Category Archives: Ballymaloe

Ballymaloe Cookery School Blog Index

Below is the index for all of my posts while I did the 12-week certificate course in Ballymaloe, feel free to click through to each day.

If you’ve any questions about Ballymaloe you can drop me a comment or an email at unaminh[at]gmail[dot]com

Day 0: Leave your Prada and Gucci behind
Day 1: “This is a wooden spoon!”
Day 2: No soggy bottoms please
Day 3: The need to knead
Day 4: “It’s a moment in a glass”
Day 5: “A mouth like the Jack Lynch tunnel”
Day 6: No rest for the wicked
Day 7: Lazing on a Sunday afternoon
Day 8: Chicken you believe it?
Day 9: “Recipes are good as a guide – they’re not bible”
Day 10: Wine after wine
Day 11: “Meringue waits for nobody!”
Day 12: The day I murdered a meringue
Day 13: It’s oh so quiet
Day 14: Basking in the rebel county
Day 15: “If you ever catch crabs…”
Day 16: “Have some supper darling, before I stab you…
Day 17: “The most expensive thing in a café is an empty chair”
Day 18: “The wetter, the better”
Day 19: “You’re better off putting it on your face”
Day 20: “As long as it’s not my blood, I’m happy”
Day 21: Back on the ranch
Day 22: “Much ado about mutton”
Day 23: “Bred to be grass fed”
Day 24: Roll of thunder, hear my cry
Day 25: “You could knockout the whole of Munster with that!”
Day 26: “Here at Buttermaloe”
Day 27: “Like a badass, filleting”
Day 28: Splish, splash, splosh
Day 29: “Born onto earth”
Day 30: “It’s very good for the soul”
Day 31: “Bigger than the Late Late Toy Show”
Day 32: “The sexist word in food folklore”
Day 33: “Like a fine, cashmere blanket”
Day 34: The English Market
Day 35: Oh sweet cicely!
Day 36: “A pan of water to a furious boil”
Day 37: Full-time forager
Day 38: “Give sherry a chance!”
Day 39: Droopy dill and fun-living fennel
Day 40: “How to get a well-browned bottom”
Day 41: Knocking around Knockadoon
Day 42: Curry house!
Day 43: The joys of adulthood
Day 44: Stuffed to the brim
Day 45: Sweet dreams are made of sourdough
Day 46: “It’s all about the wobble, not the bass”
Day 47: “You’re highly contagious”
Day 48: Is binn béal ina thost
Day 49: You stay classy, Ireland
Day 50: Today my Alfred was born!
Day 51: I may have a sourdough addiction
Day 52: A “toolbox of flavours”
Day 53: Ode to a candied peel
Day 54: The end of week eight
Day 55: Mammy, Midleton and Munchies
Day 56: Sunday morning, no rain pouring
Day 57: Members of the Lost Knives Club
Day 58: Would you like fries with that?
Day 59: The matriarch of Irish food
Day 60: The business of food
Day 61: Rare, juicy and full of flavour
Day 62: On yer bike!
Day 63: Hitting the books
Day 64: Not expensive, just sophisticated
Day 65: Drink less, but better wine
Day 66: “We should treat them like diamonds”
Day 67: Here’s the Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau!
Day 68: Goodbye week ten!
Day 69: A ray of sunshine among cuts of meat
Day 70: The best bottle on the table is always the empty one
Day 71: Dropping like flies
Day 72: Death by meringue part two
Day 73: Úna dreams of sushi
Day 74: At the quack of dawn
Day 75: A day in the leaba
Day 76: Cough and splutter
Day 77: Just one day left in the kitchen…
Day 78: “That absolute slap-across-the-face flavour”
Day 79: “There once was a man that ate a motorcar…”
Day 80: Channeling my inner Florrie!
Day 81: The studious adventures of Úna-Minh Kavanagh
Day 82: The final blogpost
Things you need to know before doing the 12 week course at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Things you need to know before doing the 12 week course at Ballymaloe Cookery School

So after spending 83 days at Ballymaloe Cookery School, I’ve taken in a phenomenal amount of information and have created things that I never imagined I could do.

