Sunday, 22 March 2015

Week 10 & 11: The World is Your Oyster

After week 9 was over I started getting ‘the fear’ of going back to real life. The thought of the course coming to an end took over and I started thinking about what I’ll do next. I even had a little meltdown one evening when I got home, a mix of tiredness and anxiety made be burst into tears but my housemate was really great and brought me out for a walk along Garryvoe Strand, where we had a good chat which made me feel better.

I was still in kitchen 3 for the last two weeks but I missed Florie, she’s the teacher with the best people skills in that kitchen, she has the patience of a saint and explains things very well. I also had Fionula a few days during week 10 and she is very helpful too, which always makes a difference when you’re not really sure of what you’re doing.

During week 10 we covered a multitude of techniques and dishes, from using puff pastry for Gateau Pithiviers and vols au vents to cooking tuna and lobster as well as preserving and cooking duck. We also had our last wine lecture followed by a tapas demonstration by Rachel Allen, along with some Sherry brought by Colm (Ballymaloe House’s sommelier). 

We had our wine exam on the last day of week 10, which consisted of 100 multiple choice questions on everything we covered during the wine lectures. I think I did well overall but I know I made a few silly mistakes, especially with some of the questions about Australian wines and sherry.

After that, I had the long weekend in Dublin and I was delighted to be home. I spent lots of time baking and cooking as well as practising for my exam. 

Just before leaving Mr. FFID at Dublin Heuston station I had meltdown no. 2 (yes I know, that’s way too many in two weeks).  Fortunately he’s the most supportive person I know and convinced me that the world is really my oyster and that I can do anything after the course.

I was back in school on Paddy’s Day cooking a Thai Green curry, which was a little weird as I usually cook something Irish that day. During week 11 the demos covered techniques involving fish and seafood (squid, ray, salmon), how to make a beef consommé and lots of ice creams. 

I really enjoyed lecture day on Wednesday, during which we had a sushi demonstration followed by a foraging lesson in the gardens of the school with Darina. Now each time I’m walking to the village I keep my eyes peeled for something edible, it’s so funny. After that we all headed to Ballymaloe House where we got a full tour and a lovely afternoon tea in the conservatory. 

It was so inspiring to listen to Hazel Allen (Myrtle’s daughter in law, married to Rory Allen) and Darina talk about how Myrtle opened her house to the public when she decided to open a restaurant in 1964 at Ballymaloe House, this was definitely my highlight of the week.

Week 11 was the worst for me in the kitchen though and I felt like I had regressed as I was very slow. Maybe it was because I was cooking dishes that I’m not really a fan of, such as beef consommé and a chocolate mousse gateau that I’d consider (to use Rory O’Connell’s words) my idea of Hell, not the kind of thing I’d eat myself. Anyway, like in real life, every dish and every day here can’t be perfect!

It has really started to feel like Spring in Ballymaloe and we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some lovely sunny days. It’s bright now when we finish school so we can go for walks. 

On Friday evening I couldn’t believe that we only had a week left. On one hand I’m ready to go home and on the other hand I know I’m going to miss it. . 

I had a nice weekend, which included a great vintage and antiques fair at Ballymaloe House and a visit to lovely Kinsale on a glorious sunny day.

Next week is going to be mostly filled with exams and strangely I’m not stressed about it. I want to do well but also want to enjoy my last few days in Shanagarry. Wish me luck!

"Everything you want is on the other side of fear" - Jack Canfield.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Week 9: Only 3 Weeks Left

At the end of our 8th week I headed back to Dublin for the weekend and I felt like I needed it. Even though I love being here and wish it never ends, living and studying in Ballymaloe is like being in a bubble. You’re so immersed in all things food related and removed from the real world that it’s difficult to stop thinking about it.

Being back in the big smoke was weird, all the noises, the pollution and the busy streets almost made me feel like I was in a completely different world. Even being in my own place, sleeping in my own bed and cooking in my own kitchen was a shock to the system.

The weekend went by so quickly and on Monday I was in Kitchen 3, back where it all started nine weeks ago. I remembered how scared I was on my first day in that kitchen and how I burnt the onions for my soup. I’ve learnt so many things since then and I’ve gained a lot of confidence in the kitchen. I was delighted to have Florie again, as she’s just the best teacher. I started the week cooking food that makes me happy: a curry, a cucumber and yogurt raita and naan bread. 

