Well, it’s hard to believe that it’s over seven months since I finished my 12 week course in Ballymaloe Cookery School, and I’m definitely a lot more settled than in my previous Limbo Land post. The allotment has been bearing fruit (literally, you have no idea how many raspberries are in my freezer), and I’ve been using orders of work for ‘fancy’ dinners at home.
Not only that, but I decided to try out my new skills in the outside world too, in the form of a stage (rhymes with ‘Taj’, trust the French to make things sound fancy!) We’d heard the word in Ballymaloe a few times, before actually receiving an explanation. A stage is when a chef spends some time, short or long, paid or unpaid, in a restaurant kitchen, to gain valuable experience. Well, I’m no chef (at least not professionally anyway), but that didn’t stop me undertaking a few stages of my own.
- Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge, Ballingarry
I have a great love for the Mustard Seed, it being the location of our wedding reception. We’ve kept going back since, once a year if possible, partly thanks to the ‘Mustard Seed Fund’ which is the recipient of Mr. WB’s tips from work. With people still raving about the food at our wedding (a full restaurant menu), I was excited about going behind the scenes.
Over seven hours, I peeled & chopped parsnips and potatoes for soup; boiled, skinned & pureed garlic; prepared Brussel Sprouts; pinched samphire tips; and plated up soup & vegetables, as well as observing service, the wonders of Thermomix and the secrets of a blackcurrant and beetroot vinaigrette. I was very excited to help make up some gluten-free bread and apple muffins, not to mention tasting the results! It was amazing to think that, on our wedding day, this team of talented chefs were busy-ing away all for us and our guests.
- Paradiso Restaurant, Cork
I’ve been going to Paradiso as a ‘treat’ ever since I first moved to Cork, and it’s better it’s getting. I received two Cafe Paradiso cookbooks many years ago from my first boyfriend, and I remember thinking they were a bit complicated and ‘fancy’ for me, but I definitely find myself returning to them with new eyes since cookery school.At my pre-stage interview, I had to stop myself from saying ‘Oh my God, I’m talking to Denis Cotter’, which I imagine the said Denis Cotter would have found somewhat amusing.
It’s a different kind of cooking, one of which I’m very fond, where the vegetables are the side of the show rather than just a garnish or accompaniment. Here I made baba ganoush; washed, trimmed and peeled vegetables (more sprouts & samphire!); assembled turnip galettes; made soup base; grilled halloumi, and in pride of place- a lemon thy beurre blanc sauce. I felt very privileged to enjoy two of the starters on my break, hideen out of sight in a step ladder in the pantry!
(Photo courtesy of https://paradiso.restaurant/photographs)
- Ballymaloe House (Pastry Kitchen), Shanagarry
While I spent an evening in the main kitchen at Ballymaloe House during school, I found myself drawn to the pastry kitchen side of things as the course continued (somewhat surprisingly for someone with a not very sweet tooth). So I was delighted to spend a day with pastry chef JR Ryall. He’d advised me in advance of the need to prepare for a wedding party- no pressure there then!
It was all about the fruit here- picking rhubarb, borage and sweet geranium from the garden and chopping apples, rhubarb and strawberries. I made almond tartlet cases; rolled and cut out shortbread biscuits; assembled, filled and baked tartlets; filled, rolled and decorated roulades (with JR piping the cream, thank God!). The day flew, and I enjoyed the ‘assembly line’ nature of taking a tray out of the oven, removing and stacking its goodies, while the next tray was baking. There’s a soothing calmness to the pastry kitchen, different from the flurry over hot hobs once service starts. That said, I had the very leisurely start time of 10am rather than the full-on bread baking 6.30am start.
A huge thanks to John Edward Joyce, head chef Angel and team in the Mustard Seed; Denis Cotter, head chef Eneko and team in Paradiso, and JR Ryall in Ballymaloe House. I was lucky to be warmly welcomed with a friendly, calm atmosphere in each of the three kitchens.
Three different kitchens, three different experiences, all enjoyed.