On reflection there are definitely things that I think students should know before heading on this intensive journey, so I’ve put together a list of things I think might be of use – without bias.

If you’ve any questions about my experience, feel free to contact me and a pre-warning, this is a lengthy read. Let’s do this:

A car isn’t necessary, but it’s definitely helpful

I didn’t have a car while I was at Ballymaloe, but I can see how you would have gotten so much more freedom if you had one. To get to the shops in Midleton, I was reliant on housemates (who thankfully didn’t mind as long as you chip in for petrol), but if you want to go exploring the surrounding areas or breakaway at the weekend, it’s worth bringing a car if you can.

By the way, petrol is much cheaper to get in Midleton rather than in the local station in Shanagarry.

A single room can be a blessing

Thankfully this didn’t really affect me much because I had an awesome roommate here in Ballymaloe.

Though a bit more expensive, I can see how having your own space just for yourself can be pure bliss. By the way, where I was on campus the walls weren’t exactly sound proof so at times I benefited hugely from having earplugs.

You won’t always get on with everyone on the course.

Because you’ve got people on the course from all backgrounds, the chances are, are that you’re not going to get on with everyone. Like a lot of situations there will be a huge mix of personalities and while you can try to like everyone, some days it can be tough.

The most important thing I found on this course was to not try to fake it and treat people the way you want to be treated – don’t bitch about people and don’t alienate people.

There are people that are prone to gossiping and if that’s your thing, then that’s your thing, but I feel that you’d make way more friends by being a good teammate and a supportive friend. There are some days when a good cup of tea and a chat away from the kitchen can lift the soul.

Doing the extra-curricular activities gives you a richer experience

I had so much fun doing all the extra bits that aren’t strictly compulsory, as well as looking after a baby sourdough starter (wee Alfred), I also got to make my own cheese (howdy Brienne!) and help run to the stall at the farmer’s market.

Though you may not feel like getting up slightly earlier than usual to milk the cows or stay on in the evenings to hear someone do a talk, doing a bit extra is actually worthwhile.

Eat, taste, smell

Even if you know that you don’t like a certain type of food, taste it.

Think about it – what are the chances of you ever having such excellent ingredients at your fingertips? For years I didn’t think I liked walnuts, but as it turns out, a lot of the walnuts we get commercially are pretty rancid anyway. A fresh walnut is to die for. If you’re a picky eater than is it worthwhile even considering the course if you’re not going to embrace the food?

Keep to your rota

Something you’ll experience on the course: Inevitably the same people end of cleaning the dishes and cleaning the house, instead of it potentially becoming a glaring competition in your accommodation, stick to the rota that’s provided.

Same can be said for laundry days, there’s nothing worse than heading to laundry and having no machine available because someone nabbed your slot.

For those coming overseas, your bags will be MUCH heavier going back

I don’t remember this ever being mentioned before the course, but for those who’ve come overseas, bear in mind that you’ll be hauling about four large folders worth of paper back.

Ballymaloe Cookery School can organise costing for shipping but it’s good to know in case you were wondering halfway through the course and need to save cash. Better to plan in advance!

Faking a sick day is not worth it.

Consider how much you’re paying to do the course, then consider how much you’re wasting by not bothering to come in to cook or to demo. It’s not worth it and you may miss hearing some valuable tips and information.

Keep on top of your filing

You’ll understand once you start the course, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep on top of that pile of paper and file things properly. Keep things in folders so that you can find them and don’t worry about anyone else’s filing system. They’re your notes.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

I’m one of those people who plays out a scenario in their heads asking “Why? Why didn’t I ask that?”, so let me tell you that it’s up to you to take that leap and just ask. The teachers are there to help you, you’ve paid enough money, so don’t be shy. Even in demo, just raise a hand or call out, the chances are that five other people are wondering the same thing.

Don’t be tempted to talk during demo

Seriously, don’t. If you’re in rows further back the sound travels up through the room and to be frank, annoys the heck out of everyone. There’s plenty of time to have full-blown conversations outside of demo or at the break so bear in mind that other people have paid to do the course too!

Read, read, read

This isn’t stressed to you really until after the halfway point, but I genuinely think that it’s a good idea to start keeping notes on the things you learn from the beginning. You get a starter pack with some information on it and it’s worth flicking through. Whether it be a casual browse-through culinary terms, or gawking at mother-daughter sauces, know that they’ll be in your exams and throughout the 12 week you’ll be getting PLENTY more notes.

That being said too, familiarise yourself with various foods, cuts of meat and fish because that’s the stuff you’re meant to learn in your own time.

Personally, I would have preferred more continuous assessment on each topic rather than a Leaving Cert-esque exam week, but as long as you stay calm, revise on time and keep on top of your notes – you can do as best as you can in it. The exams are not easy by any means, they’re actually surprisingly hard (on this course anyway), but my advice would be to go through notes as early as possible.

Do you need previous cooking experience?

In the FAQ they say “there is no problem if you have no cooking experience whatsoever; this is a cooking school; our job is to teach you”, though I would slightly disagree on the experience point. I came in from a home cook background, only dabbling in my spare time but even my little dabbling helped me forward. In my opinion, I don’t think you can be a complete novice coming to the course, I think it’s worthwhile knowing a teeny bit about cooking or at least have a genuine interest. Why? Well the course is fast, it’s intense, there’s a lot to learn, and you could fall behind. Though of course the teachers do, do an excellent job at helping you along, you have to remember that they’ve six students to look after and it’s not a one-to-one for three hours each day. A little knowledge goes a long way.

You’re going to be exhausted

There are days when you’re probably going to feel angsty and down, but they will pass. But remember the majority of the days are happier days. Normally there’s a certain week when everything seems to a go in a downward spiral but know that there are many students who have gone through what you’re going through. When they say “intensive”, they mean “intensive” but also, incredibly rewarding.

If you put your heart into it, you can have a great time – I certainly did, and I’m glad I took the leap.

For those who have any other specific questions or about my experience, email me at unaminh[at]gmail[dot]com

Ballymaloe Day 82: The final blogpost

Well it’s over, that’s it, c’est fini. 83 posts altogether including day zero – it’s been a roller coaster of a ride.

It’s hard to describe what how I’m feeling about the written exams right now, but the definite overall feeling that’s running through my veins is exhaustion.

I barely slept last night, and with about four hours under my belt, I headed into our final exams willing the day to just fly by – and that it did.

The exams were by no means easy – in fact they were very, very hard. Everyone I talked to today found them difficult and with three papers to get through, our energy levels plummeted quickly.

It’s hard to believe that we had that many things to learn on the course and to say it’s colossal is an understatement.

But that being said – the exams done and hopefully, though I’m not entirely confident, I did well.

Taking some time out to dance around my bedroom with my roommate Maddie, it’s now time to doll ourselves up and get ready for more nosh.

Tonight we’ve our final farewell dinner hosting by all of the teachers and Darina and Rory – so no doubt a fun-filled evening with food and wine is to be had.

Cheers! We did it! Bonne nuit.

If you’ve any questions about my experience here in Ballymaloe, about the course or your plans, feel feel to drop me an email to unaminh[at]gmail[dot]com.

Ballymaloe Day 81: The studious adventures of Úna-Minh Kavanagh

Time flies when you get towards the end of an adventure.

Today I had a glorious lie-in, where my dreams weren’t filled with any sort of worry and my mind was at ease.

