Rachel Allen On Her Love of Cooking, Life as a Balancing Act and The One Recipe We Should All Perfect In Our Lifetime

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Celebrity chef, Rachel Allen has a lot on her plate – if you’ll pardon the pun. Having spent the entirety of her working life as a much treasured member of the food industry, training and working at the famous Ballymaloe cookery school, beaming into our television screens with several RTE shows and countless guest appearances on both British and Irish TV and releasing a multitude of impressive and precious recipes within each of her 14 books, she’s become one of Ireland’s most recognisable faces. While chatting with The Style Edit, Allen is warm and funny, easy to talk to as she shares some of her best kept secrets and helpful tips in the kitchen, offering us a little insight into the day to day life of one of Ireland’s best celebrity chefs.

On when her love of cooking first began…

“It’s a funny one. I think I always loved cooking anyway. I always loved baking. What’s so strange is that now whenever I meet up with old school friends they always say, “You were always bound to do cooking. You were always bringing baked things into school and everything.” I wish they’d told me then because I kept wondering what I was going to do for my career and literally, I’d go off and do some baking while I was thinking about it. It was like it was always there. It was always something I enjoyed and loved. I always wanted to do something creative. Really it was when my parents said, “Look, you’re great at cooking. You’re great at baking. Why don’t you go to Ballymaloe and then really train in how to cook?” It was then that I finally thought, this is something that I adore, I really adore this. I was always very lucky to have great food growing up that my mum always cooked and I did lots of baking with my sister as I recall. It was just something I truly loved.”

On the biggest highlight in her career so far…

“I’ve been very lucky that there have been a few. One was receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Ulster – that was a big highlight. Being invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and also, when they came over to Ireland as well. That (meeting them in Ireland) was because of my contribution to Irish food so that was a real honour. Then even going back to releasing my very first cookbook. That was definitely a big one.”

And the biggest struggle…

“I suppose probably just so many things being dealt with in the public eye.”

On RTE approaching her for her first TV series…

“It was great. I really enjoyed it. The first one I did I didn’t think it was ever going to come to anything because I shot a pilot first and then the producer who had approached me said, “Look, let’s shoot this pilot. I’ll send it off to RTE.” I was pregnant at the time and then I was so involved with having a baby and running around and just being busy that I had practically forgotten about it. It wasn’t in my plan. It wasn’t my goal so it was a bit of a surprise.”

On the things she’s most passionate about within her job…

“The goodness of food. The nutrition. Then actually teaching is what I absolutely adore. That’s where I think I’m happiest, apart from cooking at home for my family but its actually just teaching, passing on new skills, showing people how to create this or that. I love that. I just love that.”

Her secret to balancing all of her projects…

“I’m an avid list maker. That is one thing for sure and then early nights during the week. Yeah sounds really boring doesn’t it…”

On the inspiration behind and process of writing a book…

“I’m starting that now for my next book even though we haven’t totally confirmed the actual theme but I have a couple of different ideas going. I’ve got a couple of different files on my phone with notes going. Basically I start thinking about a theme and then talk to my publishers about it. They say yay or nay or make their own suggestions. Then it’s really just going through and thinking how would I like the chapters to be broken up, thinking about recipes. I just keep taking down ideas as they come to me and so generally when I finish a book – pretty much I always release it in September or October – so it’s round about this time of year when I’m writing down my ideas. Then after Christmas I start testing recipes so whether it’s something like a quick curry or a soup recipe – that’s actually one of them I have – but then I’ll start testing in the kitchen. Generally the testing takes about 6 weeks to do it all from home. It does take quite a while. All the writing happens after that, introductions and then the editing and the photography comes into the summer and then it goes to print.”

On the biggest misconceptions people have about cooking and preparing healthy meals…

“They think that it takes a long time or that it’s difficult. I mean one of the fastest things you can make is an omelette and that’s also one of the healthiest things. I think eggs are just the best for making fast food and good eggs are obviously really good for you. I think with food shopping, it’s important to be organised with your food shopping. Never go shopping without your list. Write down your list. Also having Ballymaloe relish and a couple of good things in your store cupboard that you can use to help create those really nice meals. Having those really good basics and staples in your fridge, your kitchen and your store cupboard is essential.”

On handling the critics…

“You just have to deal with it the best you can. It’s not any easier and I don’t know if it necessarily gets any easier but look, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.”

On the role cooking and meal times hold within her family life…

“It’s my favourite time of day. I’m already thinking what I’ll cook tonight and I get to catch up with everyone and see what everyone has been doing. You know, I love that. I can even see when the kids haven’t been eating properly, if they’ve been out or away or whatever you know you can kind of tell.”

Least favourite meal…

“Probably something that’s overly fussy where the ingredients don’t stand up to and are unnecessarily complicated. There’s a time and a place for things that are complicated or fussy. But too much of nothing is just unneccessary.”

Ultimate comfort food…

“Ballymaloe relish – I just always say that even if it is a simple piece of brown bread with cheddar cheese and relish and a cup of tea. It’s great around Christmas time, turkey and ham sandwich, it’s just the best thing with the relish and mayo.”

One recipe we should all master in our lifetime…

“Number one – a really good simple soda bread with a bit of cheese and relish or jam on, just a really good simple food. Also, a really good soup or stew. Especially at this time of year.”

Niamh Crawford-Walker

Niamh is a freelance writer covering fashion, beauty and lifestyle articles. Her work has appeared in IMAGE magazine, image.ie and Emirates Woman. Niamh is also a blogger at niamhserena.co.uk and podcast host of Werkin’ On It.

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