Meet the Ballymaloe Graduates who made it big

Meet the Ballymaloe Graduates who made it big

Ballymaloe Cookery School’s students spread far and wide, using the skills they learned to push the boundaries of the global food scene.

"At the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we run three-month certificate courses every year for students who want to gain the skills to earn them a living from their cooking.

"They come from all over the world and knuckle down to learn as much as they possibly can about how food is produced and where it comes from and how to cook it simply so there’s a ‘wow’ factor on each plate.

"Apart from all that, they are united with a passion to contribute to society.”

■ Saturday 9th April 2016

Thomasina Miers

Thomasina or Tommi, as she is known at Ballymaloe, went on to win MasterChef UK after her time at Ballymaloe. Following that, she founded the hugely successful Wahaca chain of Mexican restaurants and became a renowned food writer, with seven cookbooks to her name.

“I discovered the joys of black pudding when I started my course at Ballymaloe. Unlike Britain, in Ireland it is an ingredient that is celebrated, and the good ones really are mouthwatering.

"Part of the joy of Ballymaloe is that we are taught not only the pleasure and joys of delicious food, but the whole story of where the ingredients come from and how they arrive on our plate. Thinking about how food affects the environment whether in its production, transportation or waste is just as important for Darina and I will always admire her hugely for that.

Black pudding is the perfect illustration of this. It is a piece of a whole food story, using every part of an animal that naturally can feed off the waste that we humans generate, creating a perfect virtuous food circle.

"Aside from that, black pudding really is delicious and full of essential proteins and iron. I started making the ragu below after tasting a memorable morcilla and chickpea dish many years ago at La Boqueria, the famous food market in Barcelona.

"The black pudding melts and collapses into a ragu of tomatoes, cinnamon and thyme that you can leave simmering gently for about 40 minutes until fragrant and rich, perfect for heaping onto piles of silky parmesan-polenta. This is a very easy and comforting dish that will win over even the fussiest of eaters, no matter what age.”


  • Serves 4-6
  • A good glug of olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 tsp hot smoked paprika (pimenton)
  • Half tsp ground cinnamon
  • 250g soft, good-quality black pudding
  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 stems of fresh thyme, leaves only
  • 25g pine nuts
  • For the polenta:
  • 200g polenta
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 25g grated Parmesan

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onions. Cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes until they are softened but not too coloured. Add the garlic and fry for a minute more.

Stir in the spices then add the black pudding, crumbling it into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, vinegar and thyme and turn up the heat to bring the sauce to the boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Season to taste.

While the ragu is simmering, bring a litre of water to the boil. With a whisk at the ready, pour in the polenta and begin to whisk so that that there are no lumps, being careful of spitting. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the butter and Parmesan and season with plenty of salt and pepper.

Toast the pine nuts gently in a dry pan until lightly golden. To serve sprinkle them over the polenta and ragu in shallow bowls.

Home Cook: Over 300 Delicious Fuss-Free Recipes by Thomasina Miers (Guardian Faber, €32.30) is out now


Chef, innovator and producer of White Mausu Peanut Rayu, Katie Sanderson, challenges palates daily — a skill she learned while studying under Darina at Ballymaloe Cookery School.

“Learning how to make Carrageen Moss pudding opened a door to the world of seaweed that I’ve continued exploring to this day. It’s not my favourite dessert ever, I don’t know what I’d do without a pavlova at the height of summer, but what it stands for is using local ingredients and old traditions that I find very inspiring.

When we did our Dillisk Food Project in 2015/2016, which was basically a pop-up restaurant in a very old donkey shed, we had a Fennel Carrageen pudding on our menu, which was an ode to Darina.

"The whole project had Ballymaloe tickles of inspiration — fish from the piers, growing our own, a family feel. I was so humbled that she came down west, proud of our endeavours and cheerleading us on.