Despite having a long day of exams ahead of me on Friday, I was mostly calm throughout the morning. Getting some quick revision in, I went through notes and tidied before I nabbed a bite to eat.

In the larder, “Florrie’s Deli”, had opened where we could all pick and mix the various foods that students that had cooked in their exams.

I took my fill and brought it back to the house, then popping on my chef whites, I headed back in to help the busy Florrie with tidying and putting away dishes, along with Martha and Sophie.

It was great to see all the dishes come into the larder, and I’ve no doubt that people did really well in their exams – the standard was very impressive, even if we only got a glimpse of the final dishes.

Going through spices, cuts of meat and salad identification, we cleaned a revised as well as getting to taste delicious food!

Back in the Coach House, the next plan of action was sit back and go through the reams of notes that need to be somewhere lodged in my brain for the next 24 hours.

I’ve gone through so many things but I’ve no idea how it’ll all stay there…

Hard to believe that by this time tomorrow, we’ll be done…

Ballymaloe Day 80: Channeling my inner Florrie!

To say I’m exhausted is an understatement – I feel like the blood has been drained from my body and I’m left with a hollow shell of a person.

Today we had our main practical exam, and waking up after a surprisingly good sleep, I was anxious to actually just get into the kitchen and start cooking.

My official starting time was 11.30am, so there was a bit of hanging about before I began.

With last minute prep to be done, and a flick through the recipes and order-of-work, I braced myself for a long day’s cooking.

Channeling my inner Florrie – who’s one of our brilliantly supportive teachers here – I gave myself mini-pep talk throughout the morning, and fully aware that I was probably going to go over time, I kept cool.

Despite a brief power failure (just before I was going to put my bread in the oven), and having a battle with palm sugar, all-in-all it went quite smoothly.

This may shock you, but I went about an hour and a half over the designated three hours, but I didn’t mind and I certainly wasn’t the only one. My main goal was to plate up dishes that I was proud of and that I would gladly serve up to anyone.

So here they are, in all their glory!

To start: Spiced Indian Pakoras with Mango Relish

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For mains: Chargrilled Squid with Chili and Parsley Oil and Vietnamese Cucumbers

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And finally for dessert: Yoghurt and Cardamom Cream with Pomegranate and Rose Blossom Water

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I also made a white soda bread, which thankfully seemed to come out well – but we’ll see what Darina thought.

By the way, I got to take Brienne home tonight, and I’m happy to report that she’s a very happy cheese!

The rest of the night I’m just going to chill and probably get to bed early – I’m wrecked. Bonne nuit.

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Ballymaloe Day 79: “There once was a man that ate a motorcar…”

Another uneasy night in bed, I woke up barely before demo and hopped over to the cookery school as quickly as I could.

On the menu for lunch today was venison, oysters and quail, and it was great to have a final lecture with Rory.

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(A very small quail!)

Rolling out meat for our beef Carpaccio, Rory told us of a rather intriguing story about a motorcar…

“There once was a man that ate a motorcar – he took it apart and rolled out each piece thinly – it tasted of nothing”, we looked at Rory incredulous, “it’s true! If you roll out your beef too thin it’ll taste of nothing”.

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(“Oh crikey, miliky! We’ve enough caul fat here to enrobe the whole class!” – Rory on battling with caul fat)

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(One of Rory’s beautiful creations – kind-of looks like a dragon)

“It’s an honour to be able to cook here, and to cook for people like you who love food”, I’ll miss his Roryisms!

A standing ovation for Rory for his excellent tutelage and inspirational food, it was time to eat some lunch but not before Darina drew lots for bread.

With my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t get foccacia, I was delighted to get a white soda bread from the paper heap!

With a gap before my cook ahead, I went back to the Coach House to change into my chef whites and read through my recipe again.

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Heading into the kitchen for 3pm, I was a bit nervous and butterflies were building up in my tummy but thankfully it all seemed to go well (I’ll only have 14 minutes docked off my time for tomorrow!).

