How to Cook Well: Lessons in food from an ‘appetisingly posh’ Ballymaloe chef

The ever-polite Rory O’Connell presents honest recipes with donnish enthusiasm

Rory O’Connell: No showmanship, product-placement or experimental genre-hopping formats here

Rory O’Connell: No showmanship, product-placement or experimental genre-hopping formats here


His eyebrows rising gently over the top of his horn-rimmed glasses, Rory O’Connell addresses the viewer across his kitchen table with a soft apology. “These graters have gone slightly out of fashion,” he says in his appetisingly posh voice, “but they really have an important place in the kitchen.”

In truth, he could be talking about himself: a polite, well-seasoned male chef in an age of cooking shows that favour the brash and boyish.

O’Connell – co-founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, with his sister Darina Allen – does not go in for showmanship, product-placement or experimental genre-hopping formats on How to Cook Well (RTÉ One, Tuesday, 7pm), now in its fourth series.

Instead, he walks you through honest recipes with a sincere, donnish enthusiasm that makes you believe, against all evidence to the contrary, you could actually cook as well as he does.

Compared with last week, which rustled up a mussel and wild garlic omelette, chermoula meatballs and a gooseberry meringue (looking, respectively, time consuming, fussy and a little bit sinister) this episode is a vision of simple pleasures. Hell, two of the dishes don’t even require cooking. You got this.

The first is a chilled cucumber and grape soup, whose pale green concoction is enlivened with elderflower cordial and bursts of colour: the red pop of sliced radish and pomegranate seeds, the rich amber of marigold blossoms and the delicate green of broccoli flowers.

On the one hand, the show’s sweet nostalgia couldn’t be more Chekhovian

If the anticipatory pleasure of flavour and texture is not enough, here’s a tip: try watching the show on headphones. People with ASMR – an acute sensitivity to sounds that triggers tingly sensations – will know what I’m talking about, and nobody can judge them.

Director David Hare lets the camera glide serenely around the table corner, but he’s acutely attentive to the sounds of cooking – the harsh brush of the old-fashioned grater, the sharp sizzle of the oil later used to fry spiced chicken, or the vigorous corporeal punishment of a wooden spoon on the backside of a pomegranate – all worthy of the appreciation of an online sub culture.

On the other hand, the show’s sweet nostalgia couldn’t be more Chekhovian. In a Big House with a sprawling garden, always bathed in dreamy natural light, O’Connell will wistfully refer to the elderflower orchards or pleasantly admonish modern fripperies.

“Few things seem as frivolous as popsicles,” he smiles. Popsicles! “You might prefer to use their old-fashioned name: ice lolly.” Honestly, he’s so charmingly quaint that when he announced he was going to slice the radish with a mandoline, I half expected him to reappear with a lute.

O’Connell is actually fixed to the future, though, if only as far ahead as what you will eat for dinner this evening. Everything he offers is reassuring achievable and gloriously summery, from the flavoursome fried chicken and salsa to his strawberry frivolities – even if he does say so himself.

“It’s another of what I like to call my ‘good things’,” he says, as a tray of curled almond tuilles emerges from the oven. He adds a sprinkling of diffidence. “It’s an expression I know I use too often, but it’s a good thing.”

Fine by me. Go on, Rory, you good thing.