Darina's own passion was for Italian cooking, which she indulged through the gastroporn pages of the American Gourmet magazine. "I suddenly realised that the faraway hills were green, and that what we had under our noses, at home in the garden and the farm and the boats at Ballycotton, was just as good.
She made pasta using durum semolina, rolling it by hand and hanging it in front of the Aga to dry. Coincidentally, Gourmet's editrix Jane Montant came to stay, and recommended taking cookery classes with Marcella Hazan in Bologna. I said, 'My God, we have all this wonderful produce, we can use it all'."Things began to speed up. "I'd go to Greece or Spain, explore restaurants, then come back and do a Taste of Greece or Spain class.
"One of the few prizes in which they don't drop hints beforehand, to make sure you come.
It was decided by public vote and I find it difficult to go rounding up the troops to vote.
Did you read about the Mad Food Symposium in Denmark last summer? ("About 600 people packed into a circus tent.") Did you see that piece about Faviken, the 12-seater restaurant 600 miles north of Stockholm, where the food comes from the immediate living area, so no lemons, no spices, no onions…? I was slightly miffed to find that this inhabitant of Cork knew more than I did about Hackney eating houses ("Do you know the Raw Duck?
It's a sister of Duck Soup in Soho, across the road from Quo Vadis.
She will go anywhere to inspect new ripples and streams of gastro-activity.
Her happiest surprise was discovering the cuisine of Mexico.
"I wanted to learn how to make ice-cream, soufflés and terrines, or get a job cooking in a top restaurant. Men were chefs, women ran teashops or got involved in little country hotels." But then she heard, at a dinner party, "people talking in incredulous tones about a women down in Cork – a farmer's wife who seemed to have opened a restaurant in her own house, right out in the country, miles from the road, she had their own Jersey herd, and she writes the menu every day, instead of using the same one all year."Entranced, Darina went to see her, She was called Myrtle Allen and "she just cooked like a housewife.
It was what she knew – you cooked from what was around you and what the boats brought in at Ballycotton." Darina moved in, married Myrtle's son Tim in 1970 and became part of the Ballymaloe family.
In the early 1980s, Irish restaurant cuisine was not a sophisticated affair.
"At every meal you could have potatoes three ways on your plate, and the meat and gravy and that was it," says Darina coldly.
At Ballymaloe, they dealt in "Irish country house cooking, with quite a strong French influence", and her first classes taught sauce-making and bread-making and carragheen moss "which is beyond cool now, because of all the interest in foraging".