|The cookery school|
I have just returned from a week in Ireland, where amongst other places, I stayed at the Ballymaloe hotel near Cork and also visited their renowned cookery school.
It was Myrtle Allen who started the whole story off by opening a restaurant in her own home in 1964 – but this was no ordinary place to eat, as Myrtle was determined to use only local produce, some of it grown on her husband’s farm, or brought from local farmers in county Cork and even “foraged” from the surrounding woods and hedgerows. Eventually, the restaurant became so popular that Myrtle turned most of her home into a hotel, so that well fed customers could stay over night.
She championed the wonderful local food that small scale growers were producing and started to show just how conducive the Irish climate and soils were in this part of the country for food production. She had her own food programme on television, which became a huge hit, but not content with only promoting Irish food in Ireland, she opened a stall in the middle Paris, selling and promoting a wide range of fresh Irish produce, including fish. Myrtle was also the first person to bring the whole idea of farmers markets to Ireland (long before the UK had thought of it!) having seen first-hand how the markets were run in parts of America.
In 1968, a young girl called Darina O’Connell arrived to work at the hotel, attracted by the reputation that had now put Ballymaloe firmly on the map. Darina worked alongside Myrtle and learnt quickly that “fresh, local and seasonal” were key words in the hotel. She not only learnt to cook but also to teach cookery, as Myrtle was by now running classes during the winter months to keep the hotel filled.
In 1970, Darina married Myrtle’s oldest son and in 1983 she opened up the Ballmaloe cookery school which is now internationally famous having attracted guest chefs such as Rick Stein, Madhur Jaffrey and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall amongst many others.
The cookery school has just celebrated its thirty years by publishing a delicious new book (with a hundred plus recipes) on the history of the school, aptly named "30 years at Ballymaloe" - a real must for those of you who love "real" food! For more info go to: http://www.ballymaloe.com/