Festival musings

May 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

We made it! And wow, what a journey it’s been. The first ever Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine took place two weeks ago and East Cork is still buzzing from the thrill. Welcoming the most vibrant and exciting food and wine experts from around the world to our little corner of Ireland was more exciting than I could ever have hoped for. I was star struck as guests converged on Ballymaloe for the most unique festival I have ever experienced.
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Each morning felt a lot like Christmas, but in this case Santa brought me more than I could ever have wished for. Having the opportunity to meet food heroes like Claudia Rhoden, Madhur Jaffrey, David Tannis and Skye Gyngell, to name but a few, re-inspired and also reminded me about the fantastic resources available to all of us wherever we go.
I was also totally inspired by my fab colleagues Anne, Sarah and Louise who played a blinder behind the scenes in the Ballymaloe pastry kitchen producing some of the most delicious sweet treats imaginable. So many of the well traveled guests enjoyed the intrigue of my favourite seaweed dessert, carageen moss pudding, while others dined on dainty delights at Mrs Allen’s afternoon tea party. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to make our favourite seasonal deserts for food heroes and friends alike. But it was not all work and no play as “The Big Shed” hosted a lively night scene that gave everyone a chance to let their hair down … Myself included!
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But for me the opening night was the most exciting.  After a long day in the kitchen and a quick costume change, which involved donning my favourite silk bow tie, I made it to the opening party just in time to mingle and meet! To call it a who’s who of the food world would undersell the star studded crowd. I can hardly believe how fortunate I am to have met some of the of world’s greats!
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Never one to miss an opportunity I made sure to get every cookery book in my library signed! I have always admitted to being a cookery geek, and if you caught a glimpse of me during the festival, you would have seen me in full character running around with tens of books searching for signatures. Now, fully inspired, I can’t wait to get stuck into the summer season in the kitchen at Ballymaloe. The thrill of the first garden raspberries alone is enough to get the mouth watering for what will be a spectacular summer in “The Big House”!
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Our big day out!

April 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

Scott, a colleague of mine, was once overheard saying “JR would go to the opening of an envelope, on an island, at midnight in a storm!”. And it’s true, I probably would! I have always loved a good day out. And given the chance I will pop up at any food and wine event that I can make it to when not in work. Taking a train, boat or even a flight only adds to the fun! Last Thursday saw the launch of the Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and wine and with it, the opportunity for my much loved “Big Day Out”.
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Traveling with Darina Allen is always great fun, not only because of her wonderful stories and great sense of humour, but because it seems as thought anything is possible! On Thursday I was under strict instructions to be at Darina’s house for an early 6am start! I have become accustomed to early mornings, usually because I am the first person in the Ballymaloe kitchen making soda bread for breakfast, but on this morning I got up before sunrise for a different reason!
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After a pleasant taxi ride to the station, Rebecca, Rory, Darina and I boarded the 7am train to Dubin. Unluckily the locomotive of the train broke down only a few kilometres outside Cork city. Minutes later the train turned back and before we knew it Darina had us in a Dublin bound taxi! Our driver knew there was no time to spare and got us to Dublin’s Cake Cafe without a moment to loose. We were welcomed to the cafe by it’s fabulous owner, Michelle Darmody and there the delightful Neven Maguire joined us. The photographer took some sweet pictures of Michelle, Darina, Neven and Rory and, as luck would have it a ray of sunshine, at just the right moment, really was “the icing on the cake”.
Darina, Neven Michelle & Rory at Litfest launch 2013
After a delectably fine lunch at the Greenhouse Restaurant and a cup of really good coffee at Brother Hubbard we made our way to O’Connell’s restaurant where the festival was officially launched by the authoritative John Bowman. Journalists and friends were totally inspired by the thrilling words John used to describe why, he felt, the festival was going to be a historic gathering of minds.
Darina, John & Rory LitFest launch 2013
So, if you you fancy a slice of the action and want to hear from Michelle, Neven, John, Darina, Rory or one of the other 40 plus food and wine stars at this historic festival make your way to East Cork this May bank holiday weekend. And if like me you find yourself getting up early, come find me in the the pastry kitchen and I’ll treat you to some well buttered, freshly baked, homemade soda bread.

Food for Thought

April 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

From bright and bold to simple and sweet, food and wine has provided great inspiration for literature over the past centuries.

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As a child I spent hours thumbing the pages of my great aunts aged cookbook collection. I guess you could say I was a cookbook “geek”!… I say geek because not many 7 year old children read cookbook’s in the 1990’s, let alone ones without pictures! Her disheveled copy’s of “Mrs Beeton’s Book of household Management” and Maura Laverty’s “Full and Plenty” were most certainly my favourite. We used the books as a way of deciding what to cook together, and more importantly what to eat. First we would see what ingredients were in the kitchen and pantry and then find a recipe to match, often resulting in anything from curried eggs to her infamous mulberry wine.

