Renowned chef Darina Allen has defended running cookery classes during lockdown for a group of international students at Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Ms Allen spoke out last night after it emerged that nine students from the US, Holland, and the UK, have been attending in-person classes at the renowned school in East Cork in recent weeks, despite level 5 restrictions.
“We felt we had a strong responsibility to them and that we did the right thing,” Ms Allen said.
But they were left in limbo when Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced a full level 5 lockdown on December 30, which came into effect the following day.
“They, and we, were in a desperate dilemma then,” Ms Allen said.
“They had travelled long distances. Some have taken three-month career breaks.
“We felt we had a duty of care to these students."
The students were offered the opportunity to join the ‘Ballymaloe Bubble' after their 14-day quarantine.
Ms Allen said when lockdown was extended at the end of January — by which point the students had been in the country for about five weeks — the school cancelled the 12-week course and decided to offer them a modified course.
Classes and activities were organised and included cookery classes with Ms Allen. Ballymaloe management said they bore little resemblance to the experience they should have had on the 12-week course and that they have now been scrapped.
Ms Allen claimed Ballymaloe is different to third-level institutions given its residential setting.
"The students, and all the staff, have been meticulous about everything, from the 5km travel restrictions, to the social distancing. We know that one slip could make a difference to everybody," she said.
“We have nine in a kitchen that would normally have 20. And we have cancelled all other courses."
“We are confident that we made the right decision under the circumstances at the time and given our duty of care," Ballymaloe said in a statement.
“We take every possible measure to ensure the health and safety of everyone however, we are aware of concerns expressed recently and so have decided to cease the classes.
“The students will make travel arrangements when it is possible and safe to do so.”