Ballymaloe Class of Spring 2018

Having been home for a few days now, I have had a chance to reflect on my time at Ballymaloe.

Firstly, I gained a greater appreciation of ingredients that go into meals – from following the journey of meat from farm to plate, to foraging for my own wild garlic and seaweed. I now recognise more than ever the importance of incorporating seasonal and local fruit and vegetables into menus as this is the food that gives our bodies the most nourishment at specific times of the year as well as reducing food miles, so overall it’s a win-win approach.

Secondly, I am so grateful that Ballymaloe gave me the opportunity to fulfil some personal goals – making pasta, my own sourdough, and icing cakes to a high standard. These really have been some of the highlights of the course.

Thirdly, I’d like to thank all of the teachers including Richard, Tracie, Florrie, Debbie, Pat, Tiffin, Jeni, Annette, Gary, Emer and Pam for their amazing support over the course. I would not have been able to do it without them. Of course there is also a huge debt of thanks to Darina Allen, Rory O’Connell and Rachel Allen who made afternoon demonstrations so interesting and amusing and imparted so much of their wisdom.

However, my experience over the last twelve weeks was made special not just by the techniques learned and improved, but by the people who joined me on the journey….

Ballymaloe Spring Class of 2018 – Anne, Anthony, Berend, Bibi, Billie, Catherine, Cathy, Charlotte A, Charlotte H, Claire, Cristian, Daniel, Edel K, Edel M, Emma, Eva, Fiona, George, Gerry, Grace, Helen, Jack P, Jack R, Jackie, Jam, Jane, Jeanne, Jill, Lauren, Liana, Liz, Madelaine, Maddy, Mael, Mairead, Maria F, Maria P, Matt, Mike, Niall, Bobby, Rose, Rosie C, Sam, Sara, Sarah, Serena, Shona, Simone, Tom, and Una.

My special friends – Aoife, Gracey and Rosie G.

My Barn Family whilst I was there – Angus, Annabel, Danny, Emer, Flossy, Josh, Molly, Tilly and William.

Thank you so much to everyone, I miss you already and can’t wait to see where the next adventure takes us all.

“The Farn Bam”

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So long….

Our last day of the course was spent on final written exams. A daunting prospect, we were faced with questions on topics from every aspect of our time here. From tea and coffee, Health and safety (HACCP) and menu planning to specialist questions on the extra classes and lectures we had been given. We also had practical elements in which we had to identify cuts of meat, different fish, herbs, beans, spices and citrus and then name recipes they could be used in.

Although it was a tiring day with three long exams, it was worthwhile in demonstrating just how much we’ve learnt on the course. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for the results.

The evening was spent with a celebration and farewell dinner. We were served a beautiful menu prepared by Rory O’Connell and some of the teachers.

The meal was absolutely spectacular and the evening was very special, seeing everyone together for one last time. It was a time for reflection on the last three months (I still can’t believe it’s been that long) and all the memories that Ballymaloe has given me.

Judgement Day

I’ve officially finished cooking on this amazing course. Today I had my final practical exam. I was tasked with cooking a three-course meal accompanied by a green salad and a bread in three hours.

Two weeks ago we had to submit our final menus and food orders in readiness for this big day. I found planning a balanced menu which was achievable in the time whilst also demonstrating a range of techniques a real challenge, but also very enjoyable.

My menu was:

• Pea and coriander soup

• Cappelletti with tomato and cream sauce

• Vanilla ice cream with rhubarb compote

In addition to this, yesterday we all drew lots to find out which bread we would have to cook alongside our menus. I was lucky in being assigned a white soda bread which fitted in nicely with my order of work.

I was a little worried before my exam with my thoughts flying about which plates I should use present my dishes, selecting my salad leaves, and how my food would come out. The experience was overall a rewarding one and it was very satisfying seeing the pile of ingredients diminish as I produced more elements of the meal.

Unfortunately I did take longer than three hours to produce my meal, which will result in the penalty of a small mark deduction. Ultimately though, I am so proud of the food I produced and am looking forward to finding out how I did. The judging, by three of our teachers, took place once we had left the kitchen.

Wild Salmon

Our final cookery demonstration of the course was given this morning by Rory O’Connell. He was tying up the final loose ends (which all turned out to be very luxurious) by demonstrating the recipes that we hadn’t yet been shown. These delicacies included a whole poached wild salmon, roast haunch of venison and hot oysters with a champagne sauce.

Having the opportunity to see a wild salmon being poached in a fish kettle put us in a particularly privileged position as these fish are strictly regulated due to previous overfishing. Wild salmon have much better flavour than farmed fish as they have more freedom to move and feed as they please and build up more muscle tone over the years.

In order to comply with regulations, all wild salmon that are caught are tagged with either a blue, green or white tag.

Blue tags indicate that the salmon was caught under license by a fisherman with a rod but therefore cannot be sold.

A green tag indicates that the salmon was caught by a draft net where a circle is formed by a net being pulled by a boat. This is the most common type of tag.

White tags indicate that the salmon was caught using a snap net where a net is pulled between two small boats.

Squid – Scribe of the Sea

Sadly, today was our last day in the kitchens before our exams later this week.

Today I made pan fried squid with parsley, chilli oil and rocket. The one time I cooked squid before during the course, I ended up with a rubbery lump, as I cooked it for too long. However, today I had much more success.

I find this slimy creature from the deep bizarrely fascinating. It is sometimes called “the scribe of the sea” due to the ink it contains which can be used to colour pasta, and the quill-shaped gladius which is similar to a back bone.

Squid needs to be cooked for only a very short amount of time and are very economical as you use 75% of the overall weight, in comparison to fish where you only use around 35-40%.

Pork

We had the treat today of roasting pork that came from Ballymaloe itself. Ballymaloe keeps four traditional breeds of pig – Gloucester Old Spot, Saddleback, Tamworth and Berkshire.

I pared this with a spicy aubergine side dish and wild garlic which is in plentiful supply around the grounds of the school and which has become a staple ingredient and garnish for us during the past eleven weeks.

One of the things I’ve noticed here in Ireland is that pork is sold with the hairs still on the rind, so you get hairy bacon and crackling. I find this a little off-putting, but it serves as a constant reminder of where our ingredients come from, an important part of the course for me.

Caked

I was back making cake today (one of my favourite things to cook). This time it was an almond praline cake which included a lot of different elements to bring together.

Firstly I had to make the praline by putting almonds and sugar into a pan and heating it until the sugar had melted and the nuts were popping. This was then turned out onto a silicon mat and left to cool to a sweet and crunchy praline. I then crushed this into a fine powder to cover my cake with.

Today the cake sponge itself came out a little over-cooked as my oven timer did not go off. I was lucky that it didn’t affect the finished result more, but it provided a valuable lesson in setting a back up alarm for extra security.

The butter icing was more complex. A sugar syrup, brought to thread stage (where the last drops of sugar from a spoon form a thread), was beaten into egg yolks to create a mousse before gradually adding creamed butter. This creates a light and fluffy icing with which to ice the cake.

Icing cakes is all about care, attention and injecting some drama, decoratively speaking, to create the wow factor.