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Visiting the Ballymaloe House Kitchen

Last night, I got some “work experience” at Ballymaloe House. Students at the cookery school have the opportunity to help out in the restaurant kitchen. I’ve never worked in a restaurant so was a bit apprehensive, but the staff were truly great. They were focused on their own stations, but also answered every question I had.

Scott, a Ballymaloe chef, showed me how to open oysters and I shucked a small platter of them for the seafood buffet. (Recognize those prawns and Ballycotton shrimp?)

Towards the top left are glasses of a chilled beetroot soup. I tried this back in the kitchen. Gorgeous color, but also a strong hit of sweet beetroot flavor. The soup is made with chicken stock, which of course, also adds to the flavor.

Here’s the other side of the table. Hopefully, you can make out the mussels and clams, the smoked mussels in a honey mustard dressing, the trays of thinly sliced smoked salmon and smoked mackeral, and the cucumber slices with smoked mackeral pate. I think the kitchen’s favorite may have been a new dish with skate, chorizo, and beans. My favorite was the dish up front, the cubes of mullet dressed prepared with whole red chili and preserved lemon.

I was more-than-impressed by the seafood at Ballymaloe. They really truly know where their seafood is coming from and who is handling it — and you can taste that freshness, even in the smoked fish.

The desserts were also outstanding. JR, the super-young (just graduated from college?!) head pastry chef gave me a tour of his sweets room, which included these petit fours of caramel truffles, squares of fudge, and candied grapefruit dipped in chocolate.

Also on for dessert for the evening were carrageen moss pudding (remember when we foraged on the beach and saw carrageen seaweed?), poached plums, butterscotch and banana meringue roll, a classic chocolate tart, and praline ice cream.

The beginnings of the dessert cart (rolled out to each table for extra temptation):

You can’t quite see it from this photo, but the bowl the ice cream is served in is beautiful. It’s an ice bowl with bright flowers frozen into it.

It’s made by pouring water into a large bowl and then setting a smaller bowl within it, and then freezing the set. Besides wowing customers, it also keeps the scoops of ice cream cold.

Again, I can’t say enough about what a smooth operation the kitchen at Ballymaloe House is. Maybe I was expecting Gordon Ramsey-style chaos, but everyone was generous and helpful. I assisted a little bit, but the night was also about getting a feel for restaurant life and the people it draws. Tom, another one of the chefs, had this recipe book stashed away. If service was really slow, he would open it up. See what I mean? Passionate people so drawn to what they are doing — reading, working, and living food. Towards the end of service, I sat at a counter eating a huge chunk of bread slathered with chicken pate (hey it was offered to me!), just taking it all in.

Occasionally, people would come by and chat. So many interesting conversations — how in restaurant work you rarely make money, but you can make a living, how to find time to experiment with food, as well as so many little cooking tips. For me, the evening was definitely a memory made.

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