I had the privilege to eat at Ballymaloe House—a luxurious estate in rural East Cork, about 20 miles from the city of Cork—during a recent visit to Ireland. Ballymaloe House, and its famed The Ballymaloe Cookery School have been recognized around the world for outstanding culinary offerings. After dining at Ballymaloe House, it was my pleasure to ask Chef Dervilla O'Flynn about her fine cuisine.
Interview with Chef Dervilla O'Flynn
Ballymaloe House serves homegrown or sourced produce, much of it coming from the estate's own gardens or whatever comes in on the boats at nearby Ballycotton. The Ballymaloe Cookery School and gardens are about 4 km (2.5 miles) from Ballymaloe House and you can arrange a private cookery demonstration, private tour, or enjoy one of three meals a day, with the menu designed each day for whatever is sourced.
Richard Basch for Wander: Why did you decide to become a chef?
Chef O'Flynn: I studied home economics in school and by chance got an opportunity to work for a summer at Ballymaloe Cookery School and adored it. I stayed and did the 12-week cookery course. When Darina [Allen] invited me to stay on and teach, that was the beginning of my career with food.
Wander: What other back-of-the-house positions have you previously held?
Chef O'Flynn: I did a lot of private catering and bespoke wedding cakes, which I loved. I cooked in a lovely gastro pub/guest house in Oxford for a very busy family. After that, I returned to Dublin and took the second chef position to Johnny Cooke in his eponymous restaurant Cooke’s Café. One year later, I returned to Cork to work with Harold Lynch and Beth Haughton and was then asked to open a city restaurant called Proby’s Bistro. After that, I set up a busy lunchtime self-service sandwich bar making everything in-house. Finally, I returned to run my mother-in-law’s café at her fabulous craft and kitchenware shop at Ballymaloe for eight years. Now I am back at the House.
Wander: You studied culinary arts here The Ballymaloe Cookery School. What did you like best about that culinary education experience?
Chef O'Flynn: I worked as Darina’s head teacher for a couple of years before heading out to chef in restaurants, working my way up through all the different departments. Studying at The Ballymaloe Cookery School, because of its international reputation, was a fantastic opportunity of mixing and learning from all the other nationalities. I learned to cook with the best as Darina doesn’t put up with anything less!
Wander: What is your management style?
Chef O'Flynn: My mother was a soft feminist, socialist and equal rights activist. That influence has set the way I am with people in my personal life and work. I prefer that the people I supervise have a fair, equal style, always listening before making decisions.
Wander: Do you have any vegan specialties?
Chef O'Flynn: Yes, I love the Savoury-Salad of Garden Kale and toasted walnuts with cider vinegar and farm honey dressing. I would follow that with split pea, garden spinach, and turmeric with pilaf rice. For a great vegan sweet, I would suggest the lime, coconut and cardamon cake.
Wander: What is your favorite vegan meal?
Chef O'Flynn: We are so lucky to have amazing vegetables, fruit, lettuces, and herbs from our gardens. So, for lunch, my favorite food to have is a super salad of grains, seeds, avocado, garden herbs, and leaves with roast garden romesco and slow roast tomatoes with seed crisps.
If You Go to Ballymaloe House
The Ballymaloe House menu changes daily. Guests are invited to enjoy lunch daily from 1 to 2 p.m. for €40 (€45 on Sundays). Dinner is served daily between 7 and 9:30 p.m. The menu is never set until after the fish delivery arrives at 4 p.m. Each dinner features five courses and the price is €75. Reservations are recommended. You can find out more about Ballymaloe House, located in County Cork, Ireland, online at www.ballymaloe.ie.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a meal for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.