Ballymaloe Days 36-40 (Week 8) – Another Weekly Recap

Oh, where do I begin? I left my blogging to the end of the week again…although I did like the style of my last weekly blog entry. I’m experimenting, see? Yeah, that’s it. It has nothing to do with being too tired/busy/lazy to do a blog entry at the end of the day. Nope. Not. At. All.

Anyway…let’s talk about what I cooked this week. This turned out to be a short week in the kitchens, as we had a field trip on Thursday, which I’ll tell you about a little bit later. Overall, I think that I had a strong week.

  • On Monday, I made a Thai green vegetable curry with basmati rice and some strawberry jam with redcurrant juice. The veg curry was delicious, and it’s definitely a dish that I’ll be making again. The strawberry jam was the jam! Oh, and the basmati rice came out fine, but come on, it’s basmati rice. It would be pretty hilarious if I screwed that up. (*knock on wood that I don’t screw up basmati rice for the rest of this course*)
  • Tuesday was all about pasta-making. My Italian grandmother would be very proud of me (*shout out to Carmella Iadevaia…love you Nonni!*). I ended up making Pappardelle and Ravioli from scratch with my cooking partner and rolling out the dough with the pasta machine. It’s actually a lot of fun but very time-consuming. I can picture myself doing it in my later years though when I won’t be in such a rush with my life – you know, when my hair has gone even more gray than it is now and I wear knee highs for socks (with one rolled down to my ankle). I also made a chicken liver sauce to go with the pappardelle. I thought it would taste gross, but I liked it. Let’s just say that my savory tooth was pleasantly surprised. I also made a walnut cake with something called “American frosting.” Never heard of frosting having a national origin, but it was delicious, so I’ll go with it. I usually hate making cake, pies, and tarts (definitely no future for me as a pastry chef), but I will make the walnut cake again and bring it over and we can have some tea, okay? That’s how much I liked it. The only problem with walnut cake is getting good walnuts though…Darina pointed out that they go rancid quite easily, and most sold on the market are already rancid. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’ve eaten so many rancid walnuts in my life before coming on this course that I never knew what they actually were supposed to taste like.
  • On Friday, I made some mussels in a Goan sauce (a spicy Indian sauce). Amazing. I couldn’t stop eating them in the kitchen and kept sneaking them when my instructor wasn’t looking. Hee hee. I also made a classic tarte tartin. It came out a little bit goopy because I didn’t caramelize my apples as much as I should have. It’s hard because you think that if you keep them on the burner, they will definitely burn. As Darina mentioned you have to “hold your nerve” when making this…I think I need to start holding my nerve(s) more often. Patience definitely is a virtue in the kitchen…although so is being quick and efficient. Surprisingly, for the first time since I’ve been on the course, I was the first to finish in the kitchen today. This a huge deal when it happens for some reason, and the instructors stop everyone and make an announcement about it. I’m pretty sure that being first to finish will never happen to me again, since I’m usually pretty slow, inefficient, and succumb to the occasional daydream while working in the kitchen. Since I have no desire at the moment to work in an actual restaurant kitchen, I think I’ll be okay.

Wednesday morning began with an introduction to blue cheese (mmmm…new favorite: Crozier Blue –  a sheep’s milk blue cheese) and a cooking demonstration on vegetarian cuisine. Even though I know that I will never become a vegetarian (sorry, there is just no way that I could ever give up meat), I actually enjoy vegetarian dishes. I’m a fan of food items that usually end up being vegetarian-esque: chick peas, tofu, beans, lentils, soy, and uhhh – vegetables. Hey, I even once tried seitan (a.k.a. wheat gluten – looks and kind of tastes like meat), and I kind of liked it. We then enjoyed a lunch of what had been demonstrated by Darina and Rachel, and frankly, I thought it was delicious. In fact, I heard a lot of the die-hard meat-eaters in the class comment on how good they thought the food was.