Full-and-Plenty   Mrs Beaton

But my food and wine library today consists of hundreds of mouth watering books, of which only a fraction belonged my great aunt. Now my most beloved books contain the refreshingly zesty words of some of the hottest new voices in the industry. Claire Ptak, Thomasina Mires, Donal Skehan, Rachel Allen, Stevie Parle and Skye Gyngell, to name but a few, not only spice up my book collection but will also excite at the Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine. Hear first hand what these cutting edge writers have to say about whats hot and whats not!

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And if your mouth is watering at the thought of hearing from the newest voices in food, you’ll love to join in the conversation with Regian Sexton about “The Early Writing of Myrtle Allen” when the now great dame of Irish food was herself the hottest voice in the press with her bite sized articles. But as with everything, food writing also evolves and no one knows this better then Dennis Cotter, of the famed “Cafe Paradiso”, who will look at his own collection of writing as a package. While Matthew Fort and John McKenna tuck into the discussion of food writing evolution, from cave drawings to recipes in “the cloud”.

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And if that’s not enough for you, make sure to bump into me at one of the festivals delectable events and I might even offer you a glass of that well aged mulberry wine!

Almost by accident!

April 8, 2013 § 2 Comments

Senator Feargal Quinn once said, ”Sex didn’t exist in Ireland until Gay Byrne hosted the Late Late show, and taste buds didn’t exist in Ireland until Myrtle Allen opened her restaurant at Ballymaloe!”.

Front Ballymaloe House

It is therefore no surprise to any of us that Ballymaloe will be hosting the first ever literary festival of food and wine… Even typing the name gets me excited!… But since Myrtle’s early days as a chef and food writer the Irish food scene had quite simply exploded!

Myrtle’s early experiments with the fabulous fresh produce from her farm led her into an accidental cookery career that she had never imagined. In 1977, thirteen years after turning her dining room into a most special restaurant, Myrtle published her first cook book “The Ballymaloe Cookbook”.

"The Ballymaloe Cookbook" by Myrtle Allen
Now, nearly 40 years on, a new generation of young talented food writers make the most of modern technology and excite a worldwide audience with their scrumptious words. So get involved and check out the jam packed program of events at the first ever Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine. I just cant wait to get stuck into the exciting workshops. Whether you want to learn about digital food writing, self publishing or simply want to listen the hottest new voices in food, this festival has it all.
 Afternoon Tea at Ballymaloe House
Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard… For those of you who want to meet the amazing Myrtle, and trust me, she is amazing, she will be hosting afternoon tea in Ballymaloe House during the festival, but tickets are selling like… ahem, “hot cakes”… so get them quick to avoid disappointment.
The dining room at Ballymaloe

Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine

March 25, 2013 § 1 Comment

I could hardly believe my eyes… Is this for real?… I had to pinch myself!… Is this possible?… I was traveling in Thailand when the news reached me… I knew it would be impressive but I had never imagined it to be so exceptional!

 
Reading the programme for the “Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine” sent shivers down my spine, in a good way of course. I have always considered myself a foodie, by which I mean I have been eating for as long as I can remember. I have often strayed far off the beaten track in search of new epicurean experiences, but I had never imagined that the holy grail of food and wine events would blossom on my door step. I had to read the list of speakers several times to let it sink in! The most respected literary figures of food and wine would all be gathering in one place, and all with one aim in mind: To share experiences, knowledge and stories from their craft. My mouth was watering at the thought of such an exciting few days. And luckily for me I live on the very farm where it is all to take place.
 
I have always considered myself to be very lucky. Allow me to highlight a few examples to stand out in my mind: At the age of four I was lucky enough to meet the amazing Darina Allen. She signed a copy of her then newly published “Simply Delicious” and wrote a message inside the cover saying “To John Robert, who will be a great chef one day”. I was the only one of my friends to have such an inspiring celebrity endorsement at that age. When I was fifteen I luckily got offered a job by Rory O’Connell – the then head chef at Ballymaloe House – to work in the pastry kitchen. A life changing opportunity that opened my palate and mind to the thrilling taste of fresh food. Before I turned twenty I was lucky enough to be taken on a profound food tour of Paris by Myrtle Allen, my food hero. Two years later I was fortunate enough to be offered the head pastry position in her kitchen. And now, three years on, as luck would have it, the ultimate food and wine festival will take place in what I can only describe as the most magical food destination I know, Ballymaloe. So naturally, as you can imagine, I am so totally over the top excited about this phenomenal gathering of minds, and it’s all on my home turf.
 
The purpose of this blog is to keep you not only informed, but also excited about the festival, that I’m sure you will agree, we have all been waiting for. I will endeavour to share with you my adventure over the next few weeks as the festival draws ever closer, revealing inspiring insights into the events and speakers.
 
So if you see me at the festival say hi, I would only love to meet others as delighted as myself to soak up every bit of the fun.Image

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