Day 1 at Ballymaloe

Day one is over and so far I have met 63 classmates from 15 countries, seen their confused faces read my name tag, unpacked in my temporary home, planted sweetcorn and tried smoked eel.  My brain is at saturation point but so far everything has exceeded my, admittedly quite high, expectations.

I am staying in the Hazelnut Room, in The White Cottage. There definitely aren’t many places that offer student accommodation as nice as Ballymaloe. I suppose they are trying to show us what we can aspire to if we open our own hospitality businesses one day.   The school has done a good job of dividing us up by age in our accommodation so we are all roughly on the same page re: noise and tidiness. On Sunday evening a big group of people were going to the pub. I wasn’t really in the mood but felt I should get to know everyone so went back to my room to get ready when my lovely housemate Chrissy asked me if I wanted to watch Friends and drink herbal tea instead. My 22 year old self would have been horrified to spend an evening this way but I felt so relieved to stay in without shame!


For breakfast we were served, as Darina called it, a non-corporate breakfast. Macroom oatmeal, various kinds of fruits, muesli,  breads, cheeses and meats.

After breakfast we had a tour of the 100 acre farm. Soil is worshipped around here. It should have 11 minerals but on many conventional farms the quality is so poor that it sometimes only has 9. Darina also taught us a bit about foraging. We traipsed along, following her like little baby ducks with their mama. She asked us to look around and say what was edible – I had no idea. It seems a lot more than we realise is completely safe to eat, including forget-me-nots, dandelions and birch leaves. Good to know!


When I grow up I want to be just like Darina Allen. She just seems to thrive in life. She is incredibly knowledgeable on all aspects of food, nature, business and government policy.  She clearly has a vocation for teaching and is a very kind woman but firm when necessary. Plus she has killer fashion sense and amazing hair. Line of the day :”If you can keep some land and grow some food it doesn’t matter what the bankers do.” Independent woman!

Her husband Tim showed us around the rest of the farm, the dairy and bread shed and brought us to the greenhouse where we all planted a baby sweetcorn.


Lunch was a smorgasbord of local produce. I can’t remember what was on my plate but I tried and liked it all. A piece of useful information I learned is that  prawns are the most expensive shellfish because most of the weight is not made up of meat, so if you factor that in the real cost is about 60 euros per kilo.


Pavlova and ice-cream for dessert.


Then we had our first demo where Darina made modern soda bread (this means it’s baked in a tin, not on a tray), flapjacks, candied peel and baked rice pudding. Tomorrow we put on our chef uniforms (and heavy duty crocs)  for our first day in the kitchens.