In the afternoon on Wednesday, we had our fifth wine lecture with Colm. When I first chatted with Colm at the beginning of the course about my interest in pursuing a career in wine, he suggested that I should present a wine to the class. I thought about it for a bit and finally decided on a wine that has recently become a favorite of mine – Nero d’Avola from Sicily. Well, this week, the focus was primarily on Spain and Italy, so it was the perfect opportunity to present my wine. I knew in my head what I wanted to say about the wine and had some notes written on it. I was pretty pumped to get up in front of the class to talk about this wine, but when the moment finally happened, I got super nervous about it. Fortunately, my nerves subsided once I got going…but still. I was relieved when it was all over and rewarded myself with a bag of salt and vinegar chipsticks, which I think is the first non-organic, non-locally sourced, chemically enhanced food item that I have ingested since being on this course…and I have to confess, they were pretty tasty.

Thursday was our field trip day, and we were lucky because the weather was spectacular for it. First on our stop was the Belvelly Smoke House near Cobh (where the Titanic was built incidentally) where artisan fish smoker Frank Hederman smokes organic salmon, mussels, eel, and mackerel in the traditional way. Then we took a ride over to the Mahon Point Farmers Market, had a chance to look around at all the stalls selling a variety of delicious foods, and had some lunch. After that, we were carted away to where they make Cashel Blue Cheese in Fethard, County Tipperary and were allowed to tour the entire facility and sample a lot of delicious cheese (including my new favorite – Crozier Blue – a blue cheese made from sheep’s milk). Finally, we were dropped off in Lismore, County Waterford to explore a number of different food business including McGrath’s Craft Butchers where we were shown around the butcher shop and abattoir (very cool), O’Brien’s Chop House to hear a little about the restaurant business, and finally, a stop at The Summer House Cafe, which is owned and managed by a Ballymaloe alum. All in all, it was a very informative and interesting day…and I got to ride on a bus with a bunch of fun people.

I’m also looking forward to this weekend. The usual suspects and I will be going down to Baltimore, as in West Cork, not Maryland. The good times just never end here…

I will update this later with some photos, but my internet is spotty at the moment.

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Ballymaloe – Weekend Seven

Finally – a relaxing weekend down here without a million and one things going on. Okay, maybe just a million things, but I really needed a break from the all-consuming, full-on pace at which this course progresses. On Friday after demo, I went on a quick trip with Jamie to the Village Greengrocer’s in Castlemartyr for a few things (it is basically the only place to get decent produce around here, apart from the Midleton Farmer’s Market on Saturdays), and once I got back, I was so tired that I took a nap…at 7:30 at night. I should have just gone to bed. Jenn awoke me around 9 o’clock to see f I wanted to go to the pub with her, her boyfriend Jean-Baptiste (who had flown in from Paris to see her for the weekend…ooh la la!), Kait, and a few others. I hemmed and hawed and was pretty indecisive about it. Finally, I declined, figuring that I should stay in and save my energy for Saturday instead.

On Saturday, I awoke bright and early (and hangover-free due to my good decision-making the evening before). I was signed-up to attend an all-day food writing course led by Hugo Arnold. Hugo Arnold is a print journalist, restaurant consultant, and cookbook author (He has written the cookbooks for Wagamama restaurant and for the Avoca Cafe.). Anyway, I thought it might be good to attend this lecture, as I do have a burgeoning interest in writing and of course, I love food…so wouldn’t it be grand to make a career out of combining both, blah, blah, blah? Well, Hugo seemed to think that a career in food writing is not a very financially lucrative one, and he’s probably right. I thought it was pretty interesting/scary that he compared writing to having a baby because “you live with it 24/7, but it can also be fantastically satisfying.” He also told us to write what you believe in, but more times than not in order to do it as a career, you won’t have the luxury of writing what you want or about things that in which you actually believe. Uh oh…now food writing doesn’t sound like such a fun career anymore…but more like a just another soul-destroying j-o-b. It’s the old expectations versus reality conundrum. Wah wah.

