I chat with chef Rachel Allen about the love of her life-food
As a teenager, Rachel Allen, like most of us, was clueless as to what career path she would follow. Bursting in all the passions of youth, Rachel was content to live in her enjoyable bubble upon finishing school, thinking that a year of travelling the world was on the horizon. Although, cooking and baking had always been a treasured past-time of hers since she was a child, she had never viewed them as being her future occupation.
“I always loved cooking and baking when I was smaller”, begins the now acclaimed TV chef and food writer. “I always wanted to do something creative, but when I was leaving school I wasn’t sure what to do, so I thought I would go travelling, yes travelling! Of course I was completely innocent thinking my parents would finance it all!”
Rachel’s parents unwilling to go along with her plans to travel the globe, suggested that the then 18 year old should complete a cookery course. “They said “”Why don’t you learn how to cook? It’s a great skill and is something you’ve always enjoyed”” So, it was then I did the course in Ballymaloe when I was eighteen years old. This is when I realised that this is what I love and enjoy”
However, although Rachel adored the cookery course in the picturesque setting of Ballymaloe in Shanagarry, Co. Cork, she still didn’t see how this adored passion of hers could become a potential day job for her “I didn’t think of it that I’d definitely like to cook for the rest of my life. I thought oh maybe I’ll be an actress or maybe I’ll design shoes! It’s difficult at 18 to know what one would like to do with the rest of their lives”, says Rachel
Soon Rachel fell more in love with cooking and the surroundings of Ballymaloe that she began working as a chef in the cookery school’s renowned restaurant which was set up by Myrtle Allen in the 1960’s. While Rachel enjoyed the experience of working in the hectic atmosphere of the Ballymaloe kitchen’s, her heart was drawn back to the teaching and learning environment of the cookery school.
“After the cookery course, I then went to work in the kitchens of Ballymaloe, while I loved the chef work, I realised that I loved the teaching and learning part of it more than being stuck in a kitchen. So then I trained to become a teacher in the school and began doing classes”
It was during this cherished time of teaching in the school that a chance encounter would change Rachel’s career as a chef forever. Her affection for teaching and communicating her passion for food with others caught the eye of a certain pupil at the school, taking her career to the next level. “While I was teaching a producer was on holiday for a week doing a course at Ballymalloe and asked if I would like to do a programme, so that’s how the TV aspect began. I kind of stumbled into it really”, laughs Rachel.
While Rachel is quite candid when asked to reflect on what her favourite TV show has been to work on , she is full of praises when I ask whether her mother- in- law and celebrated chef, Darina Allen, has been an influence on her style of cooking. “Oh my goodness. She is just so inspiring. Her passion is extraordinary and she’s just an amazing woman”
Rachel’s success as a TV chef in both Ireland and the UK, has been followed by a slew of successful books being written by the Dublin born chef. In a crowded literary market of cook books of all genres, can Rachel pinpoint the reason as to why her books are so popular among the masses? “Oh my goodness”, she begins once more “In one way I love so many cookery books out there, but some are very labour intensive. Mine, however, aren’t’ really like that. I do hope that my recipes and ingredients are accessible for people. I love simple food and I’m always thrilled when people say things to me like: ““You got me back into the kitchen and cooking again””
In the last few years Rachel has also added food journalism to her CV, writing a column for the Sunday Independent’s Life Magazine on a weekly basis. Like all working mothers Rachel says that the balance isn’t easy, but being organised and focused certainly makes it easier. “I love writing, I just need to get myself into the right place and do it and then I’m great. I think anybody who works pretty much full-time and says it’s easy balancing work with children are lying”, says Rachel earnestly. “It’s easier when the children are in school.. If the balance shifts in the wrong direction, I feel “Oh no!” and then I begin to panic!”
Rachel has also been a leading advocate in promoting locally sourced Irish food and in making her food appealing to both the pocket’s and palette’s of the Irish people. “I’m definitely aware of the economic climate and that people aren’t able to cook big fillet steaks everyday. I try to cook simple, yet satisfying food. I think supermarkets are much better at highlighting this also which is great”
As someone who has transformed from being a flighty teenager into a famed chef I ask Rachel what advice she would give to budding chefs out there. Without a hint of hesitation she answers “I think people should work with the style they love. You shouldn’t try and emulate someone else’s style, gaining experience is also very important”
Lastly, what would have happened had the 18 year old Rachel decided against completing a cookery course? “That’s so hard to say”, laughs Rachel “Would I be designing shoes? Would I be acting? I don’t know, something creative anyway”
Rachel’s new book “All Things Sweet” is out now in all good book stores.