"I don’t know how many thousands of people have made their way through the doors of Ballymaloe but I do know that her giddy-ness and love is highly infectious — that bowls of salads will forever be judged on the ones she makes, and that you can’t leave without a greater understanding of our world and the food that grows in it.”

Ballymaloe CarrageenMoss Pudding

  • 8g cleaned, well dried carrageen moss (1 semi-closed fistful)
  • 900ml milk
  • 1 vanilla pod or ½ tsp purevanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, preferably free-range
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • To serve:
  • soft brown sugar and cream or poached seasonal fruit

Meet the Ballymaloe Graduates who made it big

Soak the carrageen in tepid water for 10 minutes. Strain off the water and put the carrageen into a saucepan with the milk and vanilla pod, if using.

Bring to the boil and simmer very gently with the lid on for 20 minutes. At that point, and not before, separate the egg and put the yolk into a bowl.

Add the sugar and vanilla extract (if you are using it) and whisk together for a few seconds.

Pour the milk and carrageen through a strainer onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. The carrageen will now be swollen and exuding jelly.

Rub all this jelly through the strainer and beat it into the liquid. Test for a set in a cold saucer: put it in the fridge and it should set in a couple of minutes. Rub a little more through the strainer if necessary.

Whisk the egg white until stiff peaks form and fold it in gently; it will rise to make a fluffy top. Leave to cool.

Serve chilled with soft brown sugar and cream, or with a poached fruit compote in season.


Food writer, author, photographer and chef, Lilly wears many hats that showcase the skills she learned at Ballymaloe.

“I have so many memories of Darina that it’s hard to know which one to recount. From talking us through the importance of compost and the soil on my first day of the three-month cookery course back in 2010 to seeing her pick a perfect peach from the warm wall outside the dining room in The Cookery School. She’s so inspirational for me and a source of great energy and motivation.

“I once shared a taxi ride with her in Dublin after a Food Writers Guild meeting. It was a miracle I had made it to Dublin that day, sleep-deprived with three small babies at home. As we chatted, she gripped my arm, spoke such warm and encouraging words and gave me the strength and confidence to carry on just like she always does.

"She has a sort of glittery magic that brushes onto everyone that meets her.”

Beetroot Pancakes with smoked salmon

Makes 16

  • 125ml milk
  • 130g beetroot, raw and cut into bite size pieces
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 130g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • Pinch sea salt
  • To serve:
  • Yoghurt, smoked salmon, dill, lemon and black pepper

Meet the Ballymaloe Graduates who made it big

Blend the milk and beetroot together until completely smooth. I do this in a nutribullet but any high-speed blender or stick blender will do.

Pour this bright purple mix into a bowl and whisk in the egg yolks. Add the vinegar and salt. Sieve in the baking powder and flour. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the beetroot batter.

Drizzle a little olive oil into a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Pour tablespoons, ¼ cup, of the batter into little rounds on the pan.

You should be able to cook four or five at a time. Once a bubble begin to appear on the surface flip them over for a further 30 seconds.

Remove from the pan and keep warm while you cook the remainder. Serve warm with yogurt, smoked salmon, dill, lemon and black pepper.


Jack left Ballymaloe and went on to found the hugely successful The Rocket Man Food Company. Not one to rest on his laurels, last year, he launched, an online weekly food market bringing local food to those who miss out on farmer’s markets. He says Ballymaloe taught him the art of diligence.

“Eight years ago, (it feels strange to say that) I went down to Ballymaloe. My love of food was already affirmed but what I experienced was, and is still to this day, my best education.

"Diligence, drive and excitement for what I do has all come from Ballymaloe and of course, an understanding of the importance of simplicity in everything you make. My strongest memory of Darina and Ballymaloe right now is the free-range hens feasting about the grounds, as well looked after as the students, staff and families living there.

"Each hen having the freedom to roam and the option to eat as well as we all did. While living in Ballycotton during the course, myself and my housemate John actually got our own two hens and we named them Darina and Tim.

