Ballymaloe Cookery Course: Week 1, Friday

Phew! The first week of the twelve-week course – and, according to everyone who works at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, the longest one – is over. It’s been five days of early mornings and late evenings, our heads a-swim with new techniques, terms and ideas as we try to concentrate on Darina’s afternoon demos, knowing that we will have to cook the dishes ourselves the following morning. After the initial few full-on days, it’s easier to see the course structure: we cook four mornings a week from 8.45/9am to 12pm, lunch on the food that we’ve prepared – normally a three-course meal – start afternoon demonstration at 1.45pm and go straight through until around 5pm-ish. Wednesdays are theory days. For cooking, we are divided into pairs, a teacher to every six students, working in four different kitchens. We cook at least two dishes each and then, at the end of the class, present a taster plate to our teacher for critical assessment.

Cooking under these circumstances – eleven other people trying to find and weigh ingredients, space in the fridge, a spare oven shelf, the equipment that belongs to their station – is much more difficult than you might suspect. On Tuesday we gingerly started practicing with our new super-sharp, monogrammed knife sets. Although I am normally comfortable at using sharp knives, we had been so direly warned that every careful stroke seemed to be about to herald the end of me possessing ten fingers. Fortunately, they survived not only that day but the rest of the week. I’m sure I’ll be chopping away like a pro in a few months’ time! The second day of cooking was scarcely less auspicious. I was making a French Onion Tart and, again being nervous, managed to put too much liquid in my pastry. Because it was too moist, it refused to co-operate at the rolling out stage and the pastry case was too thick, didn’t cook in the appropriate time, refused to take all the filling and was, generally, what we may call a flop. And that was even before I managed to over-caramelise (read burn) my caramelised onions, and had to start them from scratch. These are all things – pastry, tarts, caramelised onions – that I’ve done at home many times without even thinking. In this environment I’m thinking too much! Fortunately today’s recipes (Penne with Spicy Sausage, Tomato and Cream, Mummy’s Sweet White Scones and Raspberry Jam) all turned out well and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into my take-home pot of Raspberry Jam with tomorrow morning’s toast.

One week of driving has been enough, though. Next week the Husband and I move down to Ballycotton, just around the corner from Ballymaloe, for the duration of the course. The days are still bright but that’s not going to last for much longer and an hour+ car trip every morning and evening doesn’t give much time for study or relaxation. I may not be online so often but I’ll hope to still keep you updated. For now, here comes the weekend!



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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5 Responses

  1. Gerry says:

    If your going to be in Ballycotton you have to go to the Blackbird pub loved going there during the course (I think thats where we held the study groups!)

  2. abulafia says:

    Sounds fantastic.Green with envy.

  3. Hi Caroline!! I don’t think people realise how difficult it is cooking professionally, people often say to me “I’d love to open a little cafe/coffee shop etc and I’m always the big killjoy telling them how difficult it is and ruining the romantic idea – it’s long hours, hard work 7 days a week and a lot of stress!! I even find it pressurised today and I’m doing it 5 years now, there is just so much involved!! In saying that I still love it:) Keep up the good work!!

  4. martin dwyer says:

    Tough work! I am reading about your progress with some respect. I understand about things you have made for years flopping the minute someone looks over your shoulder. My very first class I gave to the ladies of Kilkenny my choux pastry came out like scrambled eggs, never before or since.The only consolation was that the ladies all relaxed seeing that I was fallible.

  5. I’ve already been warned about the Blackbird, Gerry! A friend of mine plays there and I’ve already promised to call down when he’s about. Haven’t had much of a chance to do that kind of studying – yet.If you think it’s something that you might be interested in, Abulafia, they let people sit in for the afternoon demos for between €60-€120 per class. And we cover a LOT in those classes! Just looking at today’s notes and we did about 17 recipes and four techniques. It would give you a good idea if the course is something that you would be interested in or not.I think you’re right, Lorraine. There’s a lot more to cooking professionally than wafting behind a counter, pouring coffee and making a few cakes. But there is a real buzz when things go right, for a change! Plus you get the satisfaction of working for yourself.That’s exactly the kind of thing that keeps happening to me, Martin! Recipes and techniques that you think you know how to do suddenly turning into something very strange and difficult. Today’s rice – another thing I’ve cooked millions of times without even thinking of it – was undercooked and hard. By the end of 12 weeks, I’ll hopefully be a little better!

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