Anyway, Hugo also talked about a number of informative topics including the business of writing, recipe writing, recipe-led features for magazines, how to pitch your writing, restaurant review writing, publishing, and something he termed the “gosh factor,” which was basically expressing your own unique writing personality. I did learn quite a bit during the morning session, but by the time the afternoon session took place (after a very carb-heavy lunch of various kinds of delicious pizzas), I was very tired and didn’t feel like doing the two group writing assignments that he gave us. It felt like doing homework, and I hate trying to spontaneously write on a random topic (in this case, the random topic was: what has happened to Irish pork?) in a given time frame. Hmmm…I guess that doesn’t bode well for my interest in a food writing career, does it? Oh well, you never know where life will take you, so I’m still glad that I attended.

On Saturday evening, a couple of students organized a BBQ at The Blackbird Pub to raise money for the India charity that Darina and Tim started. It turned out to be a great evening, and the spread of food was pretty incredible. Well, we are culinary students, so I guess it was to be expected. There also ended up being a great trad session in the pub as well that night. Judging from the amount of dancing and laughing that was going on, it is pretty safe to say that everyone had a good time.

As a result of all the fun and mischief that was had the previous evening, Sunday was a recovery day. I was very productive and managed to get all (and I mean ALL) of my laundry done, organized my recipes, did my order of work for the next day, wrote a number of e-mails, made a few phone calls, and cleaned the kitchen. The tidiness situation in my house has finally become an actual situation for me. Some of my housemates are a bit on the messy side, and the other housemates don’t want to clean up a mess that they didn’t make. So guess what happens? The place (especially the kitchen) ends up looking like a complete sty. I never thought that I would become the resident neat freak of the house, but I really can’t stand a dirty kitchen, so I feel compelled to clean it. Maybe it’s also because I’m the oldest one in the house, but a dirty kitchen is just gross, plain and simple. Is this what being in your thirties does to you? Have I become the token responsible and tidy housemate? Yikes.

Some photos:

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Ballymaloe Days 31-35 (Week 7) – The Week That Was…

Okay, my dear readers, I got a bit lax this week with my daily posts. Please forgive me. It has been hella busy here (well, it always is busy here), so the best I can do is the following post, which will be a stream-of-conscious bullet-point list of all the things that I got up to this week.

