One of Ireland’s best-loved TV chefs and cookbook authors, Rachel Allen will visit Skibbereen this month to take part in the A Taste of West Cork food festival. Rachel takes time out of her busy schedule to talk to Mary O’Brien about maintaining that all important work-life balance and explain why West Cork is one of her favourite places in the world.
“It’s a bit like juggling glass bowls and every so often I drop one,” says Rachel laughing. She’s speaking about one of the biggest challenges she faces as a busy TV chef, author, journalist and mother – keeping a balance between her work commitments and family life. “At the end of the day, sharing food with family is what’s important,” she says.
No matter how hectic her schedule gets, Rachel admits that she always makes time to sit at the counter of her local pub with husband Issac for a chat over a glass of beer, or attend events that are important to her children, like her daughter’s pony camp this summer.
She’s an early riser, getting up at 6.30am every morning to fit in a swim or a run on the beach. “I get up early to try and pack everything into my day,” she explains. “and I find that exercise helps keep my energy levels up. I count myself lucky to have a lot of energy and I’m not afraid of putting in lots of hours.”
Rachel grew up in Dublin before leaving home at 18 to study at the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School, where she teaches today. It was here she says that she first realised she wanted to make a career out of food. “It’s funny, I think I took my love of cooking for granted and I didn’t realise that it was something I could do as a career. I’ve always loved baking and I baked a lot with my sister and my mum when I was younger. It sounds ridiculous, when something is right there in front of you staring you in the face, that it doesn’t occur to you, but when I was in school, as far as cooking was concerned, there wasn’t many options available.”
It seems that a career in television was however always on the cards for Rachel! One of her fondest childhood memories is acting out a cookery programme with her sister. “My sister and I used to set up dolls and teddy bears when we were quite little against the wall of the counter in our kitchen. My sister used to pretend that she had her own cookery programme and I was her assistant. I was always the assistant, which we do have a laugh about together now!”
Rachel first got to know West Cork when she was a teenager. “I used to go down to Glandore a lot with friends and I love it down there and around Union Hall and Skibbereen. ‘I’ve always thought it was beautiful, but of course now the food has become a big part of its attraction for me. The produce in West Cork is probably the best in the world, with all the great cheese makers there and so many wonderful markets and restaurants. There are so many restaurants I haven’t had a chance to visit yet but I’m really looking forward to trying The Mews in Baltimore, Good Things in Skibbereen and Pilgrims in Rosscarbery.
“There’s a friendly, cool vibe to West Cork…it’s a part of the world that I really love.”
The Ferguson family (Gubbeen) feature in her last cookbook Coast and in her new book, which she’s just finished writing, ‘Recipes from My Mother’. “They are a very inspiring family and I believe some of the people who have put West Cork on the map foodwise,” says Rachel.
Closer to home, Rachel says she is constantly inspired by chefs Rory O’Connell and Darina Allen (her mother-in-law). “Darina has always said if you don’t start off with excellent produce you’re not going to get excellent food. When you start off with the best produce you don’t have to do very much to it…it’s about letting the produce speak for itself really.
“I’m always learning and being inspired by producers and chefs. I’m travelling to Japan in October with BBC to do some filming and I’m looking forward to being inspired by the food there.”
What drives her? “My constant hunger,” she says laughing. “There’s always a new season, a new project, always something delicious growing and I’m never scared to say yes to things, to challenge myself.
“I never get tired of cooking – my work has many facets, from teaching at the cookery school to writing articles and filming to writing a new cookbook, so life is never boring.”
Rachel new book ‘Recipes from my Mother’ shares culinary inspiration passed down through the generations. The book is packed with much-loved recipes from her own childhood, alongside those of friends and other members of her family.
The West Cork Hotel and Drinagh Eurospar present an evening with Rachel Allen on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. Starting at 7.30 pm, Rachel will be accompanied by The West Cork Hotel’s Head Chef Christian Pozimski and Drinagh’s Exectutive Chef Alan Shannon.