Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Last Post

So the three months at Ballymaloe were over. Exams done, house cleared, car packed, time to go.
But it wasn’t that simple. Three months in the bubble meant that the umbilical was still there, still strong. It had to be cut but in a gentle manner. My re-entry to the real world needed to be gradual not some sort of caesarean section.
I needed some sort of comfort blanket so a cunningly devised rehab was devised,
Some easing away from Orchard Gardens, and into Coed Eva.  A routine to prepare for reality. So, after Darina’s farewell it was off to the Farmers Market for one last time.
I wanted to take some good ingredients with me. Three months of cooking with the best meant that I would only accept the best at home.
That done where to spend the night? Obviously Ballymaloe House!

Checking in (with the student discount) was one step towards home. It also gave me the opportunity to show my newly acquired wine knowledge, successfully choosing a white by the Allegrini family and then pouring PX over the vanilla ice cream.
Which of these could you cook? asked Janet, perusing the menu. Actually all of them I was able to respond.

A lengthy, and for me, very alcoholic dinner later I slept the best sleep for three months. Not once did I dream of food. My order of work didn’t make me wake in a panic and a large bed afforded comfort which had been lacking in my small cell in Orchard Gardens.
On reflection the Ballymaloe existence had been almost monastic. Early rising followed by hard labour , lunch and exhortation to greater heights followed by contemplation and a little rest before repeating the experience.
Now I was free!!
A massive breakfast combining a small farmyard on a plate, half of the Irish oat production for 2010, flour in its bread, cake and croissant forms with a small tropical country’s worth of coffee set me up for my last day on Irish soil – for a while.

Shopping for ingredients in Supervalu and loading two cool boxes and several bags completed the morning and I headed d own the route taken by so many colleagues back to Rosslare.
Stops for a late lunch and an early dinner saw us at Europort watching lorries loading. I guess that Sunday nights in December are not the busiest and the terminal building was deserted, even the coffee stall was closed. It did eventually open, but I seemed to be the only customer.

Our Priority Loading status meant that we were first onto the ferry, though the other three cars in line had saved €18 and followed us on.
At 8:40 we cast off and the Ballymaloe adventure was over.
So why did it take 2 months to write it up ?
I was waiting for the exam results to round it off.
Eventually they arrived – and I passed!!

So this is the last of Bill’s Ballymaloe Blog. It was real fun to write, hopefully summed up the experience from a student’s point of view and entertained a little along the way.
Now for the new blog. All about local foods, mainly from Wales but in reality from wherever I happen to be, and find something good to write about. So over the next few weeks expect reports from Ireland, Italy and Spain, as I travel around a bit. And where to find my musings?

Monday, 3 January 2011

Last day at Ballymaloe

And so it ended.
A big meal, and party, for the end of term. The Kitchen 3 Dining room transformed by decorations, students dressed to impress, a small band playing, drinks flowing and a strange mixture of sadness and joy.

The meal coked by Rory and the teachers was wonderful, an amazing soup, more Lamb, the creamiest gratin dauphinoise and a dessert to die for.

The hard core students then moved on to the Blackbird to party the night away. Well, many did. Some, booked on early morning ferries, took early nights and some were due to leave at 2am for their new jobs working in ski chalets across the continent.
I returned to the house to complete my packing and prepare for departure.
Saturday morning meant final goodbyes to housemates, welcoming friends calling in on their way home and even the odd refugee who failed to make it home after a night at the Blackbird!!
The final act of the course was Coffee at 11am with Darina. Over fine coffee and cakes we received our valedictory words, said goodbyes and it was all over.

A sense of emptiness crept over me. Some students had referred to the Ballymaloe Bubble, a small area of the world exempt from reality in which our own realities and aims and ambitions were all that mattered. Bursting the bubble and emerging into the outside wall was strange.
Immediately things were different.
The familiar surroundings of kitchens and Demo seemed alien in their silence and emptiness, close friends from the course seemed different somehow, no longer bound by common experience but individuals with their own lives to re-commence. Many would keep in touch but some would leave for ever.
A final walk around the grounds and away.
Whatever was to come the three months at Ballymaloe was a life changing experience, my skills had improved exponentially, my understanding deepened, and my passion for food and cooking reinforced and focussed. I came a keen amateur, I left dedicated and enrichened by the Ballymaloe experience.
To everyone involved, students, teachers, Rory, Darina, Rachel, the support staff whether administrative or on the farm my heartfelt thanks, I met you as strangers, I left you as friends.
Now I have to use the knowledge and skills that I gained to further the future of food. Whatever happens I will always be part of the Ballymaloe family and will obey the command on the blackboard.