  • I started off the week on Monday by making a pork, spinach, and herb terrine. I always thought that the word ‘terrine’ sounded so fancy, and truth be told, I never really knew exactly what a terrine was. Well, it turns out that it is basically a glorified meatloaf and similar in both shape and consistency. I will now drop the word ‘meatloaf’ from my culinary vocabulary and start calling everything ‘terrines.’ It just sounds so much more impressive. I also made a celeriac remoulade, which is the equivalent of cole slaw but sounds way better. So now all my cole slaws will be called ‘remoulade,’ etc. You get the drift.
  • I made a ton of different breads this week. My instructor Sue told me that I needed to challenge myself by preparing a bread every day when I first get into the kitchen, despite the fact that I hate adding things to my order of work, as I start to get panicky and stressed out that I’ll have to rush through everything else. It is also kind of a pain because if it’s a yeast-based bread, then you have to knead the dough for a good amount of time, wait for it to rise, and then keep your eye on the oven, while also trying to do the myriad of other things that you have been assigned. Yet, I didn’t want to appear like I couldn’t rise to the challenge (rise to the challenge, get it? like dough rising…nevermind), so I did a different bread everyday this week. I was glad that I did because the results were quite successful. I ended up making a brown soda bread (because I love soda breads, and they are relatively easy to make once you get the hang of it), a granary loaf (a bread made with malted wheat and rye…perfect for toasted sandwiches), and a bread made with a butter and milk dough (a white yeast bread that is lighter in consistency and has a lovely glossy finish to it).
  • On Monday evening, I attended a wine lecture given by Pat Smith who turned out to have one of the most interesting stories that I have ever heard. Pat was originally a professionally rugby player in the 1970s. He started off playing for Leinster and later was transferred to Toulouse. When he got to France, he needed a job but didn’t speak a word of French. Fortunately, his rugby ties landed him a job in a winery and four years later, he became the chief winemaker at the winery! He now imports wines from the Rhône Valley into Ireland and also works as a wine consultant. His knowledge of wine was endless, and it was obvious from the way he spoke about wine that it was his true passion. He also had such a relaxed approach to wine, which I loved. His basic philosophy was that sharing wine with others is the best experience one can have. I couldn’t agree more! We ended up drinking the following wines, which were all pretty incredible:
    • a 2009 Terra Monti La Perrine (a blend of Viognier and Chardonnay from the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France…and funnily enough, the chief winemaker of this producer is an Irishman originally from Sligo);
    •  a 2008 Priess Zimmer Pinot Gris from the Alsace, which, coincidentally, is where I want to go on my next holiday;
    • a 2007 E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône (Pat’s favorite house wine and described by the French locals as “like an angel doing pee pee in your mouth.” I’m guessing it sounds better when said in French.);
    • a 2009 Pierre Amadieu Gigondas (a Grenache/Syrah blend from the southern Rhône…seen as Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s second cousin but usually ends up being better than a C-du-P and better value too);
    • a 2008 Terra Monti Brion (another Syrah/Grenache blend but this time from the Languedoc-Rousillon); a 2007 Phillippe Guigal Crozes-Hermitage (a very tannic 100% Syrah wine);
    • finally a Guigal Lieu-Dit-Saint-Joseph (a gorgeous Syrah from the northern Rhône).
  • Also on Monday evening after the very long but worthwhile wine lecture, we were able to continue our Mexican feasting from the weekend’s leftovers and invited both the White and Pink Cottages over for dinner.
  • I had the longest day in the kitchen on Tuesday and never ended up having time to eat lunch. It was bound to happen at some point on the course, but I just hope I don’t have too many days like that.
  • I received my results from my technique exams on Tuesday evening. I was so nervous, as we all had to queue in line and go into the office one-by-one to get our grades. It definitely felt like I was in school again. Fortunately, I did a lot better than I thought and miraculously managed to pull off an A average!
  • I made crepes/pancakes for lunch on Pancake Tuesday and had them again for dinner as well. Pancake Tuesday is so much more dignified than Fat Tuesday. I am not giving up anything for Lent this year because I am surrounded by culinary delights that I am expected to taste on a daily basis. I’m sure I could get some kind of special dispensation from the local bishop like we used to get during prom season in high school. As housemate Matthew said, “I am giving up restraint this Lenten season.” I wholeheartedly agree!
  • Wednesday was our last restaurant business lecture with Blathnaid Bergin, which, in turn, inspired Kait, Jenn, and I to come up with our own idea for a restaurant in San Francisco…everything seemed to fall into place with our ideas, and if it actually worked out that two of my favorite people on the course came out to join me in SF, I would be one incredibly happy girl
  • We continued our weekly movie night with showings of ‘A Midnight in Paris’ and ‘Drive’ – two very good movies indeed…due mainly to extended screen time viewing of both Paris in the 1920s and Ryan Gosling.
  • On Thursday, I made the best lunch ever: a pan-grilled steak with a Béarnaise sauce and homemade frites and pommes allumettes (again fancy names for fries/chips) and a cauliflower casserole baked in a Mornay sauce (a Mornay sauce is a Béchamel sauce with grated cheese.).
  • I made some flaky pastry on Tuesday that I used to make a rhubard tart on Friday. It took forever to make the flaky pastry – it should be called pain-in-the-ass pastry. I’m beginning to realize that I don’t have the patience in the kitchen for certain things – rolling out dough, sticking nobs of butter in said dough, folding up dough into some weird origami-like shape only to re-roll it out again, and repeating the process at least three times does not excite me in any way. I’m also realizing that I do not have a sweet tooth in the slightest, and if I’m going to spend extensive amounts of time with my rolling pin and copious amounts of flour, I’d rather be making savoury pastries like a chorizo and cheddar tart or something along those lines. Fortunately, my Friday menu meant that I also got to deep-fry some spring rolls with mushrooms, pork, and crab meat and make a thai dipping sauce, so it made up for all of the sweet stuff.
  • I managed to take walks/jogs down to the beach two more times this week. I am well proud of myself, and I hope that I can keep up this exercise routine now that the days are getting warmer and longer.
  • Peter Ward from Country Choice Delicatessen & Coffee Bar in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary came to talk to us about Parmesan cheese on Thursday afternoon, and he turned out to be quite the motivational speaker. He suggested that when we leave Ballymaloe that we should put a mark on our kitchen walls to remind us of our respective goals and of where we are going each day (“not left of the mark nor to the right of it but dead center on your mark)”. He also proposed that once we leave the school that we always ensure that our food comes from ethical and sustainable origins and not bow to the temptation of buying food of unknown provenance for the sake of convenience. He rightly stated that if we deviate from the principles and education that we receive from Ballymaloe that we no longer can use the proverbial Ballymaloe flag in our careers. His words might seem quite harsh, but I thought he was dead right to say exactly what he did.
  • Incidentally, I also learned that there are 1200 pints of milk in a wheel of Parmesan cheese! Cheese also contains all the necessary vitamins with the exception of C and is the ultimate hit of high energy (better than sugar or protein, as cheese can be metabolized in the body is less than thirty minutes). I knew there was a reason that I liked cheese so much!

