Ballymaloe Day 59: The matriarch of Irish food

As I sat in the conservatory of Ballymaloe House, I marvelled at how good it felt to be among people who share a common love for food.

Like most Wednesdays, we started off the day with an introduction to various cheeses as well as a few other treats.

Today was all about blue cheese and I eyed Darina’s platter with envy as she showcased some gorgeous Roquefort, Crozier Blue, Gorganzola and Kerry Blue (thankfully I knew we’d be getting them to nibble on later!).

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Following our journey to cheeseland, it was off to the world of canapés where Darina and her in-house cookery team shared with us ideas for simple but effective dishes.

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As part of the demo Rory O’Connell came in to show us all sorts of things that went with quail eggs. Recently Rory had been feeding about 32,000 people at the Food Summit which was part of the famous Web Summit.

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So along with our classic fill for lunch we got to try some rather exquisite light canapés too! (Seriously, I actually ate half my body weight in blue cheese).

Finishing off the day, we headed over to Ballymaloe House for a tour and afternoon tea with Hazel Allen.

Showing us around the house, we went to the wine cellar – where Colm McCan was waiting for us to talk to us about the various wines they were housing – as well as the very chilled kitchen, homely bedrooms and warm dining rooms.

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There’s something incredible about meeting someone you truly admire for the first time. It can be an eye-opening and delightful experience or sometimes your heroes can let you down – in Myrtle Allen’s case, she was ever the humble person I thought she would be!

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(From L-R, Hazel Allen, Myrtle Allen and Darina Allen)

For those who don’t know, Myrtle Allen is the matriarch of Irish food here in Ireland. A writer, hotelier, chef and exceptional personality, she played an integral part at giving the country a well-needed parachute into more modern cuisine.

As she briefly spoke about how Ballymaloe House came to be, it felt like an absolute honour to be in her presence.

After fangirling a bit, we finally made our way back home to the cookery school and I quickly hopped into cosy socks for an evening of relaxation sprinkled with study.

Tomorrow is another theory day where we’ll be back with Blathnaid Bergin, Darina’s sister, learning about food business.

Until tomorrow!

Some random things I learned today:

  • When it comes to canapés, it’s important to create something that’s easy to carry and also won’t spill out easily and make its way onto the floor – plan your canapés carefully!
  • Sprigs of woody rosemary make a nice alternative to skewers for canapés.
  • Tiny cups and saucers are great for serving hot/cold soups or shot glasses too.
  • There are so many things to think about when serving food to masses, don’t forget to provide cocktail sticks and serviettes but also make sure you provide somewhere obvious where they can deposit them – nothing worse than having people leaving them in random places.
  • When making canapé portions, think that people need about 6/7 canapés per person but if people are coming straight from work you may have to up the portions to 7/9.
  • People can be notorious for double dipping, to prevent this, cut things into single bite-size pieces.
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