Bally 3125 001

Food and Travel Review

Food and Travel Review

January 2016

As I watch Ireland’s long-reigning culinary queen, Darina Allen, tease some very small shrimps into a quails egg, I am instantly transported to a childhood visit to Windsor Castle, where I stood transfixed by the most famous doll’s house in the world. An exact replica of an aristocratic home on the tiny scale of 1:12, Queen Mary’s prized possession is an ode to artistry, craftsmanship and a healthy dose of perfectionism. As are Darina’s canapés.

To be sure, piping mashed potato on to a shepherd’s pie small enough to be demolished in a single bite is not for the easily frustrated, but if you are a perfectionist, an obsessive or a miniature enthusiast, you are going to get a serious kick from this course.

Ballymaloe is often named among the top ten cookery schools in the world, and the quality of the ingredients alone justifies its place on such a list. Founder Darina and her brother, Rory O’Connell, have been leading lights in the organic movement for 30 years, and most of what we are using today is grown on the school’s own 100-acre farm, or sourced from specialist producers in County Cork.

This grand-dame of cookery schools offers courses to suit every level, from kids’ pizza sessions to those looking to make the transition to becoming professional chefs. Some particularly unusual offerings are Food Trucks: Irish Style and Hands-On Lamb Butchery.

The half-day Canapés, Finger Foods and Tasty Bites class is taught entirely by demonstration in the airy kitchen. A large mirror on the ceiling and artfully positioned TV screen ensures that we don’t miss any of the detail.

As the class progresses, Darina demonstrates enough canapés to satisfy hordes of hungry New Year’s guests: spicy meatballs with pomegranate raita, fish kebabs, teeny Yorkshire puds with rare roast beef; each offering is more innovative and beautifully crafted than the last. There’s a host of handy kitchen techniques to master as well. Darina demonstrates a kneading method that results in airy filo pastry (which she later crafts into tartlets), and the knife skills that she employs to cut slithers of salmon bring to mind watching a master sushi chef at work.

Could I reproduce the magnificent spread in my own home? Only if I invested in an infinite supply of shrunken props: toothpicks with tiny hearts on the end, a real bird’s nest to cradle quail’s eggs, enamel dishes big enough to hold just two canapés. However, as I eat the products of Darina’s labours – a highlight of any course – I realise that my attitude to finger food has been transformed; designed to excite the senses rather than satisfy hunger, it can be one of the most creative and fulfilling forms of cooking.

Courses range from half-days to 12-week certificate programmes. Prices start from £35,

Our Specialities

What you can learn at our cookery school

  • Advanced Chef Skills
  • Foraging
  • Global Cuisines
  • Health & Nutrition
  • Knife Skills


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