Students in kitchen 1

1 Take a car
You can manage without a car at (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.

The sandwich box of madness

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.

The larder

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.

Rachel and the meat

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.

At the end of demo

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.


23 Responses to 10 tips for Ballymaloe students

  1. Ivan says:

    Great Post Jass, I’ve still got about 4 left that I need to put up that I haven’t got round to yet

  2. Claudia says:

    Absolutely agree – good points! I really miss the salad. Would cost me a fortune here to make one like we had every lunch.

  3. Craftilicious says:

    just love the top tips! Have really loved reading all about your culinary adventure – hope you get your certificate 🙂

  4. Great insight,enjoyed reading.Good tip about the pounds and ounces,metric conversion doesn’t work on lots of recipes!

  5. Great stuff Gin. That picture of Rory takes me back. What a god. Have really enjoyed reading all about the course

  6. ginandcrumpets says:

    @Ivan You’ve not left Ballymaloe until you’ve finished those posts.

    @Claudia I’ve taken to nibbling people’s herbaceous borders. It’s kind of similar to the green salad. Kind of.

    @Craftilicious Thanks, I hope I get the certificate too!

    @Northern Snippet The switch to imperial made a bug difference to my breads and cakes. But now I think simultaneously in metric and imperial, which can lead to me staring blankly at the numbers on the scales.

    @Emma Rory really is a God. He got 2 standing ovations at our final dinner.

  7. Bellerina says:

    Ordered more stationery eh?

    I’ll give you that if you acknowledge that the stationery delivery person was particularly hot. 🙂

    As always, great post.

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Oh My God, you bought me file dividers as well, didn’t you? Damn, I got through a lot of stationery. You were by far the most attractive delivery person.

  8. Carla says:

    Great post(s) about Ballymaloe – I’m pondering going in a couple of years time (unless I win the lottery and then I could go tomorrow) so reading about your experience has been extremely interesting.

    The green salad sounds awesome….

  9. Helen says:

    They should put this on their website or something. It has completely sold it to me as if I didn’t want to go already. Obviously I don’t want the whole gash on the hand business, that sounded fucking grim.

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Gashes, burns, nasty cuts – those are all compulsory I’m afraid. I should’ve put a note on the importance of bringing your European health card / getting medical insurance to deal with all the digit mangling and flesh searing.

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  11. Jacky says:

    Thanks so much for this great post about Ballylamoe! I’ve been thinking about going next year…do you feel like you learned a lot? And why did you choose Ballymaloe over other cooking schools? And would you do it again?

    Thanks for this great post…I’ve also been reading through your other posts…all the images look amazing!

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Hi Jacky,

      I feel like I’ve learned a huge amount. I am much more confident about what I’m doing and more willing to try something and not worry if it goes wrong. The best thing you can do at Ballymaloe is get something wrong – makes learning what to do and what not to do much easier if you get it flat out wrong at the start!

      I chose Ballymaloe because it was cheaper than studying in London and living on an organic farm in ireland sounded nice. In the end, it was only a little bit cheaper than studying in London due to the complete collapse of the pound and living on an organic farm is nice. I would go back and do the course again and wish they did a little mini month-long intermediate course for ex-students who are missing the place.

      It’s a great course – great, but not perfect, and don’t discount how much hard work there is. But if you want to do it, sign up!

  12. Verity says:

    “…a little mini month-long intermediate course for ex-students who are missing the place” – gets my vote! Great post, really took me back, thanks!

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      When we were there Darina read out a letter form an ex-student who thought she should set up a halfway house for students, so they could get used to life without chickens, green salad and softly whipped cream. We laughed then, but now…

  13. charlie says:

    Thanks for the good tips. Would love to know more going in January cant wait

  14. Scotsaute says:

    Oh how I remember tagging and holding on to ‘your’ seat. Only had Rory for the one demo when I was there as he was still HC at the house but if that was anything to go by we missed tour de force. Thanks for your posts, brought back great memories

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Glad you enjoyed the posts. Rory always gave the best demos when I was there and we’d all try to imitate his plating up the next day – with variable results!

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