If you can see this message you're likely using an outdated browser to view this website. We highly recommend you update your browser to either Internet Explorer 7 from Microsoft or Firefox, which will enable you to enjoy safer web browsing and allow you to better view the contents of this website. Please contact us for any additional information.

Mistakes, Snafus, and Total Disasters!

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, I had the worst day ever so far at Ballymaloe. One thing after another went wrong in the kitchen and beyond. I used the wrong bowl for whipping cream for the dining room; I made too much cream; my mashed potatoes (here called fluffy potatoes) were too lumpy; I had to try a whole slew of different things to salvage the texture of said potatoes; my duty was acting as supervisor to all the other students running the dining room and even though I checked in with all of them, only half showed up for their duties!

I was making a fish gratin type dish, and for a long while couldn’t find anyone to help me fillet my fish (it was my first time doing that, even though Darina had shown us in demo the week before…)


The worst of it was that I had been steadily making my sauce for the fish dish… It involved heating up milk, then adding a little carrot, onion, and thyme and letting that infuse, then straining it out and adding some roux (butter and flour mixture) to thicken it. I had been so careful, but for some reason my sauce wouldn’t thicken. Only then, did I realize instead of roux, I had been adding almond paste! Aaah!

(This mix-up was partly a result of switching kitchens. In the kitchen I had been in the last two weeks, we had communal roux in a dish out on a trolley to use whenever we needed it. The communal trolley in my new kitchen seemed the same, but I guess someone who had been making an almond tart decided to put their extra paste on it.)

Unfortunately, I ran out of time, so couldn’t start over and had to use other people’s extra sauce to finish my dish. Boo hoo! When it came time for tasting and grading, I was totally deflated. I didn’t have a side dish to serve with my fish dish, so laid out what I thought was a pretty bed of flat leaf parsley for my fish to sit on. The instructor said that much parsley on the plate was a big mistake and that my dish was totally unappetizing. I also got marked down because the potatoes I had piped over the fish were not as perky as, say, these ones:


Also, part of my duties was to clean up and re-set all the tables in the dining room after lunch. In the past, there had been a staff member who instructed the students on what to do — where to get new cutlery, tablecloths, put the old ones, find the vacuum, etc. But for some reason, there was no one giving those kinds of instructions, so it fell on me. Very stressful and with half a staff. We managed to get to demo during roll call, so — just in time, but only after I had a near-argument with an instructor who didn’t realize how late in the day it was. I think some of the staff see the students as trying to get out of their cleaning duties, so it’s really frustrating when you are trying to be responsible, but people treat you like you are a slacker!

So, why did everything start going so wrong? I think it had to do with staying in the present moment. Last night, I started thinking about my future post-Ballymaloe. Kind of a stressful situation because I have to re-find more solid work and a place to live and I’m uncertain where that place should be. I didn’t get much sleep and perhaps that came out in a less than ideal cooking day.

Obvious I know, but worth mentioning, that you have to really focus on what you’re doing in the kitchen, otherwise you mess up big time, or you get injured. (In our class already we have had many cuts, a few burns, and one cut so bad that the person had to be rushed to the hospital!) However, if you can manage to stay in the moment, it’s more often totally wonderful.

The picture I most regret not taking is one last week of my beautifully peeled tomatoes. Rory told us that it is always either pure torture or pure bliss to peel tomatoes. His method is to make an ‘x’ incision on the top of each tomato and then cover them in boiling water and count for ten seconds. After you pour the water out, it’s easy-breezy to peel the tomatoes.

When it came time to peel my tomatoes for tomato puree (for my tomato-basil soup), I did just what he said. Looking at those tomatoes, perfectly peeled, all sitting in a row, was a total moment of peace even though the kitchen was in full swing around me.

In search of more tomatoes,

P.S. (These are not them!)

2 Responses to “Mistakes, Snafus, and Total Disasters!”

  1. Diane C. says:

    Sorry to hear about your rough day! Hope it helps to know that there’s someone in Berkeley sending you warm thoughts and rooting for you. And those tomatoes look delicious….

  2. divya says:

    so sorry about the bad day! whoever put almond paste in the roux dish is in for some bad karma. hope the rest of your days you can stay in the moment and enjoy the wonderfulness 🙂

Leave a Reply