The thing about that word is it suggests spontaneity and ease. It makes me think of a Jack-in-the-Box; just a little crank, and Pop, there's Jack. The guests have no idea what goes into such an event. From the perspective of the planners, the last thing a night like last night does, is pop up!
Quite the contrary, it took more than a month of planning and several days’ work by many hands and the resources of Ballymaloe to pull it all off. I can see that once you’ve done something like this, the second time is easier and the third, even more so. Drawing is like that. The first time you try and draw a cabbage, you’re blinded by all the convolutions in the leaves by the time you’re finished. The second time, you breeze through all those details and know the ones that aren’t important to the over all composition.
The theme for the evening was "What Lies Beneath" because our concentration was root vegetables. One of our classmates, Trevor McTear, volunteered to take the whole thing on as head of kitchen, though that wasn’t an official title, it’s just what he was. And, he’s 20 years old. I am bowled over by his competence and professionalism. He was in charge of the whole shebang, did an exceptional job and never once lost his cool. He’ll have a restaurant someday and I’ll be going.
We had two of our teachers, Richard and Tiffin, to help guide and shepherd us. They are, in a word, amazing. They made everything look easy.
The evening began with a house-made mead reception as guests began filing in. The garden cafe had been transformed into a magical, twinkling-lit fairyland. There were candelabra on the tables and one above. At about 7:00, the guests were directed to come into the demo room where a wooden stage had been set up. No one really knew what was happening when suddenly there appeared two beautiful dancers. The music started and a gasp rushed around the room when they heard, Heartland, the main theme from Riverdance.
Kincaid and his friend and fellow troupe member, Gillian Madders, wowed the crowd with a capital Wow! I honestly can’t remember being more proud of him and overcome with emotion at the combination of that music and his hard work and dedication to be able to inspire such awe in an audience. They did a second number and the floor nearly needed a mopping up from my heart’s melting all over it.
After that, it was the kitchen staff’s showtime! And, did we all go into high gear. There were 75 guests to be fed and as if one body, each section came together with excellent choreography to get all the plates out. There are no seconds to spare. Each long table, needed to be served as quickly as possible so everyone had a plate. No mean feat. You can’t believe how quickly dinner service goes by for the kitchen staff because everyone behind the scenes is in a constant blur of motion making ready.
Gillian, Arden and Kincaid
Before it seemed possible, it came time for dessert, which was my section. We were serving apple tarts with parsnip ice cream and caramel sauce. We had an assembly line of people taking the tarts out of the oven, letting them set for a couple of minutes, then turning them out onto the plate. They were then passed to me for the swirl of caramel sauce. Then on to the person putting on the little triangle of ice cream, then to the person putting on the dehydrated apple slice and bit of parsnip twist, then out the door to be served.
After everyone was served and clean up in the kitchen had begun in earnest, Tiffin came out with the most amazing platters of roasted organic chickens on homemade bread with homemade mayonnaise and some fresh greens for all of us. I’d seen three gorgeous chickens among the pheasants we were serving our guests and wondered what they were for. We were all famished and devoured them!
At some point near the end of the dinner, Rory O’Connell said a few words to the guests and said how disappointed Darina was that she had to be in Belfast and had missed the dinner but that she was expected soon. Almost before he quit speaking, she appeared and apologized for the late train, so sorry she’d missed such a great evening that everyone was saying was the best pop up dinner ever. Tiffin had said that earlier in the week, that this was going to be the best one yet. Someone asked him how he knew and he said, "Because! We've never had fucking Riverdance come before!"
Someone asked Kincaid and Gillian if they’d do a wee number for Darina, sort of right there, spontaneous-like. Being full as tics, they looked at each other and said, “Will we?” And turned on their heels and headed back for the demo room and their stage and started putting back on their heavy shoes.
The crowd reassembled, the music started with Darina front and center, filming them with her phone. She seemed delighted and especially, afterwards, when Kincaid told her she owed him a new pair of trousers. She asked why and he kicked up his leg to show her the enormous blow-out in his upper right thigh. In fairness, those pants were so tight they’d have needed solvent to get off.
She told him, “You get a new pair of trousers and send me the bill!” He told her, “No, they were only 3 Euro.” I mean, really! How many people do you think has ever flashed their bare thigh in Darina Allen’s face?! She was clearly taken with them and offered to give them both a signed cookbook of their choosing. Two of our teachers shoed me along with them to ensure they got this one or that one. So I tagged along to watch them make their choice.
Darina signed Kincaid’s copy and then when Gillian made her choice, she asked if she’d sign it to her dad, who’s a real Allen family and cooking show fan. Darina paused and said, “No. He didn’t dance for me. You did.” Kincaid then told her the story of when he was five years old and wanted to go to a cooking school camp which cost $100. When I told him of course he could go, he insisted on paying and I told him, “No, Silly! You don’t have to pay your own way to cooking school.” But he wouldn’t hear the answer no and in the end, paid his tuition and my little man was so so proud.
Darina said, “You get back here and you can take a class on me.” That is so like her. She's truly an unbelievably generous woman.
Back in the kitchen, we'd had three helpers washing dishes all evening and their sinks were never empty for a moment. The unsung heros of such an event. Once canapés were finished, it was on to the soup, mains, then salad and ultimately, dessert. Once all the sections were finished prepping and cooking, we had to do our part to clean up too and no one was allowed to leave until the whole place looked like we’d never been there. That went for the dining room too.
Once it was all said and done, we partied hard at Pennyworth, one of the other cottages on the grounds here, to celebrate Kate Fitzgerald’s birthday. It was one helluva party, too, with so much psychic energy being released at having done it. We laughed, danced, told stories and reveled in being together. It was such a happy night, seeing Kincaid after nearly two months.
At some point, though, I thought, “I need to go to bed so I can have some sort of tomorrow.” I looked at my phone and it was 2:30! I couldn’t believe it. Arden and I'd been in the kitchen for over 12 hours and partying for nearly three hours and my feet were absolutely killing me. So, we all headed for home and to get a few winks. Brunch today, was to be at Ballymaloe House More fun to look forward to!
As I settled down to sleep, I thought of the monumental effort it took to pull last night off and what hard work it is to be in the service industry but what an enormous buzz you feel when it all goes well and people are happy with your efforts. That, in a nutshell, is what I live for; to make others happy.
And, if last night was anything, it was happy.💝