The Shape I’m In: Rory O’Connell, Masterchef

RORY O’CONNELL has been teaching people to cook for more than 30 years, ever since he co-founded Ballymaloe Cookery School with his sister, Darina Allen.

The 54-year-old enjoys working with Darina. “We have a great deal of mutual respect and we laugh a lot. She is one of my best friends,” he says.

He is currently on our TV screens on Wednesday nights with an eight-part cookery show that was filmed at his home in Ballycotton — an old restored farmhouse. “I really enjoyed the process of making the programme. It was pretty intensive for 10 days or so, but I felt comfortable in my own kitchen. It was a very nice experience.”

He bought the farmhouse 15 years ago. “It wasn’t in great shape. It’s still an ongoing process. I’d love a really good fruit garden. We can grow such incredible fruit in Ireland.”

In his mid-30s, he took a career break and studied interior design. “I practised it for a few years but I was lured back into the kitchen, which is really my first love,” says the man whose first book Master It – How to Cook Today won the prestigious Andre Simon Food Book Award.

Rory’s new series is based around techniques like roasting, pan-grilling, making emulsion sauces, using gelatine, making perfect mashed potato, baking fish on the bone — stuff every serious cook should master, he believes.

He sees these skills as timeless and essential, completely independent of fashion or gimmicks — anyone who wants to cook properly needs to understand them.

* How To Cook Well with Rory O’Connell airs on Wednesdays on RTÉ One at 7.30pm.

What shape are you in?

Pretty good. I swim three times a week at Garryvoe Health Centre — I churn up and down the lanes. I have a fairly active lifestyle. With teaching, I’m on my feet a lot and I do a bit of gardening.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I eat local foods in season and I eat organic whenever possible. Eating really matters to me but I eat what I need rather than what I want. When I’ve had enough, I know I have and that’s fine. I do think about eating enough fruit, vegetables, salad and fish. I try not to eat too much meat but when I do I make sure it’s good quality.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

I’d have the odd Jaffa Cake — maybe a couple of times a year.

What would keep you awake at night?

Worry about work – if I had a big job coming up. Thank goodness though I’m a really good sleeper. I get about eight hours a night. One of my favourite things is a 20-minute nap in the afternoon. That might happen once every two months.

How do you relax?

When I go into the garden, I immediately switch off from work. There’s a different emotional involvement when I’m in the garden compared to when I’m in the kitchen. Nature amazes me. I find it incredibly grounding and miraculous that things grow out of the ground.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

I’d invite Oscar Wilde — he’d be very witty; food writer Elizabeth David; American singer Pharrell Williams; Vita Sackville-West, who created the gardens at Sissinghurst; artist Pablo Picasso and the present Pope.

Your favourite smell?

Lemon verbena, really old-fashioned scented roses and roasted cumin seeds.

What would you change about your appearance?

I’m sort of philosophical about the march of time — there’s no way around it. I don’t envisage at any stage having any intervention to change my appearance. I am what I am. I put up with it and get on with it.

When did you last cry?

The odd time, if a memory of my mother comes flooding back, it would be enough to bring a tear to my eye.

What trait do you least like in others?

I don’t like bullies, people who are overbearing and pushy in an unkind way.

What trait do you least like in yourself?

I can be a little bit cranky sometimes.

Do you pray?

I do. I’m not quite sure where it goes. It doesn’t matter — you don’t necessarily have to believe in something. I generally pray as a form of thanks — for my health, my good fortune in living where I do and in loving what I do and that my family is well. I also pray for other people [when they have] misfortune.

What would cheer up your day?

A smile from someone is always sufficient to make my day a better one.


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