Gail Porter completed the Ballymaloe 12 Week Certificate in 2009. She explains why she decided to do the course and what she has been doing since.
“I started the 12 week course at Ballymaloe, somewhat unexpectedly, in September 2009. I had worked in lots of jobs from secretarial to project management since finishing my Business & Languages degree nine years previously – and it was all fine. Soon after I turned 30 in April 2009, I realized I was bored of everything being “fine” and decided it was time for a change. I started to focus on what I was really interested in, and food was top of the list – I was getting ever more obsessed! I had grown up with Darina’s cookery shows on television, and the “Ballymaloe Cookery Course” book was the first proper cook book I bought – I had always wanted to do that course. The decision was made. Being made redundant wasn’t part of the plan, but I put myself on the waiting list for the next course starting in a few weeks’ time without any expectation whatsoever of a place coming available. While on a previously planned holiday to Spain, I got the call – someone had dropped out and the course started Monday, did I want the place?! Admittedly, I panicked a bit, but felt I had to go for it. I missed the first couple of days and, feeling like a new kid at school, arrived in time for the afternoon demo on the Wednesday. About 10 minutes in, I knew I had done exactly the right thing, and I’d found a new home.
The course was incredible – more than I could have wished for. It was hard work and exhausting at times, but so worth it. Being totally immersed in this passionate foodie world for 12 weeks was just amazing.
After the course, I moved back to beautiful Galway. I worked as a chef in a brand new café and deli in Galway city for over a year, where I learned a lot about how to set up and run a busy kitchen from the talented, hardworking head chef Abigail Colleran. I moved on to set up and run a new kitchen in Corrib House Tea Rooms & Guesthouse, a beautifully restored Georgian townhouse beside the Salmon Weir – a great experience.
Having always wanted to work for myself, in summer 2012 I went back to office work as a temp on and off until January 2014, giving me more structured and frankly much easier working hours which allowed for more time and energy to work on my own business after hours. I have baked for as long as I can remember, and baking a variety of daily cakes was what I enjoyed most about my last chef job, so my love of baking had to be my starting point. I already had the name, LizzieMay’s, which I’d scribbled down in a notebook sitting on Garryvoe Beach one weekend – the combination of my grandmothers’ names Lizzie and May stuck with me, and I’m getting very used to being called Lizzie!
I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in decorating cakes but did a ½ day “Sugarcraft For Beginners” course, figuring that I’d better learn how to properly cover a cake for when someone inevitably wanted to order a white iced christening cake! Much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the course, tried a few different techniques when I got home, and discovered that I have a bit of a flair for decorating as well. I’ve been building on that for the last year or so and now make cakes for all sorts of celebrations, from christenings to weddings. My speciality however is iced cookies – vanilla cookies decorated by hand with royal icing in any design imaginable, from simple patterns to intricate logos, anything can be cookie-fied! I also teach cookie decorating classes with Decobake in Galway and Dublin. I regularly post cookies all around Ireland and beyond and love nothing more than the excited messages I get when customers have received their cookie package in the post – it makes all the hard work worthwhile.
The Ballymaloe course was a complete life changer for me – encouraging my love of food, learning the principles and practicalities of running a food business and gaining the confidence to go work in a kitchen, which all ultimately led me to start my own food business. My life bears little resemblance to how it was pre-Ballymaloe, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”