Well, that’s it for this week. I am looking forward to a very relaxing weekend. Here’s to getting back on track!

Some photographic images of the week for your enjoyment:

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Ballymaloe – Weekend Six

This weekend marks the end of the halfway point of the course. I know that I’ve been saying it in most of my posts, but time goes by really quickly here. Tempus fugit and all that…

Anyway, this weekend was another good one. After surviving the Friday night drink-a-thon at The Blackbird, we all amazingly awoke at a semi-respectable hour on Saturday morning in order to make it down to the Midleton Farmer’s Market. Our goal was to pick up all of the other ingredients that we needed for the Mexican lunch we were planning for Sunday. Jenn – Texas native and resident expert on all things Mexican (including mariachi bands) –  had been sent a box of authentic Mexican food by her mom (beans, tortilla flour, spices, hot sauce, etc.), and she was planning on putting it all to good use…with a little help from her friends, of course. So Kait, Oisín, Matthew, Jenn, and I piled into Oisín’s car, and off we went to Midleton. We shopped for all of the other ingredients that we needed at the farmer’s market and Super-Valu, which surprisingly has a pretty decent produce selection. Then it was off to Sage for a very leisurely lunch mainly due to our collective semi-comatose state (read: hungover). After we finally managed to drag ourselves out of the place, we went down to the local butchers in Midleton to see if they had pork butt for the highlight of our Mexican feast: slow-cooked pulled pork. Most of us had a snicker at the name of the cut of meat, but(t) despite its name, pork butt actually comes from the larger end of the front shoulder of a pig. Apparently, the word ‘butt’ is named after the kind of barrels that were used to ship the meat across the U.S. Anyway, neither of the two local butchers in Midleton had this cut (I guess it’s not a very popular cut in these parts…Ireland is missing out…demand pork butt from your local butcher’s!), so we had no choice but to drive to Cork City to see if we could get it at the famed English Market. Our little road trip was made easier by blasting Aretha Franklin tunes, and we arrived in Cork in no time. I was happy to get to see a little bit of Cork again, since I had only been there once for a very short time 11 years ago on the way to Kinsale. The English Market is massive with every kind of shop and stall you can imagine, and we had no problems finding our elusive pork butt. Road trip was a success!

