat makes Beurre Blanc and Tostados at the same time.
“There’s no point living longer if you’re not healthy – you may aswell pop your clogs” – Darina
“Olive Oil fraud makes more money per annum than cocaine trafficking” – Darina
“I’ll be in great form now for the rest of the day so you might aswell encourage me” – Darina, while enjoying a glass of Vin Santo at 11am
“Never leave a wooden spoon in a mixture….it’s purpose is to stir…..not to add flavour” – Rory
“It’s always a good sign when you meet chefs at a farmers market” – Darina
“I’ll fish out my green glasses…..and Emer will do a little leprechaun dance” – Darina, on the St. Patrick’s Day antics at Ballymaloe