In a good mood, my next plan of action is to write tomorrow’s order of work and make sure I’m comfortable with what I’m doing – I’d reveal to you what I’m doing but I feel like I’d jinx myself.

Wish me luck?

Some random things I learned today:

  • If you’re making something like beef consommé, it’s perfectly acceptable to use a chicken stock instead! Bear in mind that beef stock tacks about 8 – 12 hours to make, whereas chicken stock will only take you about two hours.
  • Pork caul is pretty handy if you need to wrap burgers, haunch of venison and game. The fat will soak into the meat and make it extra delicious.
  • A rounded tablespoon is equal to one ounce.
  • A perfect curl of Parmesan may actually indicate that the cheese isn’t fully matured.

Ballymaloe Day 78: “That absolute slap-across-the-face flavour”

The alarm went off at 7.30am, but I didn’t haul myself out of bed until 8am…

After a turbulent night’s sleep, I eventually managed to drag myself out into humanity with my chef whites on and knife bag under my arm.

Though shattered, it was actually a lovely morning in the kitchen, with an air of calm floating around each station. You’d never guess that we had exams starting tomorrow.

On the menu today was a lamb tagine with dates and couscous, along with melted leeks and as I started on my lamb, I found myself once again in that therapeutic trance-state while trimming off the fat.

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The tagine was happily bubbling away in the background and I got to work on my other dishes.

Today also saw us cooking lobster and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad as they went into the pot waving their claws!

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With a breezy morning under my belt and finishing way earlier than my usual self, it was sad to think that this was the last day that we’d be cooking as a group.

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(My lamb tagine – the sauce was rich with dates and spices)

We had the charismatic Rory in with us for demo today, and it was a delight to have him back teaching us for the final hurrah (we thankfully have him tomorrow morning too!).

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Going through an ar-RAY of dishes (see what I did there?), he cooked up sweetbreads, lamb kidneys, chocolate puddings and niblets, as well as cooking ray fish.

By the way, ray and skate love a good tickle and I used to love heading to the aquarium and giving their backs and bellies a rub – this said in all seriousness!

One thing that I’ve definitely learned while here is the value of less is more and focusing in on one thing that could just stop people in their tracks. As Rory puts it; “that absolute slap-across-the-face flavour”.

Home and already comfortably in bed surrounded by notes, I’m prepping for my cook ahead that’s on tomorrow. Basically the cook ahead allows you to prepare anything that might need more time to make like ice cream, panna cotta, pastry and things like that.

Incidentally, tomorrow is also our last demo of the course and it looks like we’re in for a treat – wish me luck?

Some random things I learned today:

  • You should store ray or skate separately to other fish because the ammonia in it will release onto your fish.
  • If you use unsalted butter you’ll have a more continental flavour but if you’ve salted butter it reflects more the flavours of these shores.
  • If you’re cooking lobster, you may need to put a weight down on the lid of the saucepan because they, understandably, start to lash out and sometimes try to get out.
  • Sweetbreads apparently taste better when bought during Easter! (Rory cooked ours and they were pretty delicious).
  • Lamb stock is probably the less flavoursome of stocks. If you’re looking to add more flavour it’s better to go for beef or chicken.

Ballymaloe Day 77: Just one day left in the kitchen…

With only five hours sleep last night, I woke up with a cranky feeling.

Wandering around at 8am to unlock our bedroom door I woozily staggered back to bed for an extra hour.

Thankfully today was all about Mammy Kavanagh’s visit and with an hour of study under my belt, I was glad to get out of campus for a while and head away.

With a refreshed feeling and a lot of yummy food under my belt, I came back with a full tummy.

Back at home, I’m in a non-studying feeling but know that I need to hit the books and get some sort of knowledge into my head (I had a lot of fun learning about cheese though)

Tomorrow is my final day in the kitchen and I’ll be rustling up a lamb tagine with couscous Then it’s down to exams, exams, exams. Wish me luck?

