Full Disclosure

The first week is done. What can I say? Ballymaloe is overwhelming, intimidating, brilliant, inspiring, confusing.  I think I have gone through a rainbow of emotions this week from, "What the hell am I doing here" to "This is awesome" to "I never want to see bread again for the rest of my life" (there are a lot of bread and cake products at Ballymaloe).


In this first week we have gone through no less than about 60 recipes, yes you heard that right.  I feel like I'm at some sort of cooking Guantanamo. I am a cooking machine.  You are in the kitchen in the morning, cooking demonstrations in the afternoon, each given duties, it's like a real job (what?) and so it goes,on and on, it's a conveyor belt of learning, absorbing new skills, new techniques, it's bloody intense.  One of the jobs is feeding the hens, now this is a job I want, I have a real affinity with the hens they seem like a really happy bunch.  They live in the Palais de Poulet.  I mean it sounds like my kind of gaff.

On the first day  I was honoured to be awarded the prize for the first person to adorn a blue plaster, this did not surprise me, I am known for my clumsy ways. How I haven't knifed someone is a miracle, I am doing mental drills everyday "must keep knife by my side and not use as an aide for animated chat".  Ha! If there had been time for animated chat I might have found it a bit easier.  It's a very serious business cooking school.  Apparently  it is not a competition, yeah right! Of course it is, everyone is aiming for cook of the week. I am not even sure if that is a thing but we all want it.  I can say without a shadow of a doubt I am not in the running.   I think my lowest point was after bragging that I won the top prize for my scones when I was in the Brownies (please note that I did not do this in an open public setting,  I haven't completely lost my mind, it was an appropriate small setting with people who I believe understood the irony of my bold statement)  I forgot to put the bloody raising agent in until the last moment. I ended up with wonky scones and a bruised ego.  Anyway I am moving on from scones, so last week.

It is absolutely system overload you are being given so much information not only about cooking  and there is A LOT of information about cooking, but growing, composting, seasons, herbs, vegetable varieties, farming, everything there is to know about living in a way that makes the best use of the natural resources and produce available to us.  It is truly inspiring and when I stop and think that this is my life for the next three months it really is incredible, and intimidating, yes that word again, there is a tendency to feel rather inadequate at Ballymaloe.

Now I can't not write about my first week and not talk about meeting new people, oh my god it's hard especially when your brain capacity is exhausted by the sheer volume of acclimatisation. The concept of 'be yourself' is a joke.  I totally left my personality with my flat scones.  I think my high point was when a girl from the Netherlands asked me if I'd ever been to which I replied that I'd been to Holland.  Yes Nadra that's what she asked.  Great, so my personality is right up there with my knife skills, pretty sketchy to be honest.   We all move about in our chef whites like confused sheep attaching ourselves to the most age appropriate group we can find that seem like they have the potential to be your friend.  It's a desperate situation.  Nevertheless I am surviving, just.

I love the Irish.  They are a friendly bunch.  Very open. I have really taken to the concept of just getting it all out there, there is no "fine" in these parts, you just go for it, full disclosure. How's your day? Well let me settle down and get it all out.  Amazing.  It's like everyday therapy.   Yes I think me and the Irish are going to get on a treat.  For my sins I have already taken to doing the accent.  I just can't help myself. It's like a disease.  Thankfully I've only done this once and with the same group that I disclosed my Brownie scone making past to. They seem to find me amusing, or feel sorry for me and my strange Irish accent trying ways.   I think the best thing I have found out this week (apart from all the cooking stuff, which of course is great but at the moment is just really confusing) is that saying f*ck is a terribly offensive word in Ireland. What? How can it be? It's a great word, John.C. Parkin has built a whole career on it.  Reading his book is one of the reasons that I am here.  Anyway, I digress. Now I am armed with this information, I do not want to offend my new Irish friends and they go on to dump me, now this would be a disaster, especially if I am going to perfect my accent.  I am now training myself to say feck, I seem to have taken to doing a feck f*ck feck f*ck dance which means I sound like I've got a verbal tick.   I am not sure this is the start I had hoped for.

Things I have learnt in week 1 of Ballymaloe

  1. Composting is an art
  2. I can make jam, scones, bread, tarts, tomato puree, pesto, stock...
  3. I do not possess natural knife skills
  4. I would like to come back to this earth as a Hen that lives at the Palais de Poulet
  5. Chef whites are not my friend. On the other hand
  6. I am really liking my chefs shoes, they are a good all rounder
  7. There is a variety of chilly called Pinocchio's Nose
  8. There is also a variety of tomato called Ox Heart
  9. I am not a natural cyclist, the folding aspect of the fold up bike is actually quite annoying
  10. Pastry currently scares me

Despite the ups and downs the mind numbing exhaustion, it really has been fecking great.





Nadra Shah