Celebrity chef Rachel Allen talks to Alison Jones about the perils of live cooking and her love of food.
One of the pleasures of going to something like the BBC Good Food Show is to see your favourite chefs up close and personal.
It also offers the opportunity for some schadenfreude if, away from the safety of the TV studio and the opportunity for retakes, they fail to deliver a perfect meal under pressure.
Irish chef Rachel Allen knows that feeling well after she nearly suffered a culinary calamity in front of a live audience.
“I was making a cake on stage, the cake was in the oven, then I turned round saw a bowl of ground almonds on the worktop.
“I whipped the cake out of the oven, stirred in the almonds and put it back in quickly. I just about managed to salvage it.
“It was so funny because I had just said ‘make sure you’ve got everything in there’.
“I think it does reassure the audience to see cooks are fallible, that it can go wrong for them.
“It’s so much more spontaneous than a programme where everything can be edited. You really do have to think on your feet and say ‘Okay, this hasn’t worked, what am I going to do here?’.”
Rachel, who has put Irish cooking on the map with her TV programme Rachel’s Favourite Food for Friends, is part of a cooking dynasty in Ireland.
Her husband Isaac, a restaurateur, is the son of culinary icon Darina Allen, Ireland’s best known chef.
She owns the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork. She had been working in her mother-in-law’s famous hotel and restaurant when, together with her farmer husband Tim, they set up the school in the middle of a 100 acre organic farm.
Rachel went to study there as a teenager.
“I’d always loved baking when I was growing up, I had a very sweet tooth, but I didn’t really think of it as a career.
“I knew I wanted to do something creative and my parents said I should do a cookery course.
“I was thinking of something in fashion, clothes or shoes. I wanted to go to Cordwainers in London to design shoes. My mam has clothes shops. My father had shoe factories that were in the family for generations back. He is now retired but to this day, every time I get a new pair of shoes he’ll examine them, see if they’re well made.”
In spite of her work commitments, Rachel’s mother always made meals for the family.
“That is something I feel passionately about, and that we have to pass on these skills to our children,” says Rachel.
“Before I went to cookery school my mum said ‘you need to learn how to roast a chicken and make gravy before you go’, so she taught me how to do that.
“It is something everyone should know – how to make a good gravy.”
Rachel started teaching at her mother-in-law’s school and would have been content with passing her knowledge on through the courses they hold there, until she was spotted by a TV producer who came on one of them.
“They asked if I would be interested in having a programme. I said ‘sure I’ll give it a go’.