Later on in the evening, we met up with Jamie and his two friends who were visiting from England and went to Pat Shortt’s Pub in Castelmartyr for dinner. Pat Shortt is an Irish actor/comedian, but I only know of him from his Jumbo Breakfast Roll song when I used to listen to Irish radio online while sitting at my desk back in my law firm days. Anyway, our dining experience started off on the wrong foot, as when we arrived for our 7:30 pm reservation (a booking that Jamie and I had made in person one day earlier), the most unwelcome host/bar girl/waitress I have ever encountered in my life told us that they didn’t have any bookings for 10 people that night, and we must have made up a story about it. To accuse a potential customer with 9 other potential customers ready and willing to spend a lot of money in your place of business that they are lying was beyond my tolerance level for someone who would have been better suited as a member of the Gestapo than in a customer service position in a restaurant. I was ready to walk out on the spot, but Jamie, with his charmingly British personality, managed to convince her to make room for us…which she eventually did…in the back of the restaurant…near the bathrooms. Oh well. I won’t be back there anytime soon. Sorry, Mr. Shortt – you need to get friendlier staff. Despite the night starting off so poorly, we did make the best of it and had a very lovely evening indeed.

Sunday ended up being such a blast. We all pitched in to help Jenn with her multiple-course Mexican feast. Because I am addicted to avocados, I did a trio of guacamole: Guacamole Tradicional, Guacamole de Frutas (made with pomegranate seeds, mango, and apple), and Guacamole Rojo (made with red onion and chipotle pureed in adobe sauce). Jenn made a delicious Mexican spicy chicken soup and the pulled pork that came out beautifully; Oisín was on tortilla-making duty; and Kait made us all tasty margaritas. ¡Qué fantástico and muy delicioso!

All in all, it was a very good weekend indeed. Now to begin the second half of the course…

Check out some pics, will ya?!

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Ballymaloe Days 29-30 – Exam Day (Gasp!)

Thursday was our last day cooking in the kitchen before our exams commenced on Friday. I prepared caramel salumbos (French cream puffs made with choux pastry and dipped in caramelized sugar) and made a plaited white yeast bread. I was happy with how both items came out, but I did take forever in the kitchen, which is a little disconcerting considering that I was only making two things. Granted, it did take forever for my white yeast bread dough to rise and choux pastry is a bit of a pain (but not as bad as flaky pastry, so I hear). I think everyone assumes a certain personality in the kitchen. Some people are massively efficient and quick, but I think my personality is slow and steady. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, as I like to focus on each dish that I am preparing and really make an effort to get it right. Yet, I am beginning to think that I might have a hard time in a professional kitchen or in a restaurant kitchen setting with all of the time pressures that chefs face daily. However, I am okay with this, since my interests lie more with wine, and there isn’t much speedy multitasking when it comes to wine pairing, opening a bottle of wine, or pouring a glass…at least I don’t think there is.

Thursday evening was spent revising for the exams. The first part of the exam is a herb and salad leaf identification with two recipes listed for each herb, and the second part of the exam is the techniques portion where you are tested on four techniques – two that are mandatory (chop and sweat an onion and make a paper piping bag) and two that are picked at random out of a list of 33 possible techniques. I decided to make a list of all the herbs, draw pictures of them, and then fill in two recipes for each herb. This sounds a lot easier than it actually turned out to be, as I wanted to do a really thorough job and go through my three binders of recipes that I have to determine the herbs that went into all of our dishes that we had made up until this point in the course. Well, I soon realized how time-consuming that study method was turning out, so I then decided to just focus on the first two recipes that I came across for each herb and memorize them. I then went downstairs to practice some of the more trickier techniques. I had already practiced jointing the chicken on Sunday and had filleted two round fish during the week, so I felt somewhat confident there (I even secretly hoped that I got filleting round fish as one of my techniques, as I felt that I could do a pretty decent job.). In any event, I segmented two oranges and then moved on to making French omelettes. Luca gave me some pointers, and by my third try, my omelette-making skills were pretty solid…or at least respectable. The rest of the evening was spent with Matthew who had made herb and recipe flashcards (yes, herb and recipe flashcards), and we tested each other for a good while on those. Afterwards, I laid out my clean chef whites for the next day, and despite my night owl tendencies, I managed to go to bed at a decent hour for the first time since I can remember.

