There are other blogs that will give you tips around Ballymaloe’s 12 week cookery course, such as the excellent Una Minh-Kavangh’s Spill the Beans or French Foodie in Dublin, but here’s The Whimsical Bear take.
Prepare yourself Think about why you want to do the 12 week certificate course. The pre-course docmentation repeatedly advised that the course is ‘hard work’, and for good reason! I thought I was well used to hard work in my hospital job- it was just as hard work being in the kitchen & back at school. The course is amazing, and you will learn so much, but it can be stressful and overwhelming. If you fancy more relaxation and pampering, you might prefer one of the shorter courses. Bear in mind that there is always the option of doing the course without having to sit the exams, which could be a happy medium.
Prepare your partner! Poor Mr. WB-he thought I’d be all chilled with my break from the hospital only to find me having pre-week nerves on a Sunday, and spending my head stuck in revision for the last few weekends. Then again, that says more about me than the actual course. (We did have fun with lovely walks on the beach, and ‘date night’ at the cinema in Midleton).
Enjoy yourself Very important! Stop for a moment. You’re on a 100 acre organic farm in scenic countryside a stone’s throw from the beach, with Ireland’s best chefs teaching you, cooking & eating amazing food. It’s all too easy to get caught up with exams and being marked on a daily basis. Make the most of the course and take the opportunities offered, such as extra-curricular workshops, participating in a pop-up or doing some work experience. Don’t forget to pause, take a deep breath and appreciate every moment.
Thank your teachers They work hard. They work very hard. And no more than us, they could be coming into the kitchen not feeling 100%, having had a bad night’s sleep, or dealing with all sorts of things outside school. By and large, I found the teachers really supportive and encouraging. They do a sterling job of keeping it on track, while fielding questions from 6 different students, often all at the same time. Say ‘Thank you’- they deserve it.
Take one for the Team Be a good partner! You may have a partner who’s stronger than you, or one who is finding things difficult. You may be great friends with your partner or you may not have spoken to each other before. Either way, ask your partner if they need help, do your part to share equipment and keep your area clean, and don’t walk off, leaving them to check the section on their own. Equally, turn up for your rostered duties rather than leaving the teachers, gardeners or your fellow classmates in the lurch.
File like you mean it! Don’t be the student who leaves their filing till another day and realises after a few weeks that they can’t actually see their bedroom floor any more. It could happen. There’s around 15 recipes every day that all need to be lovingly placed in plastic pockets, categorised and filed. You will need to find them again later on in the course. You’ll be surprised the amount of conversation you can have about filing.
Start to Study Don’t leave your revision until the day and a half you have off in Week 12. Well, you could- I just don’t know how you’d remember everything from the previous 11 weeks! I started revising in Week 7, once the mid-term exams were over. By all means, cram if that’s your style. I need a more organised approach myself. What can I say- I’m a nerd.
Treat Yourself I don’t mean edible treats- there’ll be plenty of those, but have something as a pick-me-up or treat. I brought a bar of luxurious Penhaligon’s soap with me. If I’d had a tough or long day (and especially if I smelled of deep fry!), I always enjoyed my lovely lavender shower.
How Not to Turn into the Size of a House You may be a little concerned about this; I was! I recommend tasting everything, even if you’re not sure if you’ll like it! The key is ‘tasting’. For example, you can taste dessert at the end of demo, without either taking a full portion the following day and being too full, or picking at it and leaving the food go to waste. There’s plenty of opportunity to exercise too- you can rent a bicycle (or bring your own as I did), go for a walk or run on the beach, or join the Garryvoe Hotel Health Club. I made great use of my membership, and one of my treats (see above) was a nice long swim after my practical and written exams. And no, I did not turn into the size of a house.
So, there you have it. Just in case you missed it earlier, Enjoy yourself!
There will undoubtedly be at least one tough day. There may be tears, and you can be sure that you’ll find one of your classmates in the exact same emotional boat, even if not on the same day.
Doing the 12 week certificate course is an amazing experience, and I hope my blog has helped to capture the sense of wonder I felt as a student.