"I cook an omelette like this at least twice a week. I still remember perfectly, being taught it eight years ago.”

Classic French Omelette

Serves 1

  • filling of your choice (optional)
  • 2 organic eggs
  • 2 tsp milk or water
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tsp clarified butter or olive oil

Meet the Ballymaloe Graduates who made it big

Warm a plate in the oven. Meanwhile, heat a non-stick omelette pan over a high heat. If using, have your chosen filling ready beside you, along with a spoon.

Whisk the eggs with the milk or water in a bowl, until thoroughly mixed but not too fluffy. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put the warm plate beside the cooker/hob because you won’t have time to go looking for it while the omelette is cooking.

Add the clarified butter or oil to the pan. As soon as it sizzles, pour in the egg mixture. It will start to cook immediately so quickly pull the edges of the omelette towards the centre with a metal or plastic spatula, tilting the pan backwards and forwards then up and down for another few seconds so that the uncooked egg runs to the sides.

Continue right around until most of the egg is set and will not run any more. The centre should still be soft and moist — don’t worry, it will be perfectly set by the time it gets to the table. If you are using a filling, spoon the hot mixture in a line across the centre of the omelette, perpendicular to the pan handle.

To fold the omelette: Flip it the edge nearest the handle of the pan over the filling, towards the centre. Then change your grip of the handle so you are holding it from underneath, this will make it more comfortable for you to hold the pan almost upright so the omelette can roll towards the bottom of the pan.

Half-roll and half-slide the omelette onto the plate so that it lands folded into three. Serve immediately.

Sarah Richards

Famous for making some of the best sourdough bread that Ireland has to offer, Sarah says that the advice she has gleaned from Darina Allen over the years has been invaluable.

"One of my vivid memories of attending the Ballymaloe Cookery Course in 2000 is Darina taking us outside and picking up a handful of soil.

"She said that above all ingredients this was the most important factor in food production. She explained that if we don’t have rich and fertile soil, we won’t have good food. That made a real impression on me.

"Darina is an inspiring woman; she is a powerhouse and has done so much for Irish food and her legacy is worldwide.

What I love about Darina is that you will see her at talks in the front row, taking notes always listening and learning.

"I remember being at her house for lunch about 20 years ago. I asked her how she did so much, she’d be in one country one day, doing a demo in the cookery school the next and a launch of something at the other end of the country that evening and I believe she said ‘to avoid being overwhelmed I never look past what I have to do the next day’.

"Another wonderful piece of advice she gave also stuck with me; ‘if you’re not good at something, just get on with it and learn how to do it or get someone in to do it for you. Move on and move forward.’

"I have been making these scones for 18 years and they are a simple yet very popular twist on a normal scone that people can’t seem to get enough of.”

Darina Allen’s Orange Butter Scones

Makes 18-20 scones using a 7.5cm cutter

  • 900g plain white flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 3 heaped tsp baking powder
  • 175g butter, cubed
  • 3 organic eggs
  • 425ml milk to mix
  • Egg wash (whisk 1 egg with a pinch of salt)
  • Grated rind of one orange
  • For the orange butter:
  • 175g butter
  • 3 tsp orange zest, finely grated
  • 200g icing sugar

Meet the Ballymaloe Graduates who made it big

Heat oven to 240˚C/gas mark 9. Sieve all the dry ingredients together into a large bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles crumbs. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the bowl and mix to a soft dough. Turn out on to a floured board.

Do not knead, just shape into a round. Roll out to about 2.5cm thick and stamp into scones using a 7.5cm cutter. Put onto a baking sheet. No need to grease. Brush the tops with egg and dip each one in granulated sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool. To make the orange butter, cream the butter with the finely grated rind, add the sifted icing sugar and beat until fluffy.

Serve the scones spread generously with orange butter.


Meet the Ballymaloe Graduates who made it big

Owners of the hugely popular Flying Fox gastropub in Shanghai, Graeme and Lee Allen credit Darina and Ballymaloe with saving their business. Lee says that her experience at Ballymaloe changed her life.

