Get back in the kitchen
If you're hungry for a cookery break, there's plenty of options around Ireland, writes
Famous cookery schools such as Ballymaloe and Belle Isle may soak up publicity like sherry in trifle but, as befits our food island image, there is no shortage of alternatives. What’s more, many of them will rustle up a course that’s entirely to your taste.
Sarah Baker, owner of Cloughjordan House Cookery School ( cloughjordanhouse.com) in Tipperary, runs bespoke cookery classes. That is, you choose the theme, gather a bunch of friends, and she’ll run the course.
“I find it works much better than organising a class and then trying to fill it,” says Baker, whose home is a 400-year-old country house farm. Half-day classes cost €70-€100, depending on whether you’re staying for lunch or dinner, and if you fancy making a night of it, BB costs €55 extra.
In Carlow, Ballyderrin ( ballyderrin.com) is an elegant 19th century country house where group cookery classes are run on demand.
“I cover all kinds of cooking, with a firm focus on what’s good and wholesome and suitable for today’s busy way of life,” explains Ballymaloe-trained owner Pam Holligan. A day’s programme costs €120 per person, including lunch, with BB an additional €35 per person sharing.
To make a real foodie break of it, pair it with a visit to the Chocolate Garden ( chocolategarden.ie) just two kilometres away at Rathwood. It runs half-day introduction to chocolate workshops which help you work with the real McCoy rather than cooking chocolate.
“The reason people end up using cooking chocolate is because it is almost all vegetable oil, which is why it stays glossy and smooth,” explains chocolatier and owner Mary Healy. “Real chocolate tastes much better, but is harder to work with because you need to temper it,” she says. Healy charges €120 for the workshop.
While there is no accommodation attached to Donnybrook Fair Cookery School ( donnybrookfair.ie), if you happen to be visiting the capital it makes a great alternative to a night out.
Resident chef Niall Murphy, who spent 27 years working in the motor trade before answering his foodie calling and retraining, runs classes most evenings on anything from tapas to Thai food. Demonstrations typically cost about €60, while hands-on classes start at €75, giving a traditional dinner out a run for its money.
“Put it this way, I tell students not to eat before they get here because on a demo we’ll typically cook between five and seven dishes and they’ll get to eat it all, plus wine,” says Murphy. And of course you get takeaway too – in the form of freshly baked skills.
If you fancy a foodie weekend, professional chef Sharon Murphy’s Kilcoe Cottage ( kilcoecottage.com) in Ballydehob, west Cork, has an option that’s as terrific as it is calorific, starting with afternoon tea on your Friday arrival and finishing with a buck’s fizz brunch on Sunday morning.
Here too, you choose the kind of cuisine you want to learn about and Murphy will formulate classes to suit. Kilcoe is currently running a special offer weekend price of €295 per person sharing, down from €345, based on a minimum number of four.
“Occasionally the cookery weekends turn into girlie weekends because the – usually – women get here and say, ‘You just do the cooking Sharon, we’ll just hang out in the hot tub and go for walks on the beach’,” admits Murphy.
“It’s totally relaxing in that they can do as much or as little cooking as they want to.” More dedicated students will, however, combine it with a visit to the Firehouse Bakery ( thefirehouse.ie) on nearby Heir Island.
Baker Patrick Ryan’s full-day courses cover everything from flat bread to foccacia and cost €110 per person, including lunch, ferry, and as much freshly baked bread as you can carry home.
The school has been a roaring success since it opened in June, which is appropriate given that it is situated in Roaring Water Bay. “The recession has helped too, in that bread baking is a skill people are once again keen to learn,” says Ryan.
There’s a secondary benefit too. “If you want to lose the bingo wings, get kneading. There’s nothing like bread making for firm arms,” he says.