Florence Dixon completed the Ballymaloe 12 Week Certificate in May 2011 and is now the Owner of her own Bakery and Cafe in London. This is her story:
I did the course in May 2011. I arrived with the intention of developing my love of cooking during my gap year before embarking on a Philosophy & Theology degree at university straight after. In the end, I never made it to university and I'm still cooking!
After I finished the 12 week Course, I became an Intern at the cookery school. I helped behind the demos and in the Gardens; I cared for the ducks Darina let me keep and I helped welcome the new students. Eventually, I had to go back to London and I left the idyllic bubble that had become my home. With Darina's help, I secured a Pastry Internship at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, but when I was unable to leave London at the last minute I had to think of an alternative plan. So, I opened a pop-up cafe with no financial backing, no equipment, no staff and no experience in running a business.
Two years later the tiny pop-up cafe has become Tart Bakery, and we now have a permanent kitchen with three permanent members of staff and we cook for dozens of people each day. Continuing with the Ballymaloe philosophy, we use fresh, unprocessed and ethical ingredients and cook everything from scratch each day. The soda bread I learnt how to make during my first week at the school has become such a firm favourite with our customers that we make it daily to serve with our soup and salads and always sell out. We are a little cafe with a big emphasis on baking. We use top notch suppliers for everything from our meat to our coffee, and everything we do is done with love and care and a passion that came from a Ballymaloe education. We now cater for weddings and parties and hold weekly cookery lessons for groups of children.
Ballymaloe approach is unlike any other cookery school I've heard of. I do not know anywhere else where the students have such a rounded education - where else are the vegetables hand picked on site and delivered by a smiling gardener at 7am? Where else do you get to sleep so close to the cows who supply the cream you will eat for lunch? Living on a working farm gave me a whole new understanding of food. We, as students, were completely spoilt with the produce we were able to use. How incredible to go out on a boat from Ballycotton harbour as the sun sets and to fish for the mackerel that you can eat for dinner! How incredible to see the difference in colour of the yolks of the eggs the hens lay when you change their food! How incredible to pick rose petals from the garden to crystallise to decorate a cake!
The teachers at Ballymaloe believe in every one of their students. When I arrived, the youngest on my course, I was absolutely terrified. I was achingly shy and with very little self-confidence. When I left I was a different person. Ballymaloe taught me to believe in myself and to believe in my ability. The passion the teachers have for what they do is infectious.
Knowing how to make mother and daughter sauces is one thing, but being confident in the kitchen is what makes a cook, and that is what Ballymaloe taught me, not to be a chef, but to be a good cook.