Life at Ballymaloe

Life at Ballymaloe
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Úna Kavanagh packed in the 9-5 office day job to pursue her dreams at Ballymaloe…

When I was younger I used to watch my Grandad make bread. With such skill and ease he’d pull together the dough and I’d sneakily nab a piece off the back of his spoon and savour the taste. Those are memories that stay with you.

Since finishing college in 2012 I’ve been working full-time, and in June I decided to leave my job in search of a new adventure in food.

I can’t even begin to tell you about how different my life is now.

From waking up at 6.30am to head into an office job, to waking up and pulling on chef whites, it’s a life that I couldn’t even imagine myself in a few years ago.

Ballymaloe Cookery School situated in the heart of the Irish countryside might seem like a strange move from someone who has spent her working years in Dublin, but it’s the ultimate food haven.

Away from the hustle and bustle of busy cars and flashing lights, it’s been a place where you can completely immerse yourself in food, without any of the distractions. Being a journalist, it’s a crazy concept to not even look at the news and being so out of the loop, in a strange way, is quite calming.

The course started in September and so far it’s been a whirlwind of a ride, but it hasn’t been easy by any standards. Taking place over 12 weeks, three times a year, it’s intensive to say the least and you have little time to pull yourself away from the food world.

There are 62 students currently attending the course I’m in, with over six nationalities and the age ranges from between 16 – 74. Despite the high influx of students, there are six people to each teacher so thankfully you never feel like you’re alone in the kitchen.

Rotating between Darina Allen, her brother Rory O’Connell and daughter-in-law, Rachel Allen, the afternoon demonstrations showcase a myriad of recipes from the Middle Eastern-inspired to the traditionally Irish.

To say the staff at this cookery school are passionate about what they do is a complete understatement – they live this world, they breathe it, they know all about it and most importantly, they’re willing to share their knowledge.

Each week you cook with a new partner and like any social situation you may see a clash of personalities. With different levels of competence in the kitchen as well as different maturity levels outside of the kitchen, you’re completely thrown into a food world where you have to adapt to new challenges.

Not only that but you’re properly exhausted by the end of the day and by that I mean that you’re absolutely wrecked. There’s no shame at all in heading to bed at nine or ten, and in fact I’ve only headed out for a drink twice since I’ve been here, it’s that knackering.

Amongst the mountains of things I’ve learned, I’ve made cheese, created and destroyed a lemon meringue pie, jointed a chicken, filleted both flat and round fish successfully and learned that I’m completely in love with wine.

This course mightn’t be for everyone, but so far I’ve put my heart and soul into it and the rewards that I’m getting are indescribable. Looking after your cheese becomes a mission and watching your bread rise in the oven becomes a joy.

Over five weeks in and it’s still hard to believe that just a few months ago I was still dreaming about one day heading to Ballymaloe.

Though I’m still not 100% sure where this journey will take me, I’m glad that I took the leap. We can be so afraid of failure but you’ll never know until you give it a lash.

Sláinte! Here’s to more cooking days ahead.


Keep up with Úna’s adventure over at

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