My Week in Cafe Cooking – A Cookery School Experience

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If you’ve been following my blog or Instagram for the past while, or if you know me at all, it won’t surprise you to hear me say that I am a) a serious foodie and b) a person who does not do boredom. In early April, I had a week of annual leave that I hadn’t been really able to organise any definite plans for, simply due to the timing of the year it fell on.But then, for my birthday, my lovely mom (FYI, she’s awesome) got me a majorly creative present – a voucher for the Dublin Cookery School on the south-side of the city. We had chatted to representatives of the school at a Christmas food and craft fair, and I had talked about someday maybe taking the leap to do a course myself. This present was just the push I needed! So I got my Google hat on, and very happily, found a ‘right up my street’ course named ‘Cafe Cooking‘ beginning on the first day of my annual leave! Good timing or what?! I decided to just go for it, and put the voucher towards a full 4 day course. I was SO excited, and the feedback from you guys when I announced it on my Instagram was fantastic – and with all the questions I’ve had before, during and after the course, I knew I would have to write about my experience! Throughout this post, I’m gonna tell you about my week at cookery school, with foodie photos of what we created too. I hope, if you’ve been thinking about doing a similar course yourself, that this post helps you make the decision to go for it!

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So, let’s get the technical stuff mentioned first. I did a four day course called ‘Cafe Cooking’ as I said above, at the Dublin Cookery School which is owned and run by director and chef Lynda Booth, who is an Irish award-winning author of several cookbooks too. Talk about impressive! I knew as soon as I saw the title of the course that it was for me – the sample menu on the website included a wide range of recipes, from vegetarian salads to homemade brown soda breads, to decadent chocolate brownies and scones, to simple kitchen skills like poaching, blanching and frying! As you all know, I’m a big advocate of wholefood and plant-based diets, and my recipes are usually along that nature, while many of my baking recipes are ‘healthy’ versions of classics just like brownies or protein bars. I wouldn’t change that. But since starting my blog, I have wanted to expand my recipe repertoire a little, and get braver in the kitchen, tackling more mainstream recipes like scones, traditional breads, quiches, and desserts, as well as being inspired to get even more creative with my go-to recipes – curries, salads, soups, snacks, etc.

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The course was four FULL days – 9.30 until 4.30 or 5, depending on the day. The School offer a range of courses – week-long, one and three month, and one day courses, evening classes and supper clubs as well as catering for corporate and group events. Different courses and days/events will be named according to the style of cooking to be done at that time. The costs are all available on the website, so I don’t need to list that here! What I will say is that I felt I got full value and more for the money I paid – we spent the whole day in the kitchen, and were fed deliciously well with what we created on the day, as well as getting to take home many of our goodies too!

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Each day was different – but the structure was the same. There were 9 people in my course, myself included, which is quite small for the week-long courses apparently – usually it’s anything from 15-20 or more. The cookery school itself is absolutely beautiful – bright, huge, open plan, with a big main kitchen full of work stations, a demonstration kitchen section, and a spacious dining area at the back.

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We spent the mornings cooking the day’s menu, until early afternoon, and then all sat down for a late lunch to feast on our creations! After that, we would have an interactive cookery demo by one of the tutor chefs of the following day’s menu – which we got to taste at the end too, so we knew what sort of flavours and textures we were aiming for the next day! All of the staff were just so lovely, professional, friendly, and a proper laugh too – we got to know each by name, and I always felt like I could ask them absolutely anything at all. We got consistent, helpful and constructive feedback throughout the course, on things like our knife skills, and flavours and textures achieved. The 9 of us were of varying age, and backgrounds, which was wonderful as we all got to know each really well, and share foodie ideas too! No one was a chef by trade, but we all had a common love of cooking and food!

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So, time to get to the real important part guys, I know you’ve been drooling waiting! The FOOD. Well, in short, it exceeded ALL EXPECTATIONS. I’m trying to find the right words to aptly describe to you a) how delicious it was and b) how inspired I was by it. Let me put it like this. I’m a serious foodie. I literally adore cooking, and I find it beyond therapeutic, especially spending time in my kitchen creating wholesome, delicious recipes I can share with you, friends and family. It makes me happy, that’s the easiest way to describe it. I’m also (as you probably know) a massive advocate for the POWER of food. I believe in Hippocrates, the infamous ancient Greek physician who said ‘Let food by thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.’ No, it’s not the ONLY medicine. But so many of us are unaware of how the power of food – how what we eat, the recipes we create, the nourishment (or lack of, in some settings) can so deeply affect us, not just in the short term, but for life. One of my favourite things to see is good, wholesome nutritious food being used in inspired and innovative ways. It’s what I try to achieve with each recipe for my blog – and I’m seriously amateur, but practice is progress!

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Now. With that said, I am also of the belief that food is to be enjoyed. I think the issue many people have is the black and white thinking they adopt (which is culture-led in many settings, particularly Western society) about food – for example, ‘cake is bad for me’, or ‘I must eat my body-weight in green leafy veg to be a pillar of health.’ Neither of those statements are true – in fact, both are ridiculous. Ever hear the phase ‘everything in moderation’ ? Of COURSE you have. And yet we just ignore it as a food and diet principle.

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Where am I going with this? I’ll enlighten you. What I learnt from this course, which I found to be the most valuable lesson, was the importance of food flavour, texture and recipe ingredients. For example, learning that delicious, homemade scones are that delicious and traditional because yes, they do contain butter, and caster sugar, and WHITE flour. Of course you can create brown scones, or use flour alternatives – in fact, I probably will for the blog! But that doesn’t make it a crime to enjoy a traditional scone – in fact, it’s a pleasure for many to eat. It is not a ‘bad food.’ Equally, learning that lemon drizzle cake is deliciously a lemon drizzle cake because yes, that drizzle is the piece de resistance, made simply of lemon juice and icing sugar combined. Is it ‘bad for you’ ? Well, what do you mean by that?! Food is MORE than the macro- and micro-nutrients that comprise itthough they are of key importance to your nutrition, you have to enjoy the foods that sustain you. Enjoying a dessert that you really love occasionally is actually probably really GOOD for you and your well-being – deprivation of enjoyment from food, however, is definitely not.

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Conversely to that, the course strengthened what I already knew, and inspired me to continue spreading the word – eating a healthy, wholefood and plant-based diets is anything BUT boring. My favourite recipes from the course were the vegetarian ones – red cabbage slaw, chickpea and sweet potato burgers, roasted cumin-spiced carrots with goat’s cheese, wild rice salad, roasted saffron spiced cauliflower with pistachios – INSPIRED guys. I feel so much more creative and knowledgeable in this arena now – a renewed appreciation and expanded knowledge for exciting flavour and texture combinations, as well as feeling that bit braver to try my hand at recipes I might not have felt I could before. Watch this space guys – it’s all coming to you via my kitchen! The first thing I did when I got home from the course on the last day was sit down and scribble down all the recipe ideas spilling out of my head. A fantastic message given to us by one of our tutors on day one of the course was ‘our aim is to give you a recipe that you can create 10 new recipes from’. Amazing.

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Suffice it to say gang, I had a fantastic, exciting, inspired week, and I am just so glad I got the push (god bless moms!) to just go for it, and book the course. If, like me, you’re a bit (understatement in my case!) of a foodie and enjoy cooking, and want to take it that bit further, I 100% recommend doing a cookery course. The week was absolutely amazing – I walked away with new ideas, friends, inspiration and creativity that I cannot wait to develop further.

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I hope you find this post helpful gang! Below is a continuation of our creations from the week – enjoy the little slideshow! Any questions, comments or feedback just let me know, I love to hear from you guys – @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook, or leave a comment here, or email me!

Ciara 🙂 x

P.S. I learnt to POACH EGGS in this course guys. That in itself was a huge achievement! Brunch forever NAILED. Who wants to come for breakfast???

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