The Darina Allen Column

Darina Allen

This month Darina recounts a Co Cork food tour undertaken with a group of international students who are attending a Gastro Boot Camp at Ballymaloe Cookery School this summer

We’re cruising through West Cork in the sunshine – Marguerite daisies, foxgloves, wild roses, ragged robin, buttercups by the roadside, honeysuckle tumbling through the hedgerows and the fuschia is just about to burst into flower. Oh how beautiful the countryside looks.

We’re on our ‘school tour’. Students from 13 countries made their way to the bus shortly after dawn. First we visited Bill Casey to learn the story of the Shanagarry Smoked Salmon, next a visit to Philip Dennhardt’s Pizza Palace where the Saturday Pizzas are cooked in a woodburning oven.

This ‘field trip’ is not just a skite, the object of the exercise is to introduce the students to as many great food concepts as possible. These students who are with us from all over the world, at Gastro Boot Camp, for 12 weeks are looking out for ways to use their newly acquired skills to earn a living from their cooking.

It’s Thursday, so our next stop was Mahon Point Farmers Market, a positive ferment of brilliant ideas. I give each student a meal ticket so they can taste some of the delicious foods. Lauren’s steak sandwich with real Béarnaise Sauce, a BLT or Raclette.

A brilliant Volcano pizza from Simon Mould’s woodburning oven, a whole grain or lentil salad drizzled with a spicy dahl from The Rocket Man or chicken tikka and other temptations from Green Saffron. I couldn’t resist some bone broth and Vietnamese pho from Rachel McCormack of Sonny’s Merchants of Broth.

Charcuterie Plate

There’s ice cream, sushi, hummus and pitta, seaweed, gorgeous cakes, great coffee, chocolates…….Customers are snapping up Tom Clancy’s beautiful plump chickens, duck eggs and little speckled quail eggs from his farm in Ballycotton. Always a queue at the fresh fish stalls, both for O’ Driscoll’s in Schull and Trevor McNamara in Ballycotton.

Other stalls have tantalizing vegan and gluten free food. Organic vegetables, freshly dug and still covered with soil, fruit, fresh herbs and plants. Arbutus Bakery have crusty artisan breads to tempt and inspire the students to bake and on and on….never enough time to explore but certainly enough to whet everyone’s appetite and fill their minds with ideas for great food.

Back onto the bus to head for West Cork and a visit to Gubbeen Farm just outside Schull. The students were blown away by this entrepreneurial farming family of ‘food makers’ who continue to inspire others to think outside the box. Tom’s herd of friesian cows produce the milk for Giana’s Gubbeen cheese. The whey gets fed to Fingal’s pigs which make the bacon and ever growing range of charcuterie. How on earth does Fingal get time to make handmade knives in the midst of it all. His sister Clovisse grows the organic herbs for the cures and a wonderful range of beautiful vegetables, fruit and salad leaves for local restaurants in summer.


One could spend the entire day there but onwards to Timoleague to visit another artisan producer. Anthony Cresswell of Ummera who smokes chicken and duck as well as the Ummera smoked salmon. Anthony nudged on by his wife is a model of sustainability. The students were intrigued with Anthony’s brilliant vermaculture system to deal with waste. 

A few miles away in Bandon we called into Urru, Ruth Healy’s food shop, delicatessen and café. An unbearably tempting shop for food lovers with maybe the best selection of cookbooks in the country. Ruth and Diane Curtin gave the students sage advice about how to overcome challenges in business.

By now it was late afternoon and our final stop was at Diva in Ballinspittle. Here Shannen Keane has a bakery and café which draws people from miles around to eat her eclectic food. Great menu and some irresistible cakes and great vegan choices as well as the American style cakes she herself loves.

A very full day and so many inspirational food entrepreneurs reflecting the dynamic food scene of Ireland today.


Check out Fingal Ferguson’s new fermented salamis from the Gubbeen Smokehouse – love at first nibble. Handmade knives need to be ordered ahead and unless I’m much mistaken, these knives will become collectors’ items.

Oriel Sea Salt in Drogheda, Co Louth

John Delaney continues to innovate. Irish mineral sea salt kiln dried and whiskey smoked sea salt has just landed on my desk. This beautiful pure salt is worth keeping an eye out for.


 '30 Years at Ballymaloe' - Bord Gáis Avonmore Cookbook of the Year 2013

Good Food Ireland Cookery School of the Year 2012/2013


Ballymaloe Cookery SchoolOnce again, the Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork has a great programme of cookery courses for all interests and abilities running throughout 2016. Ranging from a relaxing visit to sit in on an afternoon cookery demonstration to a week long ‘Intensive Introductory Course’.

Sitting in the middle of a 100 acre organic farm the Ballymaloe Cookery School provides its students not only with a life skill learnt under the expert tutelage of their very capable teachers but also a place to relax and unwind from the stresses and strains of normal everyday life. The cottage accommodation available onsite for residential courses consists of a collection of delightful converted outbuildings which have been transformed over the years by the Allens, and other accommodation is available locally for the short courses.

There are currently no comments

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment
Not a member? Register for your free membership now!
Or leave a comment by logging in with: