Monday and Tuesday have been all about understanding and getting more familiar with the rhythm and patterns of the school and daily life at Ballymaloe.
So far it seems to be:
- Up in the morning for a walk / run / exercise. (Or lets face it, a press of the snooze button)
- Breakfast. Coffee. Into the kitchens by 8.30 for the morning of cooking.
- Lunch starts at 1pm (although can be slightly earlier or later depending on how the morning has gone!) and then either duties, or time to pop home and change before the afternoon’s demonstrations begin at 13:45.
- The day finishes about 5.30. Then it’s back home to homework (writing up our order of work) and tea, getting cosy by the fire / pub / chats / more tea / Skypes / reading.
What a lovely routine!
This week I’m working in in Kitchen 3 which overlooks part of the farm, the herb garden and big solar panels. It’s just such a pleasure to lift your head up every now and again to look out the kitchen windows and take in the amazing green spaces and blue skies outside.
There’s about 18 of us working us in this kitchen with 3 teachers. This week my partner is Emer, a lovely Irish girl who is doing the course with her mum. Every day we get given the list of dishes we’re to cook and we split it between us. There’s always a mixture of starters, mains and deserts and we’ll split it evenly, according to complexity of the dish and who did what the day before. e.g. you make bread Monday, your partner does that on Tuesday etc. That way everyone gets a good chance to practise all the skills and techniques we’re shown.
The 4.5 hours whizzes by. From when we arrive to when we get to sit down to lunch after our plates are assessed, time seems to disappear downtime drain. Weigh up, prep, cook, clean down, taste – and repeat multiple times over.
Monday I was back on pastry, making the most delicious apple crumble tart. The same magic ingredients, the same amazing (if I do say so myself) result.
“Ballymaloe, or as it’s otherwise known, Buttermaloe” – Rachel Allen
Today for me was all about butchery. We were given chickens (who had already died and gone to chicken heaven) and we had to joint the whole bird. It’s amazing just how many different things come from one bird. We portion off the breasts, tenderloins, drumsticks, thighs and wings. We’re shown how to identify and protect that precious wee oyster of meat tucked in under the legs. The skin is stretched out, salted and cooked in the oven to become crispy skin. Perfect with sweet chilli dipping sauce and a cold beer. The carcass goes into the magic stock pot and comes back the next day as a key ingredient in our soups and stews.
On both days I also spend a looooot of time vegetable prepping. In fact, this is what totally messed with my timings in my Order of Work on both days. On Monday it was brussel sprouts for a vegetable side. (Delicious because they featured the two magic ingredients; boiled in plenty (and I mean plenty) of salt and then fried off in butter). And today it was jerusalem artichokes for my jerusalem artichoke soup with chorizo crumb. (Sweated with onion and butter, finished off with homemade chicken stock and milk and then blended, this was seriously good). Both came into the kitchen fresh from the garden, covered in dirt, the odd little crawly friend and took ages to prep. There is no pre-washed and already bagged up ingredients here. Which, I’m realising I turn to only too easily in my day to day life.
When 30 minutes later I was still peeling those knobbly artichokes I kept repeating what Darina told us last week:
“Plants come from the soil. They’re meant to be dirty. If there are no bite marks on your vegetables you can bet your bottom dollar it’s been sprayed to hell” – Darina
Also did you know that dirt and soil on your root veg like potatoes and carrots actually helps preserve the vegetables for longer as it protects their outer layer? And that pre-washed vegetables are washed in water, but it’s more commonly ‘spring-water’ mixed with chemicals like chlorine. Bacteria adheres to cut vegetables more easily than whole vegetables, hence the need for disinfectants to be present. More scary meddling with our natural food resources. As I say though, 30 mins later I was thinking how much of a hard sell that is to people when opening pre-prepared bag is just so much faster and easier. Although that’s crazy when it’s cheaper and tastier to buy it dirt on. Butter and salt aside, the taste of all these vegetables is pretty wonderful. Who knew dirt could taste so good!
Monday’s demonstration was given by a new face – Rory O’Connell. Darina’s brother, whose worked in restaurants in London, Paris and been Head Chef at Ballymaloe House. His style is direct and effortless, we’re so lucky to have an amazing chef like Rory cooking in front of us every day, sharing his tips and advice.
One tip I hadn’t heard and can’t wait to try is with avocados to stop them browning. Apparently if you put the avocado stone in with the chopped avocado (say in a salad, guacamole etc) then it helps stop it oxidising. He made the most delicious avocado and hazelnut salsa and it was probably one of the first perfect avocado dishes – not a drop of lemon juice in sight.
Oh and the nordic kale salad. Divine. Massaging of the kale is involved. As is cream. It’s quite possibly the most delicious way of eating kale ever. Remind me to write about this properly sometime.
As well as jointing the chicken, today I made a spicy almond chicken dish with my chicken legs and lots of freshly ground spices and that jerusalem artichoke soup. After my lunch and oven cleaning duty, we sat down to Rachel Allen back in the demo kitchen. Standouts of the dishes she created were the creme caramels with silky smooth custard and dark amber caramel, spun sugar magic, crunchy orange butter scones and orange marmalade. Cannot wait to make / eat these on Friday.
A few of us Mrs Walsher’s rounded off the day with a drink at the Goal Post, Shanagarry’s (one and only) pub. We wandered down in our high vis jackets (it’s so dark outside at this time of year every cottage has their own stash to keep any late night pub goers visible), met up with a few other students and enjoyed a quiet drink. Lots of chat about food and our experiences during the past two days.
Tomorrow is our lecture day. Yoghurt and cheese making. And more wine tasting!