Wednesdays are our cooking free lecture days. Kicking off at the now seemingly luxurious start time of 0900, we get to watch, listen and learn and have lunch completely cooked for us by the wonderful Ballymaloe teachers and wider support crew. While previous Wednesday’s have featured a healthy dose of wine, today’s agenda was alcohol free (oh except for the brandy part) and covering topics from inside the kitchen to out of it.
In the morning we had a full on four hour demonstration with Darina covering no less than 25 separate recipes. What this woman gets through whilst still managing to go off on all manner of tangents is impressive. After baking and two new cheeses (an unpasteurised Irish Farmhouse cheese called a Durrus and a seriously stinky pasteurised cheese from France, the Eposes de Bourgogne) we were then introduced to a large hunk of beef, direct from the farm. Cut from the hind quarter, it had been hanging for 4 weeks. Darina was pretty excited to show us it’s dark yellow fat, a sign of it’s happy life as an outdoor, grass fed animal.
When it comes to beef we were instructed the most important thing to get right was our butcher.
“I want you to develop a good and close relationship with your local butcher… although I don’t want to be misunderstood here” – Darina, said with a cheeky smile
On we marched through different cuts of beef, cooking methods and accompaniments for this meat such as gratins and sauces. We whizzed through more lamb recipes (how amazing are those less familiar cuts like the breast and neck of lamb?) and middle eastern inspired side dishes including spices, hummus and anchoiade. Wow. It’s incredible to watch all this amazing food get cooked in front of us and then get to eat it all for lunch! #lucky.
The afternoon featured another shorter demonstration on the somehow rather quaint idea of preserving. And not the jams, marmalades and chutneys we’ve already been doing, but pickled vegetables (and eggs!), flavoured oils and vinegars, ratafias and crystallised flowers like violets and rose petals. Confession – this is a side of cooking I hardly think about! (Or in the case of crystallised violets never think about) I’m used to just opening a bottle or jar of most of this stuff. It’s amazing to realise just how much of this you can do yourself.
“If you have jars of these up on your self they look like good deeds. You feel good every time you look at them. – Darina
I feel a purchase of large kilner jars coming on…
From jars and bottles we then took a step back from cooking and talked about the bigger picture… menu planning. What makes a balanced meal? What are all the factors to take into consideration? The occasion, your guests, their tastes, seasonality, costs, how much time you have, skills in the kitchen and location are all things to consider before you even move on to thinking about taste, texture and presentation. It really is one of the more tangible examples of all four senses experience and service design. Exciting! I really loved this part. Darina had piles and piles of example menus from all over the world to show us and talk us through. We also talked about different styles of restaurant and food service from fine dining to more casual bistro and cafe affairs to food trucks and pop-by-after-work delicatessens.
Ideally a menu should reflect where you are in the world. The ‘on the menu we’re serving food from here’ philosophy which is right up Ballymaloe’s alley. But the thing I like most about Darina’s view was
“On the whole menu planning is a great deal of common sense” – Darina
Phew. Common sense I can do. I Remembering this will coming in handy when we have to design and cook our three course menu in a few weeks time.
Finally, the afternoon concluded with a comprehensive chat on thinking about what comes next after our 12 week course here. Advice: even though we’re only on week 3 it’s never too early to start thinking about what comes next.
“There are millions of things that you could do with the skills you learn here at Ballymaloe” – Darina
We talked about life in high end restaurant kitchens, private chef-ing, starting your own food business, catering and events, food styling, recipe testing, farmers markets, food writing, farm to food education and improving the quality of food delivered in hospitals and skills. It was both inspiring and slightly overwhelming in equal parts.
I’m lucky enough to have an interesting career with an interesting company but it’s been eye opening to realise how many other ways I could apply my current skills plus everything I’m learning here at Ballymaloe to a more natural, healthy, sustainable foodie focus.
Today was definitely filled with food for thought. (And bien sûr for the stomach)
I’ll leave you with a final picture of my pick from the desert trolled today – a Swedish Semlor. I mean how could you not love that. Apparently there was recipe testing going on in the kitchens today. Now there’s a career…