Monday, 23 February 2015

Week 7: Tarts and Exam Results

On Saturday morning I was delighted to discover the article I wrote for the Irish Independent in their weekend supplement. As it was the day Ireland was playing France in the rugby, the magazine had a French themed to it. The article was about how I fell for Dublin and I got some lovely feedback from people on my Facebook page. (If you wish to have a read, the online version can be found here.)

Mr. FFID was visiting so at lunchtime I treated him to a heart-shaped pizza in the school’s cafe for a Valentine’s lunch. Every Saturday, Philip (Darina’s son-in-law) runs the ‘Saturday Pizzas’ made in a wood-burning oven. The specials change weekly and are totally up my alley with the most delicious toppings using seasonal ingredients. I absolutely loved the slow roasted shoulder of pork with kale, aioli and thyme pizza.

After a rather quiet weekend (I always have to recover from the full-on week) I was back in kitchen 2 on Monday morning. We change station, teacher and kitchen partner every week and except from a lovely view from where I was, Monday wasn’t great for me for some reason. Kitchen 2 is my least favourite kitchen so far. It’s a bit chaotic in the corner I was in and the sinks seemed to always be a little messy. First off I had to make white yeast bread, which I enjoyed making but it took very long to rise because the kitchen wasn’t warm enough. However, it was exciting to see my little rolls coming out of the oven by lunchtime. I also made a raspberry fool and shortbread biscuits that morning, they weren’t the most exciting food ever but every day is different and we get to cook so many different things that practice is all that matters.

Rory’s demo in the afternoon cheered me up as it was all about things I love eating. He covered lots of French food: terrines, pâté, confiture d’oignons, soufflés and crêpes. As I spoke to other students it seemed that they were less enthusiastic at the idea of making coarse pâtés, maybe it’s a cultural thing.

On Tuesday I was much happier in the kitchen and excited at the idea of making pâté de campagne. There was so much meat in my pâté that a vegetarian would have fainted at the sight of it. I also made a beetroot and ginger relish as well as a delicious cheese soufflé using Glebe Brethan.

In the afternoon Rory demonstrated several different pies using flaky pastry, salads, stews and tarts. He also claimed that the Italian beef stew is better than beef bourguignon, sacrebleu I’m not sure about that one Rory!

At the start of the demo we got a quick talk by Helene from Coolea Irish farmhouse cheese. Helene and Dick Willems started making a Gouda style cheese in West Cork in 1980 and since then it has won many Irish and International awards. Mature Coolea is amazing and if you haven’t tasted it, you should get yourself some!

After the demo we had to queue to the office to get our mid-term exams’ results. Imagine the pressure of having someone who you admire (Rory O’Connell) giving you your results. Well, I was over the moon when he told me that I scored 100% at my herb and salad exam and 96% at my technical exam. As you can imagine I really want to do well at the course so I was quite chuffed and more than a little relieved.

Wednesday was time for the second and final part of our business course with Darina’s sister.  It was a long day to be sitting in a classroom for all of us, time goes much quicker in the kitchen I have to say but it gave me plenty of food for thought (excuse the pun).

On Thursday morning I was up early and ready to pick herbs at 7.30am with two other students and Igor, one of the gardeners. We went to the glasshouse to pick flat leaf and curly parsley as well as sweet geranium leaves. It is these little things that that make the course so immersive, so special and unique. I have never heard of sweet geranium before I got here but Darina always raves about it and we use it in so many desserts or as a garnish. I’m honestly thinking about getting a sweet geranium plant and naming it ‘Darina’ when I’m back in Dublin.

Back in the kitchen I was rather busy making flaky pastry, a bitter endive salad with anchovy dressing and mini caramelised apple tarts. I had a good day and enjoyed the dishes I made, I also got to taste my pâté de campagne and wished I could have sent some to my parents back in France.

In the afternoon Pam, one of the senior teachers showed us how to make ice cream, fillet a monkfish, make ciabatta bread and create a Ballymaloe apple tart.

Without even noticing it Friday was upon me. It’s always a mixture of feelings, I’m happy because it means I’m able to rest for the weekend but I’m also sad to see that I’m getting closer to the end of the course. It wasn’t a bad day in the kitchen, I did Vietnamese spring rolls with a dipping sauce, a Ballymaloe gooseberry tart with crème anglaise as well as brown soda bread. I think in the last 7 weeks I’ve made more tarts than in my entire life beforehand, you certainly get to practice here! It was my last day ever in kitchen 2 after spending three weeks there and to be honest with you, I’m delighted to be moving to the quieter demo kitchen for week 8.

Friday’s demo was my favourite as Rory taught us how cut steaks, make spiced beef, ratatouille, French-fried onions, coleslaw and a bunch of other dishes. Rory suggested that we all take a few deep breaths and relax this weekend as this stage of the course can be the toughest for some students.

As I’m getting closer to the end (only 5 weeks left!) I’m thinking about what I’m going to do afterwards and it’s a little scary. I’d like to keep working for myself but I’d love to get some experience in cooking in a professional kitchen to practise the skills gained in Ballymaloe. I have to hurry and book a ‘one to one’ with Darina before the end of the 12 weeks as every student can get some career advice from her, as long as they make her a perfect cup of tea and maybe some biscuits. In the meantime, if you have any advice for me I’m open to suggestions!

“I personally think that this is better than beef bourguignon” – Rory O’Connell talking about Italian Beef stew.

“This is Jersey cream…you can almost spoon it out into your mouth” - Pam about to pour some cream over a slice of tart.

All pictures taken with an iPhone 4S