I learned a lot at Ballymaloe. I think the real thing I learned was how much I don’t know! But in a nice way. Sometimes the small fish in big ponds have more to learn than big fish in small ponds.
Here are some tangible take-aways :
Sharpen your knives. Restaurant chefs sharpen their knives constantly which is probably not necessary for home cooks but to keep them in good condition you should really sharpen them every time you use them.
Fat is your friend! So is salt. If your food is bland, add butter and season liberally! Most vitamins are fat soluble so you need to consume a certain amount of it for everything else to function.
Buy produce in season. It’s cheaper and tastes better. We are so out of touch with where our food comes from. Don’t eat asparagus in November, or blueberries in March. It’s fun to learn about the way the earth works through food.
We eat with our eyes first. Eating is not just about taste. The visuals count! Make your food pretty. Sprinkle it with herbs, add some edible flower petals, make it tall and pay attention to proportion.
Try a new recipe. I once heard that the average person makes the same six or seven recipes throughout their life. Imagine how much more interesting your existence would be if you added just a few more to your repertoire! Try a new cut of meat, use a new spice or try a different cuisine.
But not everything is that concrete. Here are some thoughts, observations, and opinions, on the course, food and life.
Chocolate is overrated. I’m sorry, but there are more interesting flavours out there. Chocolate is delicious but so many chocolate desserts are bland, boring cop outs.
Aging is wonderful. I know, at the age of 27, that I am still very young but I am glad I did the course now and not when I was 21. My tastebuds have matured so I was more appreciative of new foods. Being a mature student is totally different to undergrad studies. Life experience really benefits you. I could see a tangible, practical result at the end of the course. Not just something I was doing for the sake of it, as is often the case when you are younger.
Common interests ≠ Friendship Liking the same thing does not mean that you and another person will be friends or even like each other. There were nearly 65 students on the course, a variety of ages and nationalities. Everyone liked food but many had absolutely nothing in common besides that. I made good friends and liked most of my classmates but it was interesting and sometimes frustrating to see how intolerant people could be of others. Not to say I never judge anyone – trust me, I do. It was just interesting.
Social media can be toxic. Not a groundbreaking realisation, I know. I use social media and I would not delete my accounts. It’s such a big part of the zeitgeist that I want to participate. But too much exposure is really bad for your mental health! People at Ballymaloe were obsessed. I don’t blame them, or myself, for wanting to create a strong social media presence. When you are starting over again in a new field of work it can help to set yourself apart (part of why I blog). Since I left I have been using it much less and I feel a lot happier. Comparison is the thief of joy.
Line of the course : ‘You have to be brave to do simple things.’ From Colm McCan.
Food of the course : Butter. So simple, so versatile. Myrtle Allen once said that the fields around Ballymaloe make the best butter. They do.