On Friday morning, I awoke with a feeling of nervous anticipation. Despite the fact that I have taken countless exams in my life, I still had that same butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. I guess when the word “test” or “exam” is attached to anything, it will always cause that same unshakeable reaction in me.  I tried to alleviate the nerves by listening to some music that normally motivates me, but no matter how many times that I listened to “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes that morning, it didn’t seem to have any effect (Thanks for nothing, Jack White.). During the morning, we had a lovely demonstration on pizza-making with Rory, but I couldn’t get myself to concentrate fully on it. I kept reviewing my herbs and salad leaves in my head and felt panicky thinking about the techniques that  would be assigned to me.

After a lunch that I just picked at (I can never eat when I am nervous, and what a shame too, since there was such an amazing spread of delicious foods.), I had some time to spare before my exam time. I reviewed everything again and tried to relax. Once my scheduled exam time came around, I felt as ready as I was ever going to be. The herb and salad leaf recognition part of the exam went okay, although I think I might have mixed a couple of them up. I was then asked to lay a formal place setting and present a bottle of wine and pour a glass for a customer. I did both perfectly and thankfully so, since if I can’t do either of those things, then I would be in real trouble with my aspirations of becoming a sommelier. So I got a little boost of confidence there..which was only short-lived.

I waited to be called into Kitchen 2 where the technique exam was taking place. All of the doors and windows had been covered up in newspaper, so you couldn’t see what was going on in the rooms. The exam times were backed up slightly, so I didn’t up going in for the techniques until well-after my originally allotted time. When I got to my assigned station, I was told that my techniques would be to chop and sweat an onion, make a paper piping bag, make caramel sauce, and make a French omelette. I was initially happy with my assigned techniques, as I had practiced them, and they didn’t seem too complicated. Well, my initial happiness soon turned to outright panic because guess who my judge turned out to be? Only THE Rachel Allen! As soon as I realized this, I nearly died. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely adore Rachel, but having someone who is one of the most recognizable faces in the culinary sphere in Ireland and the UK is more than a bit intimidating – no matter how down-to-earth and sweet she actually is in real life. Anyway, I ended up getting really shaky, which is a strange reaction for me since I always have steady hands. Yet, I couldn’t stop my hands from trembling the entire time I was in the kitchen, which is bad because in case you were wondering, you do need your hands a lot when cooking (Oh, that was sarcastic, wasn’t it? Sorry.). In the end, I managed to perform all of the techniques without any major catastrophes, but suffice it to say that I didn’t feel that my performance was indicative of my actual abilities in the kitchen. Oh well. I’m pretty sure that I passed…but not with flying colors. Passed with minimal competency is probably more like it.

After the exam, I was ready to pass out, so I took a quick nap to recharge my brain. Jamie and I then drove into Ballycotton to pick up my order from the local green grocer’s for the Mexican lunch we were having on Sunday with Jenn, Kait, Oisin, Zoe, Matthew, and Cat. Then we had a lovely supper at Jamie’s of green salad with goat’s cheese and a chorizo risotto. This all sounds so incredibly civilized…I forgot to mention that we also drank copious amounts of wine and cocktails to de-stress…and ended up in the Blackbird later on in the evening with the majority of the other Ballymaloe students. We deserved a night free from worry and anxiety, and we made damn sure that that’s what we got!

A few pics, including my the progress of my practice attempts at making French omelettes and my caramel salumbos and plaited white yeast bread:

Ballymaloe Day 28 – Tapas Bravas

Today began with a wine lecture on French wines by sommelier Colm McCann and Pascal Rossignol who owns and runs the specialty wine boutique Le Caveau in Kilkenny. Pascal originally hails from Gevrey-Chambertin in the Côte-d’Or region of Burgundy. He basically grew up among vineyards and has worked in every facet of the wine industry – from being a sommelier in a top restaurant to now running one of Ireland’s pre-eminent wine merchant businesses that sources wines for the top hotels and restaurants in Ireland. I chatted with him for a bit during the break and told him that I recently drove from Dijon to Beaune and attended the October dinner of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin at the Château du Clos de Vousgeot, which was certainly an experience of a lifetime.

