Fat Juicy Cherry Of “What Next?”

So, as I write this, I am back on UK soil.  Ballymaloe has come to an end.  Can’t quite believe it to be honest.  The last two weeks have been the most intense two weeks I’ve experienced in a long time.  A tidal wave of emotions, exhaustion, nerves, stress and massive fat juicy cherry of “what next?” anticipation on top.

Let’s rewind to Monday two weeks ago.   The wine exam was fast approaching.  Now you’d think that I would be all excited about the wine exam, I have, after all been consuming wine with a passion for a while.  I like to think I’ve educated myself a fair bit along the way.  However the truth of the matter is I mostly found the wine lectures deathly dull so revising for the exam wasn’t filling me with the excitement that I’d hoped walking in to Ballymaloe all those week before.  Nevertheless never a quitter I threw myself into it did some quizzes just to jazz things up a bit.   When Wednesday came it all had gone a bit serious.  Yes it was a like a real exam.  Real exam chair set up.   We became our exam numbers, Y42,  in case you are interested.  I found the whole thing quite hilarious, now I am not sure if this was nerves or it was hilarious.  I mean it was a little bit hilarious.  I have always found situations where you are meant to be serious hilarious.  Umm maybe I’ll ponder on that another time.  Anyway hilarious exam set up got the last laugh because my friends little did I know what was in store for me.  Jesus.   The wine exam was a walk in the park.  I had the MasterBallyMaloeChef Finals to contend with.

No sooner had the wine exam finished it was on to study for the 5 hour theory exam that would take place the following Friday not to mention the practical which for me would happen the following Thursday.   Everything was hurtling towards the end and to be honest it felt like I was trying to keep up.   There was a strange feeling that swept through Ballymaloe in the last few days.  I think everyone felt a little out of their depth.  Going back to real life will do that.  For me I felt and am still feeling a sense of low-level panic.  I’ve lived in a bubble for the past three months now at times it’s been a quite peculiar but it becomes your new normal, you adjust and it becomes your life, you adapt to the things that annoy you, you gradually find your place and it becomes safe.  Because after all isn’t that we do in all our lives?  We move around until you find our place and even if we don’t want to you settle, we do.  Because settling is part of being content and we all want to feel content.  So what am I trying to say here….I suppose what I am trying to say is that I don’t feel safe anymore. Of course I don’t mean that in the dramatic sense, I do have my finger on reality, there are far bigger things going on in the world.  But what is my new normal? Another gear change, another adjustment.   It also hasn’t escaped my notice that this time last year I was in a very different place.  It was dark and sad and I wasn’t at all well.  So what, another little journey to find my place. In my face place. What?  No idea. Anyway after all I said about wanting to move Christmas to January, forget that, you stay right where you are, don’t move.  The good thing about Christmas is that it’s like a massive get out of jail card.  No one expects you to make big life changes at Christmas.

Let’s fast forward to the exams.  Well they happened.  I was nervous, so nervous.  You had 3 hours to complete a three course meal and a bread which was assigned to you after lots were drawn.  I got brown soda bread, now on face value you’d think this was a far easier bread to do than say a white yeast bread, in time, yes it most certainly is, but do you think it you can ever get the little bugger right? God no.  No matter what you do it’s either too tight, too light, too this, too that.  Oh no I am not a fan of the brown soda bread.  I had my cook-ahead on Wednesday at 8am. Basically this is when you do anything that needs to be done before the main event in the speediest way possible.  I tell you I jointed my chicken like a ninja before getting my dessert in the moulds to set.  In and out in 33 minutes.  So that meant 2 hours and 27 minutes to deliver the goods.   I tell you walking into that kitchen on Thursday I thought I was going to be sick I was so nervous.  I say for the first hour I did not enjoy the experience one bit. It was like all my training to that point had left my brain.   I was having a word with myself all over the place.  I did manage to pull it together and delivered the best meal I possibly could have done under those circumstances.  I went for a Middle Eastern fare; Yemeni Style Falafel with Tahini, Ottolenghi Roast Chicken, Pilaff Rice with Parsley, Middle Eastern Salad and Yoghurt and Cardamom Cream with Pomegranates infused with Rose Water.  All in all I was really pleased I took my time to plate up and the food looked good.  Well done me.   Oh I wasn’t out of the woods yet.  On we go to our final day and 5 hours of written exams.   From 8.30 until 3.30 we sat in our hilarious exam set up chairs (although I would add at this point that there was nothing hilarious about the exams on Friday, humour was not my friend).  Every lecture, every conversation, every piece of fruit or vegetable that was ever shown came up in that exam.  There was no stone unturned.  God help those who regularly had nana naps.    Exams came to and end and there was a quick 3 hour turnaround before the wonderful teachers hosted a farewell dinner.  We were packed off to the pub at 9pm shipped back again at 1am and kicked out at 10.30am the next day.  In true Ballymaloe style they packed it all in up until the very last second.  With no time to draw breath that was the end of Ballymaloe.

And so we said goodbye.  It’s always an odd thing when you have shared so much with people, you go on a parallel journey and then it comes to an end, they disappear into their lives, you do to yours and you know with most it is unlikely you will see one another again. Life always surprises me like that.  What can be so significant in one breath is so inconsequential in another.  There were some special people who I am not sure I would have got through the last 3 months without.   They kept me sane, kept me smiling and kept me from feeling lonely  and anxious which probably was the hardest thing I had to face.

So to the future.  That’s for the next blog post, and the next, and the next .  I think I will try to allow this experience to absorb first even for a few days.  Give the girl a break eh!

I think it’s time for the round-up.  Got to be the best bits hasn’t it?

In no particular order

  1. Cooking aerobics with Gary
  2. The Petit Four production line
  3. Karaoke and dancing in the pub
  4. Getting my first 10
  5. Sourdough baby
  6. For the sheer hilarity of it, thinking I had won Bake Off
  7. The endless jokes about my box
  8. Palais de Poulet
  9. Learning to cook.  That was kind of the point so seems rude not to include it
  10. All evenings that included red wine and a cheese or nut product

So that’s it.  This part of the blogging journey has come to an end.  So if anything these posts should have conveyed one thing, dreams are there to be had, they force you out of your comfort zone, they play on your emotions, they break you down and sometimes build you up, but not always.   They open your eyes to possibility.   So just go for it.

LifeNadra Shah