Friday, December 11, 2009
83 Days at Ballymaloe
We made it! I'll have to go buy myself a few larger pairs of pants, but we made it. It breaks my heart to realize that it's over. Well, not over yet. I woke up to take the three dreaded written exams, from 9-3:30, with a couple breaks for lunch and tea. I hadn't sat through 5 hours of exams since college, and boy was I rusty! It was a long, drawn out exercise in creative guessing. In other words, a train wreck.
I wracked my brains to list brands of olive oil (basically making up Italian sounding names like "Il bueno" or "Ciao bella"), or what type of bread would need "Gram" flour (what the HECK is gram flour??), or what dishes contained obscure spices like "fenugreek" (when in doubt, curry). And don't even get me started on the fish identification. All flat fish look the same!
Truth be told, I could have studied a little more... a lot more. But my last days in Ireland were better spent. After thorough cleaning of our cottage, it was time to dress for dinner! When we returned to the school at 6:30, the tremendous teachers had transformed our mild mannered dinning room by day into a Christmas banquet hall by night! Live music, candles, and prosecco abounded. Hors d'oeuvres, celeriac and hazelnut soup, roast turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding and plenty, plenty of wine - it was a great party. We capped off the night at our old friend, the Black Bird Pub.
I couldn't help but think, as I fell asleep, how lucky I am to have had the privilege of spending 12 weeks at such a unique and unparalleled place. We didn't just learn how to cook, we learned a new way to think about food, ingredients, and the farmers and artisan producers who make it all possible. What Darina Allen has created at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and what Rory, the teachers, and all the staff maintain day-in and day-out, is nothing short of spectacular. Forever grateful, I'll never forget it.