Some random things I learned today:

  • Many cheese now carry an Appellation d’Origine or sometimes they’re stamped on the rind of the cheese with the country eg. Parmigiano Reggiano (Italy)
  • When buying cheese, buy a freshly cut piece of cheese rather than a pre-packed section – the cheese should be cut cleanly with a wire or a special cheese knife and wrapped in cheese paper or greaseproof paper – not clingfilm!
  • Generally speaking, the stronger the cheese smells the riper it is.
  • Farmhouse cheeses quite often grow a mould on the skin or rind. This is perfectly harmless and can be brushed or washed off if you choose.
  • Cheeses can be divided into five groups:
    • Very soft: soft cheese, uncooked and unripened eg. cottage cheese, fromage frais and quark.
    • Soft: soft, spreadable cheese eg. Brie and Camembert.
    • Semi-soft: Firmer cheese that’s often crumbly eg. gorgonzola, Cashel Blue, Gubbeen.
    • Semi-hard: The largest cheese family and that can be sliced easily eg. Cheddar and Edam.
    • Hard: Cheeses that have been pressed but need to be grated when old eg. Parmesan and Grana Padana.

Ballymaloe Day 76: Cough and splutter

Carrageen moss as a drink would definitely not be one of my beverages of choice.

Unable to sleep until 3am and then rising at 8am, my body was floating in a wave of drained energy and exhaustion.

Forcing myself up, the house was quiet and I patiently waited for the kettle to boil and give me my morning green tea.

With regular intervals every 45 minutes, I got down to work and attempted to go through the long list of what we needed to know next week in our final written exams.

Coughing and spluttering, I could still feel in the coldness in my chest that wouldn’t seem to shift. In a bid to move it to one side, I headed to the shop for some carrageen moss which is said to help tackle colds.

Now I love seaweed, I could even eat dillisk all day, but drinking carrageen was a massive challenge. The texture is of a gloopy syrup that coats your mouth and you end up trying to wash it away with your tongue (I still have half a cup left).

Still feeling my shoulders aching, I’m looking forward to seeing Mammy Kavanagh tomorrow, who’s coming down for a quick visit and to collect a suitcase worth of stuff.

Keeping it short and sweet, Sunday will be much of the same with showers of paper decorating my kitchen table. Ciao!

Some random things I learned today (in truth the list is much longer than this – I just don’t want to repeat myself – hopefully – while I revise!):

  • When reheating food, a core temperature of 70 degrees Celsius should be reached so that it is safe to eat.
  • Detergents are products that clean and remove grease and food particles but they don’t kill bacteria.
  • Disinfectants are products that reduce the number of bacteria to a safe level.
  • Sterilants are substances that kill all microorganisms both good and bad.
  • Sanitizers are a combined detergent AND disinfectant.
  • How tofu is made in a nutshell: soyabeans are ground with water, cooked and strained and they produce soy milk – then when coagulants are added and heat is applied, it can become tofu (it solidifies the curds!).

Ballymaloe Day 75: A day in the leaba

The last thing you want to happen in cookery school is to be sick on one of the final cooking days…

Over the past few days I’ve felt another wave of sickness hitting me. I don’t know whether it’s something I ate, the cold weather or just a thing that’s going around but anyway, to cut a long story short, I’ve been in bed all day.

I woke up this morning feeling very stuffy and then had a tight stiffness in my upper body, along with a massive headache, so combined I was far from feeling 100%.

Heading back to the house, I pulled on my pyjamas, nabbed a hot drink and water bottle and slept the day away. I didn’t rise until about 5.30pm.

Since then I’ve been battling with a headache that just won’t shift, but thankfully I’m stocking up on plenty of vitamin see (I love you oranges), and water. Food is much needed…

Fingers crossed that tomorrow will see an energy boost and less of a chill…