Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Ballymaloe 12 week cookery course review

I decided that I would love to do this cookery course years ago, but one day last September after visiting a friend in hospital at lunchtime and coming back to a job which I wasnt enjoying I booked the course and put down the deposit. The only person I asked for advice on whether I was being crazy was a friend of mine who thought, he told me afterwards, that I wanted to do a week long course and not potentially give up my job to move to Cork full time for 3 months.

When I started telling people there was this constant echo in response - "your job, that well paid job, are you crazy?". There were very few people who straight up said to me that they were envious, or wished me well or even said that I should do what I want to do when I have the chance to.

Not far off one year later and I am so glad I took the plunge and asked for that sabbatical and then handed in my notice when a sabbatical wasnt possible. Im glad I did something I have wanted to do for years and years, something that was ultimately just for me and threw caution to the wind in these crazy recessionary times (one good thing about Ballymaloe is that the "r" word is never mentioned!).

So what did I get from my 3 months in Ballymaloe?

  • Lots of visitors - even those who thought I was crazy in my cookery quest came to visit

  • A love of meat again - fillet steak is my friend
  • A trip mackerel fishing where I scored on two counts - didnt vomit and actually caught some fish (not that I could gut or eat them due to seasickness)!
  • Lessons on how to cook lobsters - yum if not entirely scary

  • A weeks work experience in Ballymaloe House and Cafe - where I cooked for a Michelin starred chef and made more cheese biscuits than will be needed for the coming 3 months

  • Lessons on how to skim a stone - failed this one miserably

  • A jump from the cliffs into the sea and many beach swims, with jellyfish - I am your hero

  • Many, many cuts and burns on my hands. When I am 90 I will point at some of these scars and have some bloody fantastic tales to tell though

  • At least 7 pounds of lard deposited on my body - not bad given that we are meant to consume a pound of butter a week

  • A schedule of a good 5 weeks workouts to shift said weight from my body before I next see a beach

  • A love for butter, softly whipped cream and herb garnishes and an understanding that it will be difficult to survive in a city without those herb garnishes at hand at all times.

  • A desire to never eat sliced pan again - it will be homemade bread all the way

  • Chats with the empire building Darina Allen and her husband Tim who are truly inspiring

  • One on one bread making classes with the fabulous Tim

  • A sourdough starter called Peggy which will no doubt last a lifetime making amazing breads (of whose offspring I am currently eating while typing)

  • A new collection of jams, candied peel, stock and kitchen bits and pieces to bring home with me along with 4 over flowing folders of recipes

  • The promise of 2 hens to arrive in September for daily fresh eggs

  • To insult a famous chef and then eat in his fantastic restaurant and have him apologise however quietly

  • A visit to an amazing cheesemaker who makes the cheese that has given me at least one of these pounds on my hips.

  • Demonstrations and talks from some very inspiring food producers
  • My first A in an exam in years - 89% in my wine exam (which I wasnt planning on taking at all as was feeling like I knew nothing)
  • Fear in most of my friends about choice of restaurant and wine!
  • To meet and befriend such a varied group of people including a 3 time World Champion and Olympic rower (and yes I got to touch thse medal and god knows youd need to have some neck to be able to carry it), a surfer who surfed for Tahiti, a possible squillionaire eating his way around the world and some very cool wasters like myself.
I dont regret my decision for one second despite the slight insanity it has caused in the household. I am now given to things like waking up in the middle of the night and making bread rather than toss and turn myself back to sleep and have planted enough pots of herb garnish for my neighbours to think it may be a new business idea. It was all worth every pound and every penny.


  1. I've been following your progress on your blog for the last few months and I'm delighted that it all turned out so well and that your following your passion instead of staying in a career that you didn't enjoy - It is a big step ( I totally understand I'm going back to study goldsmiting in September) I wish you every sucess with your new career path!

  2. Good for you!! :) Sometimes you really do need to ignore all those "sensible" people around you and just follow your heart! :)
    I'm quitting my 'good job' myself at the moment, and going back to UCC to do a Masters. I had considered the Ballymaloe option but I've always wanted to do this LLM and I think that now is my time. To be honest, I just want and need a fresh start! :)

  3. Would be really interested to hear what your doing now and what your planning for the future as I'm in the exact place you were a year ago, in a job I can't stand anymore and am seriously thinking to doing this course as a new career option (am currently a lawyer but love love love food, cooking, entertaining etc.. so very tempted to make the leap too!)..

  4. thank you for sharing your experience at ballymaloe. i have darina's school on my lifetime bucket list and your post was yet another affirmation that it is a "must do".
    best wishes,
    kit mitchell

  5. wow very impressed by the reviews. What if you dont want to be a chef per se but would like to be able to cook good food - would you say the course is too technical/high level for that?

    Many thanks

  6. no, its not too technical for that at all. The chances of me becoming a chef are very slim but I definitely am way more able to cook really good food!

  7. was it worth the money? its very expensive

  8. oh I know it seems very expensive but when I was down there eating a 3 course meal every day for lunch (made with only the very best of ingredients), drinking fantastic wine and with such great teachers all around (1 to every 6 pupils) it seemed like a bargain. I know that seems hard to believe but I remember wondering a few weeks in how they were even able to break even!

  9. Been "thinking" about this course for quiet a while now - thanks for such a good viewpoint. Guess my biggest fear is what to do after the course finishes, I'm just a regular worker, no qualifications, so getting a job has always been the little bit tougher - but, maybe someday. Great photos by the way.

    Thanks again.

  10. What super photos,i loved them.Well done for doing what YOU wanted to do!I would love to have the courage to do as you did but alas i'm not in a position to do so.Make the most of your experience!

  11. As a fellow Ballymaloe graduate I understand everything you wrote and wholeheartedly agree.


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