As a child, I can remember Darina Allen visiting my home during food festivals in County Kerry. I’d shy away in the kitchen while Darina chatted to my mother about local produce and farming. I recognised her as a TV star of the shows I had been glued to. Darina would travel from Ballymaloe to events and festivals to share her passion of food and cooking tips. Her love and pride for Ballymaloe and its graduates was obvious to me, even as an eight year old.
In August of this year, I was fortunate enough to meet Rachel Allen. Also renowned for being a top chef in Ireland, Rachel is a graduate of Ballymaloe and a savvy business woman. Thankfully as a 31 year, I didn’t shy away on this occasion.
Organised by AIL events and hosted at Bord Bia headquarters, it seemed the perfect location for the event. As I sipped on a massive coffee and mingled with the other attendees, I prepared for the hunger pangs that would sneak in as Rachel embarked on a two hour cooking extravaganza. The down to earth approach of making traditional buns served with cream and simple but perfect salads with fresh ingredients from Ballymaloe made my mouth water throughout.
The party piece (literally) was a chest of sandwiches. A fresh loaf of bread was transformed into a unique manner of serving sandwiches. Rachel sliced out the centre, made at least six sandwiches and then popped them back inside as a presentation option. Describing it perfectly, Rachel described how Myrtle Allen would never show up to a party without a chest of sandwiches, back in the day.
Rachel not only made an impact because of her charming manner and of course, her expertise. Her techniques of preparing such simple dishes and adding a romance to them sparked an excitement in me. We can make sandwiches and bring them to a party or, we can make a chest of sandwiches. Similarly, we can pull out the baking trays and make cupcakes or we can make traditional buns in all their perfect glory.
The kitchen doesn’t have to be fancied up or even constantly used. It can become a place where we go back to tradition and make a green salad with juicy tomatoes straight from the garden. Likewise, it can be a place to make something tasty for a friend we’re visiting. It can be as quick and simple as we like or it can be a bigger project. In any event, it’s about the food we enjoy and who we share it with.
Finishing up the event, we heard of Rachel’s collaboration with O’Brien’s Sandwich bars. A range of salads comprising chicken caesar, beet and a powerhouse option (full of energy creating super foods) have been especially selected as part of the signature range. On my last trip to O’Briens, I tried the chicken caesar and I felt rather full and satisfied.
As if juicy tomatoes and buns weren’t amazing enough, we were introduced to snacks from Coolhull Farm. The producers of cheesecakes, ice-cream and a range of desserts can be found in Wexford and providing tasty snacks across the Island of Ireland.
For me, being around food lovers makes me love food even more. There’s always a new recipe to try or an ingredient that can be experimented with. Be sure to share any suggestions or tips you might have!