Darina Allen, founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School and author of numerous cookbooks, was the featured author at the March Cookbook club dinner at Ely, an excellent event that has become a monthly Gunter highlight. Before the dinner, a lucky group of bloggers–Bill and me included!–spent an hour chatting with Allen about her foodie path.
Having attended Darina’s session at the Clare Slow Food Festival in Lisdoonvarna last May, we knew she was an excellent speaker and teacher. During her session in Clare I found myself thinking “Why would I ever buy soda bread when it is so easy to bake,” and “I do want to eat lamb kidneys!” [Lamb kidneys, like lambs, are very cute!] The qualities that make her a great teacher are even more evident in conversation–she’s personable and passionate, and through her personality makes her passions accessible.
Darina told us many stories ranging from how she is learning to use her iPad (all her books were written long hand), to the first time she was on QVC begrudgingly surrounded by shamrocks and leprechauns (her cookbook sold out!). I found it interesting to see how Darina’s willingness to act in pursuit of her passion has placed her squarely on the path of Irish food and cuisine:
- Wanting to be a chef when there were practically no female chefs in Ireland, she heard of Myrtle Allen’s restaurant in County Cork, got a job there, became part of the family and started a cooking school.
- After visiting some markets in the US, she started a farmers’ market in Midleton. At the time many farmers thought it lowly to sell veggies by the side of the road and she even received hate mail, but Darina worked at the market herself and now many farmers credit the farmers’ market for allowing them to stay on the land.
- When she realized modern cooks in her school didn’t fully understand where butter came from, she wrote a compendium of traditional Irish recipes and basic food techniques, Forgotten Skills of Cooking, which is a finalist for the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) 2011 Cookbook Awards.
Darina was very gracious and generous with her time. The other two bloggers were great company as well. A few days later we learned that they both were finalists in the Irish Blogger Awards. We were truly in the presence of greatness! Check them out: Aoife from I Can Has Cook and Kristin from Dinner Du Jour.
A few other topics worth mentioning:
Earlier on the day of Cookbook club, Darina presented awards at the Irish Food Writers’ Guild Awards, which honored these producers:
- Janet Drew for Janet’s Country Fayre Beetroot Blush (Wicklow)
- Brian and Lindy O’Hara for Coopershill House Irish Venison (Sligo)
- Pat O’Neill for O’Neill Foods Dry Cured Rashers, Bacon and Ham (Wexford)
- John Flahavan of Flahavan’s (Waterford); environmental award
- Artisan baking innovator, Derek O’Brien; Lifetime Achievement Award
Darina is involved with GM Free Ireland, a topic I should probably learn more about. I do think as an island Ireland has the unique opportunity to protect its food system.
Photo used by permission The Cookbook Club
Coming up next: Tasty dinner from Forgotten Skills.