Rachel Allen: Cracking country charm

Rachel Allen.
Rachel Allen.
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She’s the down-to-earth chef whose country charms set her apart from her TV counterparts. Rachel Allen talks to Jeananne Craig

The sun didn’t always shine during Rachel Allen’s recent road trip along Ireland’s stunning Atlantic coast, but the chef and writer insists that was all part of the charm.

Her latest culinary adventure wasn’t all plain sailing but it did serve to do one thing - re-affirm the deep love she has for the Emerald Isle.

“When the weather wasn’t great, it was wild and dramatic and windy. We had a couple of boat trips that did more than clear out the cobwebs,” says Allen, who spent a month journeying along the rugged western terrain from Ballymaloe in County Cork to the rugged headlands of Donegal.

She visited numerous foodie locations along the route - and each stop-off forms a chapter in her new book, Coast, which is packed full of recipes inspired by her ‘culinary odyssey’.

There was Sneem village in Kerry, where she met black pudding-producing butchers; Galway City, to stock up on farmhouse cheese, and Rathmullan House in County Donegal, where Allen sampled some locally-brewed Kinnegar beer.

“The characters you meet along the way and their passion is just wonderful,” says the author and TV presenter, who teaches at the acclaimed Ballymaloe Cookery School.

“I also learnt how to free-dive for crabs and went snorkelling, looking at different seaweeds. I was constantly learning.”

Allen believes Ireland’s gastronomic output in recent years has helped reverse the opinion that it houses a “nation of potato and cabbage eaters”.

“Our produce is just the best in the world - when you think of our amazing seafood, our dairy, our meat, because of all our wonderful green grass and our grass-fed animals - it’s just fantastic,” she enthuses.

“I think it’s wonderful now that so many more chefs have confidence in our produce.

“We’re importing less all the time. It’s wonderful seeing people going for local produce and really showcasing it wonderfully by doing simple things to it.”

She is the author of four best-selling cookery books, which include Rachel’s Favourite Food at Home and Rachel’s Food for Living. Her extremely popular television series for RTE and the BBC have been broadcast internationally and she frequently appears on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen.

Her charming manner and effortless style make her a delight to watch.

Rachel’s style of cooking is above all practical - creating simple but delicious food, ideal for family and friends. Her influences are both regional and global.

The BBC described her as an “Irish cooking queen” and Good Food magazine went so far as to say that she “has put Irish cooking on the map in recent years”.

She lives in her seaside home in County Cork with her husband Isaac, sons Luka and Joshua and their daughter Scarlett.

Allen took what she learned on her road trip back to share with her pupils at Ballymaloe.

The Dubliner was 18 when she enrolled in a course at the famous school and met husband Isaac (son of renowned chef Darina Allen).

“I love the teaching, and thankfully my mother-in-law Darina is wonderful at letting me go off and do this. I come back full of enthusiasm,” she says.

The mum-of-three, whose children range in age from six to 15, admits that despite the long days and distances involved, her journey up the Atlantic coast was “probably easier” than her usual day-to-day work.

“Normally when I finish work, I have to come home and look after the children. [On the trip] we were staying in little hotels, guest houses or bed and breakfasts, so all I had to do was eat an evening meal and collapse into bed,” she adds with a laugh.

Have Allen’s kids picked up any of her kitchen prowess?

“Josh [the eldest] is good at catching fish. He’ll bring the fish back, he knows how to cook it himself but I’m awful, I’m one of these mothers, like the typical Irish mum who’ll say, ‘Ah no, I’ll do it’,” she confesses.

She adds, thoughtfully: “I need to get them to do more, because they’re good actually.”

Fancy trying out one of her sumptuous recipes?

Irish onion soup with blue cheese toasts

(Serves four as a starter)

25g butter

600g onions, peeled and cut into 5mm thick slices

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1L chicken or beef stock

150ml double or regular cream

For the Blue Cheese Toasts:

8 x 1cm thick slices of baguette, white yeast bread or sourdough

75g blue cheese, crumbled