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Our little black book of enchanting places

First catch your crab...

Posted in FOOD + DRINK By Maggie O' Sullivan

I love to cook. I suspect it is something in my genes as my three sisters feel exactly the same. We come from a big Irish family and grew with the joy of gathering round a table to tuck into Mum’s culinary delights – and my mother could certainly cook. So when my sisters and I needed a venue up for a weekend catch-up in Ireland recently, the most obvious solution was the Dublin Cookery School. It won Best Cookery School in Ireland in 2013 and 2015, up against some pretty stiff competition, and its day-long Summer Entertainment course last summer sounded just the ticket. And so it proved to be.Chef Eric at Dublin Cookery SchoolOur head chef Eric (above) demonstrated with passion and aplomb and we cooked – and ate – our way through seven courses of scrumptious and original summer menus – think Citrus salad with goat and fennel salad, pistachio shortbread and passionfruit mousse.

Just one caveat: don’t let the school’s name mislead you into thinking it’s in central Dublin. It’s actually a short train journey outside the city, in the picturesque seaside suburb of Blackrock. But that didn’t bother us since, as my younger sister said, ‘we learnt a lot, ate a lot and giggled a lot’. We are already planning this year’s reunion.Darina Allen, Ballymaloe Cookery SchoolThe Dublin Cookery School certainly wasn’t my first visit to a cookery school – or even my first in Ireland. A couple of years ago friend, Jane, and I signed up for a two-and-a-half-day course at Ballymaloe Cookery School. The school is run by Darina Allen (above), the ‘Delia’ of Ireland, and her husband Tim, and is the only cookery school in the world situated on our own extensive, organically certified farm, which the couple also runs. Not surprisingly, whenever anyone compiles a list of the world’s Top 10 cookery schools, Ballymaloe is always included.Ballymaloe Cookery SchoolThe emphasis here is not just on cooking but sourcing, gathering and preparation, too. Everything you could ever want to learn about food and cookery is on offer from ‘hands on lamb butchery’ to an afternoon of foraging. I guarantee you will leave Ballymaloe technically a much better cook – you should see me deboning a chicken these days.Kitchen, Rick Stein's Padstow Seafood SchoolBack on this side of the Irish Sea, one of my favourite cookery school experiences has been Rick Stein’s Padstow Seafood School held in a state-of-the-art kitchen (above) looking out over the Camel Estuary. The school supports local fishermen by buying whatever they catch so there is a constant supply of the freshest fish imaginable and quite a lot of rhetoric from the chefs on sustainable fishing and the Padstow ethos.Fish, Padstow Seafood SchoolMy friend Jane and I signed up for a half-day Fish & Shellfish course and which began at 8.30am on a Saturday (you have to be pretty keen on fish to be fiddling about with it at that hour of the day). After our first demonstration and supervised session in the kitchen, we got to taste our efforts. It did seem rather early to be tucking into prawns with freshly grated coconut, green chillies and mustard seeds, but we soon got into the swing. Lunch (roasted gurnard with Thai hot sweet and sour sauce) came with a welcome glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which magically topped itself up throughout the rest of the afternoon.

Thanks to Padstow Seafood School I now know the correct way to kill a crab: an essential life skill, I’d say.


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