Letter from Ireland: The spirit of Julia Child at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Chef Darina Allen demonstrates Julia Child's recipe for tarte tatin.

There’s a sense of the reality of Julia Child at Ballymaloe Cookery School, and then there is a sense of her spirit.

Both reality and spirit are embodied by Chefs Myrtle Allen and Darina Allen (Myrtle’s daughter-in-law), founders of the renowned Ballymaloe House and restaurant and the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Ireland.

Myrtle Allen is more of Julia’s generation. She and Julia share common histories as pioneering women and authors in their countries’ culinary history, and both are grounded firmly in classical French cooking technique, adapted in their own ways to suit and appeal to their local cultures and ingredients.

Darina is like Julia as well, post-publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That is, she is her country’s culinary celebrity, generous with time and energy, and involved the way sincere representatives are for their endeavors. With Julia, the endeavor was to bring the pleasures of French cooking and eating to the American public; for Darina, it is training new generations of cooks and shepherding micro-produced ingredients and products to the marketplace.

Both streams, one more historical and one more of-the-moment, merge this week at Ballymaloe Cookery School where Darina hosts a two-and-a-half-day course called “Homage to Julia Child.” Mornings, the students are devoted to executing recipes in Ballymaloe’s three student kitchens, while afternoons are full of cooking demonstrations led by Darina and her brother, Rory O’Connell, an accomplished educator and chef in his own right.

The historical reality of Julia’s recipes is evident, from the duck en croute to the tarte tatin, but it is their spirit that is executed here. That is, the recipes that are demonstrated and prepared are “shorthand” versions of Julia’s meticulous, multipage originals. The recipes are no less successful for the abbreviations, as they have been mainstays of the restaurant at Ballymaloe and at the Cookery School for decades.

And that perhaps is the most salient lesson from this course so far: success through repetition and a firm grounding in technique. Add healthy doses of humor and camaraderie along the way and your satisfaction – not to mention an exceptionally delicious meal – is secure.

Julia would have approved.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

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