- Food & Drink
1 Take a car
You can manage without a car at Ballymaloe (I did), but without it your shopping choices are restricted to the school shop, which is full of ferociously expensive and highly covetable food stuffs, and the local petrol station, which isn’t.
2 Bring stationery
Filing will take up more of your time and conversation than you ever thought possible. What categories are you using for your recipes? Do you have sub divisions within those categories? Where can I get more file dividers?
That last question became an obsession because they don’t supply you with nearly enough file dividers in your stationery pack. There were rumours that the school shop had some, high fives when Tesco was selling them cheaply (they were the wrong size) and eventually I ordered more. You need 5 packs of 10 Rexel extra wide file A4 dividers, a box of 100 polyester pockets and 1 large lever arch file.
3 Don’t eat dinner
Unless you want to gain a lot of weight, forget all about eating in the evening. A light breakfast, 2/3 course lunch and tasting plate after demo is a lot of food. Rounding the day off with home-made ravioli or pan-fried fish you’ve filleted yourself may seem like a good idea – essential homework, even.
But having to thrash around on the floor, wrestling yourself into your increasingly tight clothes is no fun. Most evenings I stuck to a pot or 4 of tea and some toast. Consequently, I only put on 5lbs. There was no shortage of people putting on a stone (or more).
4 Remember your cottage is not an entirely private place
The farm cottages are not so much your home as a corridor that happens to have a bed in it for you. The doors aren’t locked, so everyone uses them as shortcuts to get across the farm buildings, they come in to wash their hands, use the toilet or hang their coats up. Staff also came in to inspect them and make sure we were keeping them clean and tidy. 31 and being told off for having slovenly domestic habits – shaming.
5 Make something extra every day
Mostly this means bread. I went into the kitchen at 8am most days and made a bread, but there’s also plenty of biscuit, scone and cake recipes that are worth fitting in and it’s the only way you’ll get your technique list completed. Make a random hollandaise. Fry an egg for your breakfast. Do an additional ice cream. If you don’t fit in extra cooking during your morning, you’re missing out on half the course.
6 Taste with your teachers
The best teachers would get you to try the finished food with them, so you could understand their feedback. It’s by far the best way to understand where you have gone right or wrong.
7 Measure in pounds and ounces
All the recipes, especially the bread and baking recipes, work better in imperial measurements than metric. They were mostly written in imperial and then converted and those conversions can bring up some subtly variable weights. For a stew this doesn’t matter so much, but for baking there’s a few fluid ounces between perfect dough and flour soup.
8 If you’re on lemonade duty, make double
There was never, ever enough lemonade at lunchtime. If you’re coming out of a hot kitchen, tired and hungry but not really with much of an appetite for the food you have in front of you because you’ve learned to hate it over the past 4 hours, the lemonade is your lifeline. If you’re on lemonade duty, make that your first task of the day and make a lot of it. Everyone will love you for it.
9 Bag your demo chair
Within a couple of days of the course starting, chair bagging became a ruthless art. You had to get in at 8am if you wanted a comfy chair. There were about 10 comfy chairs, the rest were instruments of torture cunningly disguised as chairs.
Sitting near the front is best because it’s harder to hear and see at the back, so you’re more likely to fall asleep. Although I did wake up with a startled jump one afternoon when I was sat in the front row during a Rory O’Connell demo, and we all loved Rory’s demos. Getting a comfy chair and then staying awake during demo are 2 of the biggest challenges at Ballymaloe.
10 Always eat the green salad
I was going to put a trite “just enjoy yourself, it’ll be over before you know it” tip here, but an instruction to always eat the green salad boils down to the same thing. You won’t eat a salad like it anywhere else.
The combination of leaves, herbs and flowers, fresh out of the garden, is unique and sums up a lot of what is great about Ballymaloe. Vegetables straight out of the soil, eggs laid that morning, bread baked every day, milk still warm from the cow – it’s the idyllic rural diet you’ve read about in romantic novels and if you’ve even the tiniest bit interest in food, you won’t fail to love it.