Check Into School
Where: County Cork, Ireland
The word "idyllic" comes to mind upon sight of Ballymaloe's cozy farmstead. Just outside a small fishing village in county Cork, this collection of 18th-century cottages is surrounded by 4 hectares (10 acres) of parterred gardens and mossy orchards and, surrounding that, a flourishing 41-hectare (100-acre) organic farm. As rustic as the buildings look from the outside, once you step inside you'll find a smartly equipped culinary classroom with large windows, a phalanx of counters and chopping blocks, and cooktops ready for action.
Ballymaloe offers serious 12-week courses for those looking for a culinary career, but a long roster of shorter courses are available year-round. They might be anything from a 3-hour introduction to the art of sushi or tapas or charcuterie, to a full-day crash course in butter making, beekeeping, or making jams and preserves from the bounty of Ballymaloe's own hives, dairy, and orchards.
Even if you're just touring the gardens, you're likely to see students in their chef's whites out in the garden plucking herbs for the morning's cooking class. Essential techniques are taught in 2½-day and 5-day courses, which may focus on baking, for example, or entertaining or cooking family mals. Several of these are conceived as a series, so returning students can hone their skills on successive visits to Ballymaloe. All this activity requires input from several teachers in residence, but Ballymaloe's fame attracts lots of excellent guest teachers as well (Richard Corrigan and Claudia Roden are among the visiting experts in 2009). Afternoon demonstrations, which you can book just a few days ahead of time, home in on a single skill such as how to fillet a fish or how to make a perfect omelet or loaf of bread. The longer classes fill up early, however, so reserve your spot well in advance, at least 6 weeks if possible.
The school's own cottages generally book up with guests taking the longer courses, but there are several other places to stay in the neighborhood, including the luxurious Ballymaloe House, an acclaimed upscale country-house hotel up the road. The school's director, Darina Allen, was once chef at Ballymaloe House. Her husband Tim Allen's family owns the place; Tim runs the farm; and Darina's brother and daughter are now teachers in the school as well. That's the sort of homey place Ballymaloe remains, despite its international acclaim. In the silence of a misty morning, as butterflies flit through the gardens and sheep baa in nearby pastures, it's hard to imagine how anyone could ever move away from such a place. Idyllic, indeed.
Shanagarry, County Cork; tel. 353/21/464-6785; www.cookingisfun.ie.
Cork City (32km/20 miles).
Where to Stay:
Ballymaloe House, Ballycotton Rd., Shanagarry (tel. 353/21/465-2531; www.ballymaloe.ie). The Garryvoe Hotel, Ballycotton Bay, Castlemartyr (tel. 353/21/464-6718; www.garryvoehotel.com).