Ballymaloe – Week 4: The Flop

This week was a mixed bag. It started well, with some small victories in kitchen 3, including my newly developed impeccable standards of hygiene. The thing I was most worried about coming here was keeping on top of the cleaning. When I cook at home, I take pleasure in using every single implement in the house (once) and leaving a trail of flour, onion skins and drips in my wake. In Ballymaloe, I’ve managed to access my alter ego and become Little Miss Neat (excluding the state of my apron). I take pleasure in sponging down my station every 5 minutes, and rendez vous with many colleagues at the sink whilst ‘cleaning as I go’ (a new concept to me). Although I never thought I would admit this, it is far more pleasant to have an organised and shiny place to work, and is essential here where space is often at a premium. My teachers have even met my pal, Miss Neat, and I am consistenly getting 9 out of 10 for hygiene (I do realise that sounds like some sort of consolation prize but consider me consoled)!

My favourite things to cook this week were crab toasts (with edible flowers, home made mayonnaise and freshly murdered crabmeat) and a gorgeous Asian pumpkin soup with loads of fish sauce and lime. They will definitely make their way into my future, spotless kitchen.

crab toasts

Crab meat on sourdough with lemon aioli and edible flowers

pumpkin soup

Pumpkin soup with Thai basil

The second half of this week is best summed up by my cheese soufflé omelette…

Cheese soufflé omlette on fig leaves

Cheese soufflé omelette on fig leaves

What a flop… It looked rubbish (as you can see from my picture), and tasted worse. I was proud of myself having plucked a few fig leaves on my way into school, but it turns out that soufflé omelette and fig leaves react and create a flavour somewhat akin to petrol-soaked cardboard. Who would’ve thought?? I wasn’t surprised that omelette day was my nemesis. Me and omelettes don’t get on. First of all, I find the word ‘omelette’ surprisingly difficult to spell, which always puts me off. Secondly, I don’t like omelettes. They give me a headache, (as does orange juice from a carton and cooked fresh tuna). So when we were told that every student had to make a french omelette, and you could only move on from that task once you had created one, serveable french omelette, I knew it would not be my day. I was right. I reached french omelette number six before my teacher gave up on me and recommended I try again next week. And then I had to eat six dodgy omelettes.

There were a few exciting events this week, one being Ballymaloe bake off. One in every pair had to create a ‘show stopper’ on Tuesday. You had to bake your sponge, split it, fill with butter cream, glaze, pipe, decorate etc… and then there was a competition for the best cake in each kitchen! I was lucky enough to be the member of the pair not baking, so cooked a few easy dishes and then strolled around watching people unleashing their creative sides. All of the cakes looked brilliant in the end, and I’d say Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood would have had a tough time picking a star baker had they been there. It was fascinating watching people who were quiet and retired when it came to savoury dishes, come right out of their shells. Most people seem to have both feet very firmly planted in either the sweet or savoury camp, and so far there hasn’t been much of a crossover. I am most definitely cake averse. My rather dense and crumby (crummy) victoria sponge below is proof (from a non-bake-off day).

 victoria sponge

My victoria sponge

orange cake

Orange cake – prototype from demo

coffee cake

Coffee cake from demo


lemon cake

lemon cake from demo

This week, we also got to go on tour. We hopped onto a pair of buses and headed off to the Mahon Point market. This is a great example of a thriving farmer’s market that benefits not only the stallholders, but also the local economy. It’s set up in the carpark outside a department store, and there is a true symbiotic relationship between the market and big, local retailers such as Tescos and Debenhams. We then headed to Tipperary with our first stop off at Derg Farmhouse cheeses. There, we saw how cheese is made, had a great picnic in the barn and met Jazz the bull (who only gets some action if AI fails). We then visited Peter Ward’s shop in Nenagh, which provides fantastic produce to locals. Finally, we popped into ‘The Butcher’s Daughter‘ where the owner, Una O’Dwyer, told us all about making sausages and pudding. It was inspiring to get out and meet people who are using ethical and sustainable practices to run a food business, but it was also a very long day on a bus. I think we all now know that the ‘Tipperary’ song is true.

Cakes and biscuits at Mahon Point Market

Cakes and biscuits at Mahon Point Market

Cakes and biscuits at Mahon Point Market

Cakes and biscuits at Mahon Point Market

Arbutus bread

Arbutus bread at Mahon Point

Mahon point

Mahon point

Mahon point

Mahon point

Mahon point

Mahon point


A warm welcome at Derg farm

Derg farm

Derg farm

Derg farm

Derg farm


Peter Ward’s shop in Nenagh

Darina warned us that people often lose it in either week five or week ten, so it will be interesting to see how we all cope next week. I’ve started to worry about our upcoming salad, herb and technique exam (in week six), and have had nightmares about setting tables and making piping bags out of paper, so maybe I’ll be the first to have a week five wobble. If I can stay calm and collected and learn one thing, it better be how to make an omelette.


The Ballymaloe dairy, where my cheese lives


Apples in the orchard on my way to school

Chicken and pomegranate salad

Chicken and pomegranate salad (made by Rory O’Connell)


Salads and soup

All in a (tues)day’s work

White bread

White yeast breads

P.S: I’ve just realised that I forgot to mention my children. What a terrible mother I am. The sourdough starter is thriving. He should be ready to flee the nest and become a loaf very soon. I haven’t checked my cheese in about two days now, but she was flying it last time I looked in…

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  1. Eileen Twomey

    Your dishes look amazing Emma! I love all your photos too. Thai pumpkin soup sounds devine🎃 Good luck with week 5 and your omelette making!!

    • Emma

      Thanks Eileen! I need all the support I can get with those omelettes… I’ll pass on the recipe for the soup next time I see you. It is pretty tasty!

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