Drinking wines at 10:00 a.m. might not be for everyone, but I don’t mind one bit…especially when we get to taste expensive and/or famous wines like a 2007 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet, a very well-known white wine from a very famous producer. Hey, it beats a glass of OJ for breakfast!

Afterwards, we were treated to another excellent demo by Chef Rory O’Connell, and the best part was that it featured a myriad of tapas. Rory made every thing from albonigas (spicy Spanish meatballs) to patatas bravas to pulpo a la Gallega (a.k.a. Galicean-style octopus). He even prepared one of my favorite dishes that I discovered in Barcelona – huevos estrellados con chorizo (broken eggs with chorizo). I mean who doesn’t like runny eggs over chips with some chorizo thrown into the mix? Nobody, that’s who. We got to try everything and wash it down with two sherries: a Lustau Fino Jarada (a crisp light-bodied sherry that pairs beautifully with olives, salted almonds, and fish) and a Lustau Palo Cortado (a special sherry that is produced unintentionally when a fino or amontillado loses its protective layer of flor in the barrel). Sherry and tapas are a match made in culinary heaven, and Rory suggested that if I ever open a wine bar in San Francisco, I should consider focusing it on sherry and tapas. We shall see…

After demo, most people had a quiet evening in order to start preparing for our technique exams. I found out that my scheduled time is on Friday in the later afternoon. I’m starting to get a bit nervous. Will what I have learned so far on the course come together during the exam or will I fail miserably under the pressure of the exam setting? Eeek.

Mas fotos:

Ballymaloe Day 27 – Lust for Knife

There was clearly a Valentine’s Day theme going on here today at Ballymaloe. Every food item that was made was either heart-shaped, garnished with hearts, plated in a heart-shaped dish, or served on a plate with hearts. Considering my annual tradition since my college days to celebrate Valentine’s Day is to watch a suitably unromantic movie (preferably Platoon or any movie with graphic violence)  and/or repeatedly listen to “Sour Times” by Portishead (it’s the song with the lyrics ‘nobody loves me, it’s true.’), I’m usually not so keen about the 14th of February, but I did get a laugh out of the whole over-the-top display they had going on down here. Fellow student John (of cake proposal fame) sent instructor Pam a pretty raunchy Valentine’s Day card during the start of the afternoon demo. I had heard what was written in the card beforehand, and it was quite hilarious. Poor Pam seemed pretty embarrassed and at a loss for words, which I suspect doesn’t happen to her all that often.

Oh yeah…what did I do in the kitchen today? Well, for starters, I filleted not one but two fish – a pollock and a monkfish. It was definitely good practice for the techniques exam, and now I kind of hope that I get filleting a round fish for one of my techniques. My knife skills are certainly better when it comes to fish as opposed to chicken. The monkfish, which are so ugly that they can only be classified as cute, was part of my Caribbean fish curry that I was preparing, and it came out really well. My plating looked a little sloppy in the end, but I blame this on my rice pilaf dome, which ended up looking more like a nebulous oval shape than a dome, but who cares? It tasted great, and after my instructor graded me, I sneakily ate the rest of the tasting plate myself in the kitchen! I will definitely be making that fish curry again. I also had to make melted leeks, and I was so worried about overcooking them that I ended up slightly undercooking them. Figures…but I’ll know for the next time.

Seeing as we got out of demo a little bit early and with the weather being absolutely beautiful, I decided to go for a run to the beach (yeah, even I was impressed with myself). Well, my physical efforts were rewarded because there was an absolutely gorgeous sunset stretching across Shanagarry this evening. The sky was streaked with pink and purple hues (very apropos for the day that was in it) across the horizon, and with a seemingly unending stretch of beach as the setting, it was certainly a stunning view. Later on in the evening, a number of students went to the Blackbird Pub, tempted by promises of “Free Sex…(On the Beach)”….as in the drink, gutterheads. The usual suspects stayed in, drank a few bottles of wine, and ended up watching “Withnail and I”…a suitably unromantic movie. Very fitting indeed!

As a token of my platonic love, here are some pics.

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