“My husband, Graeme Allen and I opened the Flying Fox in Shanghai in 2006. At the time I was working as a teacher and would come to the Fox at the weekends and in the evenings to help out.

"At the time we were employing experienced Chinese chefs and had brought out Ivan Whelan, a cousin of my husbands to help train the team. Ivan did a sterling job in training our chefs in Irish and western food but two years later, standards were slipping, and the food wasn’t up to the quality that we wanted.

"So, it was off to the Ballymaloe Cookery School — a truly inspiring place that changed my life.

"When I arrived at the Cookery School, I didn’t know the first thing about how to cook Western food. The school gave me the foundation to understand recipes by learning the terminology, the method and to think through the whole process before starting to cook simple, fresh and delicious food.

"If you follow the Cookery School recipes, it’s nearly a guarantee that the dish will turn out right. This is what we practice at the Flying Fox where we serve about 50,000 meals a year.”

FLYING Fox Beef and Guinness stew

Serves 4-6

  • 1kg lean stewing beef
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed (optional)
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tablespoons of water
  • 300ml Guinness
  • 200g carrots cut into chunks
  • sprig of thyme

Trim the meat of any fat or gristle, cut into cubes of 5cm and toss them in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season the flour with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne pepper. Toss the meat in the mixture.

Heat the remaining oil in a wide frying pan over a high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the onions, crushed garlic and tomato purée to the pan; cover and cook gently for about five minutes.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole dish and pour some of Guinness into the frying pan. Bring to the boil and stir to dissolve the caramelised meat juices in the pan.

Pour onto the meat with the remaining Guinness, and then add the carrots and thyme. Stir, taste, and add a little more salt if you think necessary. Cover with the lid of the casserole and simmer very gently until the meat is tender — usually two to three hours.

The stew can be cooked on the top of your hob or in a low oven at 150˚C. Taste and correct the seasoning. At The Flying Fox, we serve the stew with either rice or mash and scatter with lots of chopped parsley.


Co-founder of Brother Hubbard North and South in Dublin and bestselling cookbook author, Garrett says that his experiences at Ballymaloe informed the path his career would take.

“Off I went on my big adventure to Ballymaloe some 10 years ago: driving down to Cork on a warm September evening, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Pulling in after a long journey, I was greeted by Darina with a big hug as she gathered the early arrivals together for a light supper in the late evening sunshine.

"And it was a version of this soup that was served. What I remember most about it was ‘green’ — not just in colour,but everything about it was just vibrant. Perfection and purity, served with a side of fresh soda bread and Jersey cow butter.

And that first taste of Ballymaloe came to represent exactly what Darina’s food and her ethos is all about: full of warmth, of welcome, of nutrition, of purity and of brightness and joy.

"And so, with that bowl of goodness, my adventure had begun. The next morning, the first and most important lesson of all was delivered: holding up fresh compost in our hands, Darina reminded us that this is where it all comes from, emphasising to us the importance of nature and the purity of our food. I’ve never looked back since. And I know who to thank for that.”


Serves 8

  • 250g onions
  • 250g celery
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 250g fennel
  • 250g frozen peas
  • 250g kale
  • 250g spinach
  • 50-100g parsley
  • 250g potatoes, diced
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
  • 1.5-2 litres chicken or vegetable stock

Meet the Ballymaloe Graduates who made it big

Chop the onion, celery and garlic to medium dice. The smaller the better but we all know life is short and you can always let the heat of the stove top do the work for you. It will just take a little longer to sweat things down.

Chop the tops off the fennel and reserve for later. Slice the fennel in half lengthways and remove the tough core at the bottom and give it a good wash. Now slice the rest of the fennel. Peel the potato and cut into 1cm cubes. Wash your kale well, remove any thick stalks from the kale and then just slice thinly and put to one side.

