‘She inspired a generation of chefs’ - Darina's tribute to Myrtle Allen

We will do our utmost to carry on her incredible legacy.
Last night, Darina Allen paid this emotional tribute to her mother-in-law, Myrtle Allen, the doyenne of Irish food and the woman who founded the Ballymaloe food empire, who has died, aged 94.

She is survived by her six children, 22 grandchildren, and 36 great-grandchildren.

“What an extraordinary legacy this woman has left us. We all, each of the family, feel a deep responsibility to carry it on. And we will do so with great joy and pleasure,” said Darina.

Mrs Allen passed away at Cork University Hospital on Tuesday following a short illness. She was surrounded by members of her family. Funeral arrangements have yet to be finalised.

  

Mrs Allen and her husband Ivan, a farmer and horticulturalist, bought Ballymaloe House in East Cork in 1948. She opened a restaurant in the family home in 1964 — one of the first country houses in Ireland or Britain — building its reputation by using top quality, locally sourced produce supplied by a network of trusted suppliers.

“She knew, having travelled, about the quality of Irish produce. She knew the flavour was there when the rest of us had to be told. She inspired a generation of chefs to have confidence to serve local Irish food proudly and as simply as possible,” said Darina.

Mrs Allen, who has said she just cooked the food she knew how to cook, went on to build a food empire, becoming the first Irish woman to be awarded a Michelin star. She is credited with leading a revolution in Irish food and hospitality.

“It was unheard of at the time to open a restaurant in your own home, especially miles from anywhere,” said Darina. “She wrote the menu every day based on what was available and what was in season.

“She gave me a little job in Ballymaloe in the late ’60s, and I was like a sponge, just soaking everything up. I feel very fortunate that our paths crossed. She changed the course of my life and I loved her deeply. Not everybody feels like that about their mother-in-law.

“We have much to be grateful to her for.”

As Ballymaloe celebrated its 50th birthday were, from left, Rory O’Connell, Tash Harty, Rory Allen, Joe Cremin, Colm Macan, Darina Allen, Rachel Allen, Myrtle Allen and Hazel Allen.

Darina recalled Mrs Allen’s joy of sharing her knowledge in the internationally renowned Ballymaloe cookery school, in the belief that learning to cook was a wonderful skill that could make such a difference to the joy and health of a family.

“In all the years, I never heard Myrtle raising her voice or swearing in the kitchen. It just wasn’t done. It was just not acceptable,” said Darina. “It became the way to be in the kitchen. It was a happy kitchen. She led by example.

“She had the highest of standards, she would taste and tweak, and you had to start again if it wasn’t good enough, but it was done in a kindly way with the view that every mistake is an opportunity to learn.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, as well as chefs such as Ross Lewis and Neven Maguire, were among those who paid tribute to Mrs Allen yesterday.


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