Week 3: Best bits of the Ballymaloe Litfest 2015

Knock knock, who’s there?

Jancis Robinson, wine authority and queen of grapes
Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovic from Honey & Co
Alice Walters from Chez Panisse, Berkeley, California
Mark Hix from, well, Mark Hix
April Bloomfield from The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, New York
Jack Monroe, author of the blog, A Girl Called Jack
David Tanis, New York Times food columnist (and more)
Sam & Sam Clark from Moro
Allegra McEvedy, co-founder of Leon, TV presenter and chef…

…I could go on, but you get the gist – you’ve just walked into a big fat food and drink VIP party. And it’s not in a swanky London venue, or a 5* hotel in Manhattan, it’s in a cookery school, a grainstore and a big shed in Shanagarry, Co. Cork, Ireland. Which is awesome.

In week 3, everything was turned upside down at the school as Ballymaloe prepared to play hostess to the annual Ballymaloe Litfest, or the Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine 2015, which as you can imagine from the stellar cast above, boasted an eclectic programme of food and demonstrations, talks and classes jam-packed into one weekend.

For me and my 62 cooking school classmates, the Litfest is pretty much the pinnacle of our social calendars in Ireland. The line up included a few of my personal culinary crushes, but there is another I’ve since added to the list – the humble, and incredibly talented April Bloomfield, who, in her demo, made carrot-top pesto (see the recipe) which we are all still raving about. She is a born Brummie, an alumnus of both Chez Panisse and the River Café and is now one of the biggest names on the New York food scene. With two cook books under her belt, April is famed for the Michelin-starred Spotted Pig, the first gastro pub in Manhattan, her second Michelin-starred restaurant, the Breslin and also the neighboring John Dory oyster bar at the Ace Hotel. Josh and I had visited NY at Easter (he won the round trip for two in a charity raffle – like this ever actually happens to anyone?), and I realised we stayed in the very same Ace Hotel. And it was in the very same John Dory oyster bar where we apparently drank ourselves to oblivion at 3am on a Friday night, not touching a single oyster (according to the receipt – we can’t remember) and the very same Breslin where I ordered a full English the Saturday morning and could only eat the tomato and complained it was overpriced and never went back for dinner. I am such a fool.

The Litfest was also a chance to cast out our social net amongst the locals, helped along by the beery bar and live music which were successful social lubricants. I’ve distilled down the best bits of gossip, knacks, tips and facts from the weekend activities buzzfeed-style, just because everyone likes a good list.

Here we go:

#1: Cop-a-feel


“You are aiming for the texture of a pert breast… it should hold its shape, and have a delightful little wobble”. Allegra McEvedy, broadcaster and writer and co-founder of Leon, describes the perfect of crab and lemon risotto. I won’t forget that one in my technique exam in 2 weeks’ time.


IMG-20150524-WA0012 (1)

… at the opening party. These psychedelic flares danced their way into the arms of a mystery man in a red hoodie. But who is he? That’s a secret we’ll never tell. Just like the secret that someone snogged a (super fly) waitress at Ballymaloe House and another one took home the French gardener. Bravo!

#3: Garlic Jam

A Girl Called Jack author, Jack Monroe, invents garlic jam. HALLELUJAH!

Find the recipe here.

#4: Queens of Neon

IMAG0197_1_1   IMG_20150514_231524

We helping out the “multi-dimensional creative collective” (?) and utterly fabulous Queens of Neon assemble a sunflower stalk chandelier, one of their many fantastic installations including the golden paper airplane tornado pictured above, hanging in the Big Shed fringe festival. They were not shy to share their feelings on Ireland’s referendum on same sex marriage. Glorious!

#5: Swallow This

“What is done to these pitta breads to make them stay ‘fresh’ for six months?”

This thought has floated across my mind before, and then happily floated off again as I smothered one in Marmite. Joanna Blythman answered that question in her lecture, as she shared her research into the “darkest secrets” of the food processing industry and its products. Jaw dropping stuff, but an essential read – according to Clemmie and Florence, who have chosen to read it to each other before bed.

She has also written a book, Swallow This.

Swallow This

#6: Brianna’s coffee bean knife


Brianna managed to sweet talk her way into being the proud owner of a one-off, not-for-sale, impossible-to-get-your-hands-on Fingal Ferguson hand-crafted knife, bypassing a waiting list of over 9 months. Yes, those are coffee beans you can see in the handle.

#7: Roger Phillips’s foraging hat


Although I didn’t get to go on a forage with Roger, I appreciate his toadstool hat.

#8: What he said

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“Because nobody ever came up with a great idea over a diet coke” 
Wiseman and Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster, Garrett Oliver

We all nodded sagely, like we were thinking great ideas, but couldn’t actually come up with anything so took another sip of IPA instead. What a salesman.

#9: Haute cuisine

The Meat-shaped stone

Why include a sad, limp pork-belly canapé, you ask?

Well, this is in fact the “Meat-shaped Stone”, a tiny sculpture dating from the Ch’ing Dynasty and one of the most famous historic artefacts in Taiwan. In her talk on Chinese cuisine, Fuchsia Dunlop (Chinese cuisine writer and chef) discusses the important role of food in Chinese culture, and the mouth-watering things the Chinese can do with pork belly. Check out her delicious recipes here: www.fuchsiadunlop.com

#10: Coffee cupping workshop with Tim Wendelboe

This trendy Norwegian coffee connoisseur’s workshop was so popular it must have been sold out before it was even put on sale, and so none of us could go or report on how good this was. I tried to sneak in, but they were having none of it. Like so many other cool hipster happenings I can’t get into. I’ll just continue to sip on the velvety coffee made from beans roasted onsite at Ballymaloe, and will be very pleased with it, thank you very much, Mr Wendelboe.

#11: That carrot top pesto

Before I forget, here is the recipe for April Bloomfield’s famed carrot top pesto with roasted carrots and burrata.

What I learned this week: If you work hard at it, you can do it.


Diamonds on the soles of her shoes


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