A while back I took a spin through Ireland, mostly County Cork, learning about the Irish dairy industry, which meant meeting some of the nicest people I've ever known, and eating endless amounts of butter. One particularly pleasant experience that involved both nice people and lots of butter was an afternoon spent with Rachel Allen and her husband, Isaac, whose mother Darina Allen runs the nearby Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Rachel is well-known in the food world for her own work as a cookbook author, product designer and television celebrity, and together with Isaac she also hosts magnificent meals in their airy seaside home. I came to this magical place with a group of food writers to cook and eat with Rachel and Isaac, and they were kind enough to allow me to share with you some of the more intimate corners of their kitchen.
Have you ever walked into someone's kitchen and it's breathtakingly beautiful and at the same time, you notice something like a utensil drawer stuffed to the gills, or some crumbs on the counter from breakfast? You instantly feel at home. That's what happens in this kitchen.
The home was designed by the couple and built on land that came as a wedding gift from Isaac's father. "We knew what we wanted," Rachel said, "A great big kitchen that would be the heart of the house." Done.
The main room has enormously high ceilings, an open-shelved expanse against one wall bookended by a fridge on the left and a wall of ovens on the right with the deep farm sink and a gigantic Aga stove in between. A center island contains a cooktop and a place for by-standers to rest their cups of tea and glasses of wine while they watch Rachel and Isaac go.
At the time I was working on my second book, Good Food To Share, with an eye on making food that's approachable enough yet special enough for people you love. Rachel, who has written six books, and Isaac have the same aesthetic and spirit in their cooking and so I watched them closely.
I remarked to Rachel that the space had such an easeful feeling; it is open, airy, bright, there's no sense of crowding and tension. She was eager to show me her "other side" which was just around the corner through a small door. The pantry has an extra oven, laundry air-drying on wires and a wall of pantry foods bowing with weight. I like a person who can giggle at themselves, and this is what Rachel did as she proudly showed off her mess.
Back in the more composed part of the house, teatime was in full swing and Isaac insisted we all drink ours with cream and muscovado sugar. Then the couple sent us on our way with little parchment paper wrapped Chewy Seedy Oat and Apricot Bars.
More Rachel Allen:
Rachel Allen's website
Rachel Allen on Facebook
Favorite Food at Home: Delicious Comfort Food from Ireland's Most Famous Chef (Amazon, $16.07)
(images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)