Ballymaloe Days 23-25 – Recovery and Recap

Thankfully the dreaded Week 5 is finally over. I don’t know if there was some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy after Darina declared this week to be the low week of the course, but it certainly was for me. After staying out of the kitchen on Tuesday, I felt able to go to the all-day seminar on Wednesday. It was conducted by restaurant consultant Blathnaid Bergin who spoke to us about setting up a restaurant/catering business and menu planning (a hugely important task that affects every aspect of a restaurant). The seminar included some small group work with case studies of different restaurant businesses. Overall, it was a very informative lecture, although if I am to be honest, it made the prospect of opening a restaurant even more daunting. There is so much one must consider and arrange in advance…and there is even more at stake once the place opens up! Yet, I suppose to be forewarned is to be forearmed, etc.

Wednesday evening ended up being dinner and poker night at the White Cottage. It wasn’t a late night at all, but I had to be up early on Thursday morning, as I was on herb and vegetable duty. When I woke up on Thursday to get ready, it was still pitch black outside. Since I am not a morning person by any means and coupled by the fact that I did not feel well at all, I knew the day was going to be a real struggle for me. At one stage, as I was in the greenhouse picking salad leaves and herbs for the kitchens, I felt a bit dizzy and light-headed. However, I convinced myself that this was the result of being hunched over the crop beds to cut salad leaves causing the blood rush too quickly to my head…and not the result of actually being ill. I really did not want to miss another day in the kitchen, especially because we were covering a number of techniques (jointing a chicken and filleting a flat fish), so I decided to attempt to power through for the day. Despite my “I Will Survive” attitude, by the time I got into the kitchen, I was not sure if I was going to be able to make it through the morning session. Fortunately, my instructor was very sympathetic and told me to do only as much as I felt able to do. Yet, as soon as I got into the swing of things, I began to focus on my cooking and less on not feeling well. Before I knew it, I had gotten through all of my recipes (Shanagarry Chicken Casserole, Ulster Champ, and Goujons of Cod), and it was time for lunch. The high point for me was when my instructor told me my Chicken Casserole and Ulster Champ (mashed potatoes mixed with peas and parsley) were both excellent and complemented me for my dedication when I wasn’t feeling 100 percent.

Anyway, by the time afternoon demo was finished (scallops…buerre blanc…yes!), I was completely wrecked. I was feeling crap as well, and I finally had to admit to myself that I was feeling run down. As soon as I got back to the cottage, I went to sleep for a little while. Jenn came up to my room to tell me that a bunch of people were going to the pub for the evening. I really wanted to join them, but I knew that going out would not help matters, so I decided to be smart and lay low for the evening. So for the rest of the evening, I trundled about the cottage with blanket in tow (kind of like Linus from the Peanuts comic strip) and was treated to a dinner of rabbit and rice pilaf (some leftovers!) and a lovely cup of tea infused with lemon, honey, and ginger. Thanks, guys! I then went to bed early…despite being a complete night owl, I fell asleep immediately, had a bunch of bizarre dreams, but felt a lot better in the morning.

Friday, Friday – where do I start? Last day in the Demo Kitchen, and for a myriad of reasons of which I will refrain from giving any detail, I won’t miss it as much as I missed Kitchen 3. It didn’t help that there was some weird tension going on between students in the Demo Kitchen as well. On the one hand, it is pretty funny when people get mad at each other for messing around with an already-claimed oven, but it is definitely not funny in the actual moment. Although this has not happened to me yet (knock on proverbial wood), it caused a bit of a small row to break out when someone’s tagine and cous cous got slightly messed up. Now that I’m re-reading what I just typed, it IS pretty funny in the abstract though. “You screwed with the oven temps, and now my cous cous is ruined, jackass!” Fortunately, I had a pretty decent day in the kitchen. My kumquat, grapefruit, and blood orange salad came out fine, and I’m now an expert on segmenting citrus fruits. I also made orange tuiles, which are little biscuits flavored with orange rind. They were a bit of a pain in the ass though, only because you have like 30 seconds from when they come out of the oven to set them on something (in my case, an extremely long rolling pin), and I was trying to do my scallops at the same time. I will say that I was quite proud of my avant-garde plating today (for a change!), and Pam told me that my buerre blanc was one of the best she has ever tasted. I might struggle with plating and presentation, but it’s nice to know that my food tastes good! It would be worse if it were the other way around, I think.

Anyway, next week I’ll be in Kitchen 2, and it is exam week, so we’ll see what happens there. Friday evening was spent chatting and drinking wine around our kitchen table with JB, Jamie, Luca, Cat, Matthew, Kait, Izzie, and Ludo. Matthew and Jamie also plucked and gutted two pheasants. Yup…just your typical Friday night in Ballymaloe.

The obligatory photos:

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