Ahh, are we starting to see green yet? I mean, there’s no grass growing in snowy Ottawa, but St. Patrick’s Day is everywhere on cookie icing to shamrocks for sale in grocery stores. Do you celebrate? I can’t say I’ve ever had green beer but I do know that in my Ottawa pub-going student days, I would love the joyousness that the Irish holiday would bring to the city.
As many of you know, I had spent some time in Ireland after the 12 Week Ballymaloe Cookery Course. What did I do, you ask? Besides writing for the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine, I took a 2 Week long Business of Food course. We all hear about food businesses that close, a lot of which have great food, a great clientele.. you name it! So what happens?
To be honest, I wasn't even sure why I should take this course without having a solid idea of what aspect of the food industry I wanted to be in. All I knew that in some capacity, it would benefit me to know the business side of things. Money, accountants, where to start.. it all eluded me.
The course was taught by Blathnaid Bergin of The Restaurant Advisor and I would highly recommend it for anyone thinking of entering this business. We covered everything from marketing, to kitchen organizing and layout, to food waste, energy waste, accounting and menu and brand development.
Ever since completing it, I look around with wide eyes whenever I go out for a coffee or to eat. Taking mental notes, I've become a profoundly picky restaurant critic. But.. not in the way that looks for a crack in a ceiling and says it's a horrible experience. No, it's more than that. The realities of the financial risk of owning a business coupled with the general public's demands for food at a low cost makes me really feel for the restaurants. I am painfully aware of where businesses are losing money and I just want to help them.
The most challenging part about the course was accepting the fact Mrs. Bergin insisted we look to fast food chains as good examples of running a business. The indie artist in me scoffed, rolled my eyes, wanted to run away screaming. But then we got a book called The E-Myth.. a book by an entrepreneur adviser about how most business owners start a business because they are a great technician.. photographer, cook, etc. But they don't have enough of the entrepreneurial side.. they don't know how to forecast growing a business properly. Or, they don't have enough of the business side.. Everyone wants organic and local food, but who is going to buy it at an appropriate price?
Another great example is comparing a very successful coffee shop to an independently owned coffee shop. Why does the independent have 8 employees for the same amount of seats in the bigger chain that employs 3 per shift? It's usually in the standardization of kitchen, service and cleaning practices. Not to mention the menu itself plays a part on the whole picture right off the bat.
Naturally, when I went to Dublin I checked out the places where Mrs. Bergin and fellow students said were good examples of great places to eat and drink.
First I checked out 3FE, an incredible coffee shop by an award-winning Batista. Check out his story below:
Then, downtown, I checked out Avoca. It's an Irish retail chain with gorgeous take-out food and a small restaurant.
Then the Fumbally. AMAZING food. Quirky layout.
Finally, Meet and Meat. It was a deli and wine bar. Had the best vibe, and consistent branding throughout the look and menu.
I was only in Dublin for 2 days. If you have any recommendations for where to eat, we'd love to hear from you. Post below!
As for me and what I'll open up one day? Only time will tell..
When I had made the decision to come to Ireland for the Ballymaloe 12 week course, I had some people raise their eyebrows at me. To be honest, I had not much of a response other than 'It's the only cooking school in the world on its own organic farm". Of course, people only thought I would be preparing shepherd's pie and loads of potato dishes.
I did learn about properly roasting, mashing and peeling potatoes.. about 28 recipes dedicated to this versatile vegetable. But, as you can see from the sushi photos, this place is a cultural hub for all things food. I'll let this quote by Darina Allen herself carry my sentiments of Ireland's food culture..
"In the last few years the food scene has seen an acceleration in its influence as a culture maker. It has ‘trendy’ elements to it, what with its focus on foraging, DIY culture, and the rise of food photography, but it’s become apparent that naysayers would be wrong to dismiss the country’s newfound interest and dedication to food as a fad. With its focus on green economy, self-sufficiency, a deeper understanding of the food production systems, and on education, food has become the main portal to politics for a generation generally accused of apathy."
Below is a beautiful video featuring Rachel Allen speaking about Irish food on the world scene.
Of course, this is happening all over the world but Ireland has the advantage of a temperate climate surrounded by the sea. Not only that but after the recession, Ireland focused its artisnal farming culture to become world-class. There are several food tours of the country, awards that are given out to promote great food. On top of that there is rich farmland and hardworking farmers to produce it all.
My first impression from the country was how generous and open they are. This peaceful nation has come out of hard times from the famine and recession but Ballymaloe is a lovely symbol of resilience and how a dedication to self-sustaining practices and good food can enrich ones life no matter how poor you may feel.
Now, it's time to study for the last week of exams!! Some people don't feel so happy about the work ahead..
How was everyone's SUPERBOWWL SUNDAY!? / Groundhog Day / Imbolc / Chinese New Year?? I couldn't imagine having a more magical time in this country. A lot of it had to do with blind faith that I would achieve all my expectations - a hard one if you've been through some tough times... I went to Cork for the evening. Beautiful beautiful city.. (The locals don't believe it's a city - population is around 300,000)
Below are some photos of my house mates plucking and cooking wild hunted partridge, pheasant and goose.
Before I get into that, I should say that I'm very fortunate to live with such ambitious people. After volunteering to help clean up a little longer, they received these birds as gifts from the staff so we could practice our culinary skills.
This is one of the reasons why I chose to come here above all other cooking schools. The cooking skills we learn go beyond fine dining. It connects us to our food on many deep levels.
Recently, I also offered to help with cooking classes so I could get more experience with teaching. It was Imbolc themed, or St. Bridget's Day - the midway point of winter that celebrates the Patron Saint of Dairy - St. Bridget. There was a demo open to the public about Bastille Bread (a soda bread made in a stoneware pot) and a demo on homemade butter.
I've never understood food more in my life.. and it just makes me hungry for more.
Speaking of which...
!HERE ARE SOME PHOTOS OF CAKES!
LOCAL SEA FOOD AND TRADITIONAL IRISH BREAKFASTS
And that's that.. So much more to learn - I'm about half way through the course! Living in the moment is a challenge but it's well worth it.. I hope I can carry on this spirit throughout my life afterwards. I swear though.. there must be something funny in the air in these parts...
I ride my borrowed bicycle every chance I get when I'm not in school and it's sunny.. turns out that day is Sunday.
At school this week we learned how to make sourdough and cheese!
The most amazing part is getting to sample all the local goodies and just completely immerse myself in the culture where food is concerned. I'm really starting to get an idea of what true Irish food is. Cured fish, breads, THE CHEESE IS AMAZING. Irish cheese and butter is widely sought out around the world since the cows just have so much darned grass to eat. It makes their milk more yellow.
There was a talent competition at the local pub.