So this was the weekend that my mom and dad came to visit, and I am so happy that they did. They came such a long way just to visit me for an extended weekend, and I am especially grateful to them for that. The last time that I saw my parents in person was last September, and after having felt particularly homesick for the first time in my entire life this past Christmas in Dublin, it was great to spend some time with them and to show them around this place that has so consumed my life in the last few weeks.
On Friday, after bringing my parents to afternoon demo, (which, incidentally, ended up being one of the strangest ones we’ve had the entire course), we went to dinner at a restaurant called Farmgate in Midleton. What a lovely find! I knew that I was going to like the place from the moment that I walked in. It has a gourmet food shop/bakery in the front with a quaint dining area in the back. The ambiance was cozy and welcoming, and it felt almost like you were dining in a good friend’s well-appointed home. As we were perusing the menu, a French man sitting at a neighboring table exclaimed that the clam cakes were the best he has ever had, so I didn’t have to think twice about what to order for my starter. And I have to say that it was an excellent choice (merci beaucoup, random French guy!). I followed that with a dish of tagliatelle and mussels and a slice of lemon meringue pie. Apart from the excellent food and service, the best thing was that I got to have a proper chat with my parents and fill them in on everything Ballymaloe – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Of course, talking to them was the perfect therapy for me, and my parents kept reminding me not to get caught up in the sort of strange high school-y side to Ballymaloe and focus on what I came there for in the first place: cooking. Yup, I have to hand it to them: parents really do know best. After our dinner, I took them down to The Blackbird Pub, just to show them ‘our local.’ They were pretty tired at this stage, so we briefly chatted with some of the other students on the course and ended up staying only for one. On Saturday, I met them at The Ballymaloe House for breakfast, and afterwards, we strolled around the grounds of Ballymaloe for a bit and checked out a particularly nice walled garden (I really love walled gardens…brings me back to when I was a kid and obsessed with reading The Secret Garden.). Anyway, we soon headed into Midleton, and my parents got to stroll around the little town in the daylight and go to the Farmer’s Market. Since we used to have goats on our little farm back in Rhode Island, my dad was happy to meet the woman from Ardsallagh Goats Cheese. Later on, we took a drive to Ballycotton and did the Cliff Walk. I was so glad to be able to go back, since I’ve wanted to ever since I first strolled up there back in January.
Saturday evening turned out a lot differently than I expected. Let me explain: fellow student (and also fellow Southern New Englander, as it happens) Kait had organized a BBQ for all of the students on the course. She had expertly coordinated with one of the instructors Ted, who happens to run his own catering company, and had come up with an incredible menu and evening for all of us. My original plans were to take my parents to said BBQ, but I soon realized in the midst of a particularly competitive round of Flippy Cup with some of my fellow students that the BBQ might not be so ‘parent-friendly.’ A quick decision was made to take Mom and Dad for dinner instead at Sage – yet another great spot in Midleton. Luckily, the restaurant was able to fit us in on such short notice, and we again had a lovely dinner together. Truth be told, I’m glad I was able to have a quiet dinner with them, since it was their last night down in Ballymaloe before heading up Dublin in the morning. Once dinner was finished, a part of me didn’t want to leave my parents. I know it might seem silly for me, at 32 years of age, to not want to be on my own without my parents, but that’s exactly how I felt in that moment. I knew that the BBQ would be in full force back at the school, and I suddenly contemplated staying the night with my parents at the hotel. However, I also knew that my parents would just be going to sleep anyway, so I thought better of it and decided to spend some quality bonding time with the others. In the end, despite missing my mom and dad as if I were some kid about to reluctantly embark on his first day of school, I ended up having a great time at the BBQ. Culinary students sure know how to knock ‘em back and let loose! Everyone was in good form that night, and there were some unexpectedly fun moments in the evening. To name but one example, Takashi, a fellow student from Japan and definitely the most well-mannered student in the group, ended up busting out some of the best dance moves I’ve seen in a long, long time. Forget about Jagger, I want moves like Takashi!
On Sunday evening, I did a one-night stage at The Ballymaloe House. At first, I was dreading having to go, but like everything else in life, it ended up being a highlight for me. There is a full buffet-style dinner for the guests on Sunday evenings, and there was a lot of prep work to be done in the kitchen. As the head chef, Jason, was the only one on duty that night, I basically got to work as his sous chef all evening. It was such a great experience, and he gave me a lot of good advice about cooking and about life in general. After the dinner service was finished, I sat down and had some dinner myself, which turned out to be a sampling of everything that was on the buffet tables. I definitely didn’t go hungry that night! Then over a glass of wine for me and a pint for Jason, we had a great chat about working in a restaurant kitchen, the psychology behind working with other chefs, and random anecdotes that Jason had experienced since he started working at The Ballymaloe House. Ultimately, it was a really interesting night, and it shed some new perspective on the life of a chef.
Next week is Week 10 – I can’t believe we are almost finished. I’m just going to heed my parents’ advice and enjoy it as much as I can.
Here are some photos to get you through until my next post…