Darina Allen goes back to basics as Covid shuts cookery school

Celebrity chef opens online business and expands food outlet to keep business ticking over

Darina Allen with Australian Michelin-starred chef and former Vogue food editor Skye Gyngell during a demonstration at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Photograph: Eric Luke

Darina Allen with Australian Michelin-starred chef and former Vogue food editor Skye Gyngell during a demonstration at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Celebrity chef Darina Allen has opened an online business and expanded a local food retail offering to make ends meet as Covid-19 cut short courses at the celebrated Ballymaloe Cookery School.

The cookery school in Shanagarry, Co Cork had to close its doors mid-course on March 13th as the Government began a lockdown of all non-essential businesses.

However, Ms Allen said the business had managed to retain 29 of its 55 staff by expanding an existing Ballymaloe shop into a food only outlet and establishing a local version of online platform, NeighbourFood for locals to purchase locally produced food.

“I started off making pots of jam for a farm shop and it is funny how it has come back almost full circle,” Ms Allen said.

“Desperation has its advantages. Our backs were against the wall and you have to start to think in a different way. If what it takes is setting up a stall at your gate to sell a few things, then you do it to get some cash flow and you just get on with it.

“We couldn’t be prouder of our team and how they have risen to the challenge. We have managed to make enough each week to pay the wages so that we wouldn’t be losing money. That didn’t happen for the first couple of weeks but I think we can more or less break even now,” said Ms Allen, whose cookery school has reported profits of €148,429 for the 12 months to August 2019 in accounts just filed.

Ms Allen hopes the cookery school can re-open towards the end of July, having had to cancel 15 short courses due to the pandemic.

“If we have to halve our numbers, there will be enough in that. You keep trying to roll with the punches and keep praying everyone will stay well,” she said.

Ms Allen stated that there has been “a complete sea change in attitudes in people’s appreciation of local food during the pandemic”.

“I am kind of ageing hippy. I can’t help feel this is the universe or Mother Nature saying ‘you can’t go on like this’ – that the impact of everyone’s arrogance on the planet will have consequences.”

She stated: “We have been forced to press the pause button and re-think a lot of our arrogance. I hope that a lot of good will come from this.”