Friday 3 April 2015

Week 12: Exams and Farewells

I’m not sure how to start this post. It feels weird because this is the last update of my Ballymaloe adventure. 

I missed Monday, the last day in the kitchen as I wasn’t feeling well but I was back on Tuesday morning for our last demo with Rory O’Connell. 

Funnily enough it was one of my favourites because it included a few dishes I absolutely love. Rory demonstrated how to make beef carpaccio, beef tartare, warm oysters with champagne sauce and my childhood favourite ‘oeufs à la neige’ (floating islands). Anyhow it was weird to sit in the demo room for the last time and I was even thinking about how I’d miss those uncomfortable chairs. Darina and Sharon did the draw for the bread which we would have to make during the exam and once again I was lucky to get something I was happy with: the Ballymaloe brown yeast bread.

Then we had our last buffet lunch in the Garden café and after that some people had to cook items for their exam menu ahead of time. I went home to start packing and write my order of work for my practical exam the next morning.

I came back to the school later in the afternoon for my one-to-one meeting with Darina Allen. If you want to work somewhere Darina has contacts all over the world and can help you but as I want to work for myself she couldn’t really do much. It was more an excuse to talk to her and thank her for everything. I have ideas about what to do next, all I need is the confidence.

After my meeting I headed to the demo room for a talk given by Ari Weinzweig from Zingerman’s. I just loved how inspirational he was and he said exactly the things I needed to hear. He made us do an exercise and imagine we were 5 years in the future. This made me realise it was time to have a vision for the blog, the brand and my professional life in general and to work towards it. I’ve been living day-to-day and enjoying it but it’s time to speed things up, forget my fears and just do things. He said that if you don’t know what you want to do, you will just end up doing things for people who do. I just couldn’t agree more and I certainly don’t want to be one of those people. After that I got all emotional and called Mr. FFID to tell him I was ready to go back to the real world and turn my ideas into reality.

On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to start at 8 am when the kitchen was very quiet. For the practical exam, you have 3 hours to cook a 3 course meal (3 Ballymaloe recipes that you choose in week 10) as well as a randomly selected bread. I wasn’t too nervous but deboning and preparing my leg of lamb took me too much time. I was very happy with the look of my brown yeast bread but when I had to plate my meringue roulade I noticed it was uncooked in the middle but it was too late. After two hours I thought I was doing ok and would finish on time but then I’m not really sure of what happened, cleaning up and plating up took ages and I finished almost an hour late. I wasn’t the only one anyway, many of us went over the time, which means points are going to be deducted but it’s not a big deal. Rachel Allen, her husband Isaac (Darina and Tim Allen’s son) and JR the pastry chef at Ballymaloe House tasted my food but thankfully not in front of me. I couldn’t have faced them tasting my uncooked meringue roulade and would have felt so embarrassed! Anyway, it was great to have it done and I was able to relax in the afternoon.

On Thursday morning I went to the school’s glasshouse for the very last time and couldn’t believe how huge all the salad leaves and herbs looked. When we started the course back in January lots of plants were dormant and three months later I could hide in a jungle of kale.

I was thinking of the next class of students who would get to see all the delicious summer vegetables and fruits.

After that, I went to Mahon Point farmers market with my housemate and it was absolutely lovely. It was busy and the atmosphere was great with live music and people having lunch onsite. I liked it more than on my first visit as it was buzzing, it’s the best Irish food market I’ve been to so far (even better than the English market in Cork in my opinion) and I wish we had one like it in Dublin!

On Friday we had our three written exams, which weren’t easy at all. I was actually in shock at how difficult they were. The questions were about absolutely everything we covered for the last 12 weeks with some seriously tricky ones. We’ve been given so many notes about every topic and it was quite hard to remember everything. We will get the results in about 2 months and I’m really hoping that I passed.

So after the exams it was time to pack and tidy my bedroom. I went to the pub with my housemate, where a few of our classmates were already having drinks and then it was almost time for our farewell dinner at the school.

We all headed to school at 6.30pm where we were welcomed by our teachers with drinks, canapés and live music. Everyone looked so glamorous after being so used to seeing each other in chef whites for the last 12 weeks.

The set up in the Garden Café was so pretty, with chandeliers, daffodils and beautiful menus on the long tables. Rory O’Connell and the teachers prepared a delicious meal for us that we all enjoyed together, the same way we all had pizza on our first night 12 weeks ago. 

It was an emotional evening, especially when some of the students played music and sang. This was when I started crying and realised that the adventure was over. We all headed to the Blackbird pub in Ballycotton to have a few drinks, I have to say it became a little blurry after that but it was a great night with the teachers and students having fun and partying before saying their goodbyes.

The next morning I woke up to an empty house as my housemates had all gone. I got a text from my housemate Mandy who told me that she left something in her room for me. I opened the door and found a sweet geranium plant! We’ve been using sweet geranium leaves for desserts and garnish for the last three months and the smell probably haunts any person who has done the Ballymaloe course. I read the card that was next to it and cried,  I couldn’t stop.  When Mammy Mr. FFID and Mr. FFID picked me up from the Shanagarry Holiday village and I closed the door on the big empty living room, I had one last little cry. 

It was so rewarding and brilliant to be a culinary student in that most special of places. I now know why it is so respected both in Ireland and internationally. It’s more than a cookery school, it’s a lifestyle and a philosophy. It wasn’t a holiday, it was though and exhausting sometimes but it will be three months of my life that I will never forget and had brought me skills that I will have forever.

Thank you so much to Darina Allen, Rory O’Connell, Rachel Allen, the teachers and all the staff at Ballymaloe Cookery School for this amazing culinary experience!

Thanks to Grow It Yourself International and founder Michael Kelly for organising the raffle that changed my life and merci to Mr. FFID who bought me the golden ticket that made a dream come true. It was meant to be!