GOOD food and common sense seem to be at the heart and soul of adopted Corkonian Darina Allen.
Originally from Laois, the founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School can list cookbooks and TV shows among her many accolades.
She said her passion in life is passing on the vital skills of how to grow, cook, and eat good, wholesome food.
“I feel so fortunate that my paths crossed in life with Myrtle Allen and I love teaching. I love passing on the skills that Myrtle taught me and I feel really strongly that I love food and feeding people and I feel very strongly that I want to pass on the skills and teach people how to cook,” she said.
Darina said that in her opinion, cooking is a vital skill that all children should be taught.
“At the moment in our schools, the main emphasis is on, and the students are encouraged to learn, a set of academic skills and they only occasionally do domestic science and the subliminal message is that that is not really as important as the Stem subjects.
“But I really feel strongly that our education system is failing and has failed two, three generations now by leaving them out of our houses and schools without being able to feed themselves properly and it’s terribly important and I hope before I hang up my apron, we can manage to persuade the government that they are failing young people by not equipping them with the basic skills to feed themselves properly.”
While her passion is most certainly centred around food, Darina also emphasised her enjoyment of pastimes such as walking, travelling, writing, and reading.
“I love travelling and writing. I love that I write because when I travel, I take in information in a different way. I’m still super curious — everywhere I go I ask questions,” she said.
Although proud to be living in Cork, Darina told The Echo her proudest achievement was winning the ‘Laois Woman of The Year’ award in 1993, with a phone call from Cork man and former taoiseach Jack Lynch announcing her to be “one of our own” coming in a close second.
Living on a 100-acre farm in Shanagarry, Darina said one of the best things about her lifestyle is having her four children and 11 grandchildren all living within five minutes of her.
The farm employs 57 people, with Jersey cows used to produce milk, butter, and cheese, as well 650 hens, cattle, a few pigs for bacon and pork, and a little tillage for their microbrewery.
“We grow our own wheat and grind it for our own flour.
“We are not fully self-sufficient, but I can tell you with what is going on now, we are going to plant even more now,” said Darina.
Attributing much of her success to luck and opportunity, Darina highlighted the importance of having a knowledge of cooking and the importance of eating good food.
“With the cost of everything spiralling, it’s important to be able to cook,” she said. “If you can cook you can make a meal with very inexpensive ingredients, a nourishing, wholesome, delicious meal.
“If you can’t cook you are at the mercy of buying some ultra- processed food in a supermarket and we can see the effect of that on our health and on the health of the nation.”
Offering insight into the cultivation of her food empire, Darina offered two nuggets of sage advice: Under-promise but overachieve and always charge enough to do a good job.
At 73, Darina has achieved much and offered this piece of wisdom to the next generation: “Often, it is very little things that can change the course of your life, so take every opportunity that comes up and learn all kinds of skills, practical skills especially, and travel. Take every opportunity to travel, because there is no education like it.”