Tips and advice for future Ballymaloe students ...


Before I went to Ballymaloe I read everything I could about the place and the course and what I could expect and hope to learn ... I must have read every student blog in its entirety, every review on the cookery school and every newspaper article I could find through my friend mr. google! Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Ballymaloe and was chatting to the other students and quite a good few of them had not read anything about the place or what they were about to face over 12 weeks! 🧐😮

12 weeks of your life is a long time in many respects and yet it goes so quickly ... in order for you to get the most of of those 12 weeks ... I have tried to put down some things that I would have wanted to know before I arrived!😇


Take a single room ... it may cost a little more but you are spending so much time with other students you will need your own space. You will have plenty of time and opportunity to meet and spend time with people in school or in the kitchen, gardens, courtyards or living rooms! 

Chill & Respect ... you will be living with some of your fellow students for 12 weeks in close quarters ... some of them you will love ... some not so much ... remember we are all different and live by different rules and standards ... try not impose yours on others and if others do to you ... just remind yourself to take a deep breath and think happy thoughts! 😚

If you are in one of Pennyworth, Mrs Walshes or Orchard Gardens cottages ... you will have your own laundry facilities ... so you don't need to pack as if you are moving house! 

Demo's, Studies & Exams

Decide what you want from the course as this will help you get everything you want out of Ballymaloe. Whether you want to devote yourself entirely to just the studying (not me) or whether you just want the overall experience (more me) ... know what your objectives for the course are! 

Listen to everything in Demos ... take notes (and read them) ... these will be key to your revision for exams.

Having being one of those people who didn't read anything until the last day or so before exams ... do as I say not as I do ... read all your notes regularly ... especially the Wednesday lecture notes! You'll be surprised at how much of them will "pop" up on your exam papers! 

Chairs ... the chairs in the demo room are infamously uncomfortable ... (I got used to them after about 6 weeks ... but those six weeks ... not pleasurably) The plastic ones are more comfortable but tend to be down the back of the class ... better to be closer to the front!). If you want to sit at the front ... the seats will be taken early ... it's not unusual for the front seats to be reserved by 7:30 a.m. 🏖

You are paying a lot of money for this course ... so don't be afraid to ask questions even if you think everyone else already knows the answer ... get your monies worth! 

File from day one ... and file everyday ... this is one thing I got right during my time at Ballymaloe. It also gives you great satisfaction when you know it's done in the last week!

Seasonality is a big thing at Ballymaloe so make sure you know what foods are growing when ... visit the greenhouses and fields to see what's growing ... Eileen, Haulie and his team are a great source of information ... use their knowledge, they love a good chat!

HACCP ... Listen and learn ... you'll be glad you did! 

Business of food ... You will spend two days learning about the business of food ... listen ... there is almost half an exam paper on it 

Exams ... there are exams at weeks 6 and week 12 ... don't stress about the 6 week ones ... just make sure you know your herbs (and recipes), salad leaves. The 12 week ones ... they are harder than I expected and more detailed ... if I had of read my notes regularly ... 


Don't think you know better than the teachers, they are teachers for a reason and are there to help you ... let them!!! You don't know everything and they want to help you improve!

Don't be afraid to ask the teachers to show you techniques or to answer questions ... they will be delighted to help.

You will be required to do an order of work everyday for your mornings cooking, don't panic it's just a step by step of what you plan to do the next morning ... put a little effort into it (the first few days are a little daunting ... it gets you in the right mindset for the next morning.

Get into the kitchen early over the first 6 weeks ... it will make your days a lot easier if you get your weigh up done before 9 a.m. The second 6 weeks you may choose to go in a little later as it sets you up nicely for your practical exam (getting used to a fixed time period).

You will get a new partner and new teacher in the kitchen each week, divide the work evenly ... you both need to learn ...You will be marked on your cooking every day by the teacher. Don't pay attention to your marks everyday ... all the teachers mark a little differently so don't ask what marks you got and it won't drive you crazy! (especially if you are competitive!) 😊

Make a bread or an additional dish (from your technique sheet) every day if you can ... it will be worth it ... You will need to know how to bake all the breads ... you be given a random one (Brown Soda, White Soda, White Yeast (Plaits, Rolls or both), Brown Yeast, Focaccia) for your final exam.🤞

Spend time in the bread and fermentation sheds ... there's so much to learn but be careful ... you can become addicted! 

Somedays will be busier than others ... don't cruise ... do as much as you can! 

Extra Curricular activities 

Try do as many of the extra courses or outings that you can ... I think I managed to do all I wanted to.

Don't bail out on your daily tasks or duties assigned to you ... it impacts your fellow students assigned to the same tasks ... and it's monitored.🤔

Don't miss the fishing trips, the pop up (participate!!!), butchery, charcuterie, pizza's, fermentation, farmers markets, dairy, cheese making ... don't be afraid that the spaces are full ... they'll always find room ... maybe not on that day but on another! 

Health and Well being

You will eat (and probably drink) much more than you do normally (The quality of food is great, healthy and all that ... but there is lots of it!) so make sure you exercise .... otherwise the weight can pile on! Start from day one!!! 🏃🏼‍♂️🏃🏼‍♀️

You won't need a big dinner in the evening if you are eating in the school at lunch time!

Keep the bread munching under control !!! (there will be a mountain of bread in your cottage every night) 🥖 🍞 

The course is hectic ... especially if you dive head first into all the extra curricular stuff ... pace yourself and try get some decent sleep (from the voice of he who didn't manage it properly)

Don't turn up in dirty or un-ironed chef whites, it creates a bad impression with the teachers and doesn't say much about you or your motivation! 👨‍🍳 


A car is a godsend ... if you have one ... take it ... otherwise you will be relying on the good nature and generosity of your fellow students! 🚘 

Try do different things ... while there we did mass barbecues, Asador Lamb, Fire pit cooking, some of the guys tried to make beer in the fermentation shed ... Darina and Tim will generally allow you to try different things (like digging holes etc.) just ask them first! 🍙🥞

Talk to everyone, from the gardeners, the builders, the office ladies, to the cleaners, the wash-up ladies, the former students, people visiting, guest chefs ... each has their own story and a wealth of experience, knowledge and humour to share! 

Get to know your fellow students ... you will make great contacts for life or if you are really lucky ... good friends! 

If the weather allows ... Ballycotton has some great swimming spots ... try them! 

Visit all the pubs in Ballycotton and Shanagarry ... don't just live in the Blackbird (you will anyway!)

Don't be afraid to pick the brains of Darina, Rory and Rachel ... they have years of experience and are more than happy to share with students! 

The 12 weeks go ridiculously quickly ... try enjoy every second! It's a once in a lifetime opportunity! Remember you are in a foodies Disneyland! 

Hope this helps anyone considering or getting ready to attend Ballymaloe Cookery School ... if you have any specific questions ... please just drop me a line! 😉😘 (contact page)

If any of my fellow students are reading this and I've missed something ... let me know :)