Do the same for your spinach. Wash the parsley, remove the bigger stalks and chop finely.

In a large pot, heat a little rapeseed oil and add the onion, celery, fennel, potato, parsley stalk, kale stale and garlic. Sweat them out, covering with baking paper and a lid on a medium heat until the vegetables soften — about 15-20 minutes, stirring every five minutes. Make sure they are all lovely and soft. Then add the spices.

Now add 1.5 litres of boiling water to the soup and bring to a simmer. Now is the time to add the peas, herbs (reserving a little for garnishing), spinach and kale leaves. Quickly bring the soup back to a simmer by increasing the heat. Cook for three minutes and no longer.

Blitz the soup well using a hand blender or in your blitzer/ food processor. The soup will blitz well but with lovely green specks of kale in it (an intended outcome). Taste and adjust the seasoning if you feel it needs a bit of a perk as well as adding more water if you feel it is necessary.

Serve immediately fully heated into warmed bowls, garnished with a swirl of yogurt, maybe a sprinkle of sumac if you have some and the reserved herbs, perhaps with a final drizzle of a good oil (Irish rapeseed or good olive oil) and maybe some slices of fresh chilli. And, if you can, serve alongside some fresh (preferably homemade) soda bread and good Irish butter.

Jess Shadbolt

ONE half of the team behind King, one of New York’s most lauded restaurants, Jess Shadbolt and her business partner Claire de Boer are both proud Ballymaloe Alumni.

“Few moments pass in the kitchen at King without a thought of Darina; the moment the stock starts to simmer and the bubbles gently reach the surface; tenderly folding egg whites into a cake mixture so not to burst the whipped up air; carefully choosing a wooden spoon, just the right wooden spoon for the job; the delight as I greedily lick the last juices from the pan and sing ‘deeee-licious’.

"Because delicious food is what we were taught to value.

Simple, seasonal, honest food that was nostalgic and felt like coming home in the first bite.

"Now that winter is arriving, we are serving these pears at King. Small bundles of poached and pastry wrapped deliciousness — serve with softly whipped cream and Demerara sugar as I imagine Darina would, or as we do with a little Chantilly. Either way, you’ll be coming back for seconds.”

Douillons aux Poires

Serves 4

  • For the pastry:
  • 300g plain flour
  • 150g sugar
  • 200g chilled butter
  • 3 tbsp ice-cold water.
  • Poaching liquid:
  • 400ml Calvados
  • 100ml water
  • 200g sugar
  • 1 stick cinnamon

Meet the Ballymaloe Graduates who made it big

In a large bowl, grate the chilled pastry into the flour with a pinch of salt. Slowly dribble in the ice cold water. Mix together using a knife before using your hands to gently bring the dough together.

You may need to add a little more water. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes. In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, large enough to fit all the fruit, warm the calvados, sugar and water with the cinnamon stick.

Gently bring to the boil and simmer slowly for three minutes. Preheat the oven to 220˚C. Peel the pears, keeping the stalk at the top intact. From the base of the pear, remove the core with an apple corer.

Add to the warm liquid and poach until the pears are tender — not fully cooked — 5-7 minutes. Remove from the liquid and drain and allow to cool. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to 1/2cm thick; cut into 2.5cm thick strips.

Working from the base of the pears, begin to wrap in the pastry, making sure there are no gaps and pinching together at the top. Brush with egg wash and bake until golden brown for 30-40 minutes. Serve warm dusted in icing sugar with cold cream, crème fraîche of Chantilly.

More on this topic

The Kitchen Garden: Improve your meals by growing your ownThe Kitchen Garden: Improve your meals by growing your own

Darina's black book: The addresses, the products, the style...Darina's black book: The addresses, the products, the style...

Festive Feast: The recipes you need to make Christmas dinner this yearFestive Feast: The recipes you need to make Christmas dinner this year

Darina Allen: Recipes to get your kids cookingDarina Allen: Recipes to get your kids cooking