I was on salad duty that morning and didn’t have a chance to get all my ingredients early so thought I wouldn’t have enough time to do everything. My partner Denise kindly helped me to slice some onions and once my curry was in the oven I managed to get everything done. I was very happy with the results!

The afternoon demo was all about the Ballymaloe buffet, covering all the dishes that are part of the traditional Sunday dinner at Ballymaloe House.

The next morning I had to make pickled beetroot as well as a cabbage pineapple and onion salad. It wasn’t too challenging but what I loved making was a honeycomb ice-cream. It was quite something to put the bicarbonate of soda onto the caramel mixture and to see it bubbling. You then have to pour it quickly into the tin and let it set. In the end the ice cream was just so tasty and you don’t even need an ice-cream maker, that’s definitely something I’ll make at home.

Lunch that day was like the Ballymaloe buffet, very colourful and there was so much food to choose from, everything was simple but tasted so good. As I was on serving duty I got to carve the glazed bacon, Kassler and pickled ox tongue. It was so funny to see the reaction of some people when I was offering them some ox tongue. Being French I have no problem with offal and can eat pretty much any part of an animal. So when some of my fellow students looked a bit horrified at the idea of eating tongue I just imagined what would happen if I offered them snails, frog legs, steak tartare or tripe.

The afternoon demo with Rachel focused mostly on fish and chips, crab and squid dishes long with nutritious Moroccan soups.

With no cooking on Wednesday, the day was packed full of information. In the morning Darina talked about cheddar cheese as well as demonstrating delicious cheese biscuits. The rest of the morning was about canapés and finger food. In the afternoon we got to learn about freezing food, spices and we had an olive oil lecture followed by a tasting.

Back in the kitchen on Thursday I was on bread duty and made a rosemary and olive focaccia that I was quite happy with, Florie found it excellent. I was also delighted to get high marks for my passion fruit mousse with sugared strawberries and my Moroccan spiced lentil soup.

The afternoon demo was a bit of a mix of flavours with vegetable curries, risotto dishes and tarts. It even started on an exciting note, with the crew from Primetime filming Darina for an upcoming show. She was delighted to talk about butter, ‘the fat of our land', her eyes really smiled.

It was quite a long day but an enjoyable one with our wine lecture in the evening including some revision for our wine exam on week 10. After that, Gweenie, a fellow classmate shared her experience of Woofing in Japan and also cooked some fantastic food for us to taste afterwards, she almost made me want to live in Japan, a country I loved visiting.

On Friday my highlight in the kitchen was making strawberry jam, the smell of strawberries in the kitchen was just delightful. Because I didn’t have many things on my order of work I added white and a brown soda breads, neither of which turned out great. Funnily enough soda breads are my weakness in terms of bread making and I much prefer making yeast breads, even if they take much longer.

On the final practical exam, a bread will be allocated by lottery to each student, so fingers crossed I don’t get a soda bread. I’ve made soda bread at home before but in Ballymaloe you really have to follow their recipe and techniques and even something simple like bread can be tricky. The only thing to do is to practice and stay positive!

The next day, we ended the week with Rachel demonstrating some delicious recipes: variations of bruschetta, roast duck dishes and their accompaniments, puff pastry and several lovely meringues.

I was quite surprised how comfortable I was this week in the kitchen, even finishing early which is definitely a great improvement. As we are in the kitchen you don’t really notice it but I think I’ve progressed a lot.

Sadly, I can feel that we’re getting close to the end of the course. People have started to talk about exams a lot and others have started applying for jobs. Right now I just wish it would never end. I think a part of me is scared of going back to real life, at the moment I just have to follow a very organised schedule and I don’t have to think about anything else. Of course I’d like to get back home (Dublin) but I will have to find a way to stay as immersed in food. This is really something that I love and doing the course made me even more obsessed about everything (good) food related.

“Do you have any more jobs lined up?… I think they want to stay with us forever”. Darina asking the students and then talking to Pam because no one answered.

“You have to be very careful tasting this…because if you do it will never make it to the freezer”. Darina talking about honeycomb ice-cream.

“Pull it off like a very slimy sock” – Rachel Allen taking the skin off a monkfish.