Cork pastry chef who brings joy to the world with his delicious dessert trolley – The Irish Times

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A dessert trolley isn’t the kind of thing you’d expect a 22-year-old man who has just graduated with a degree in natural sciences from Trinity College Dublin to be interested in. Demolish its contents, perhaps, but not assemble the panoply of dishes.

But after years of working part-time at Ballymaloe House (he started when he was 15), JR Ryall was offered the job of pastry chef by his matriarch, Myrtle Allen, whom everyone, including family, addressed himself as Mrs. Allen. . He had not yet finished his studies, but they shook hands and he settled there permanently in 2010. He has been there ever since.

It turned out to be a very good choice. In 2019, the Ballymaloe dessert trolley landed a gong at the World Restaurant Awards in Paris, and now with the release of his new cookbook, Ballymaloe Desserts, Ryall is set to take the dessert world by storm. One cart at a time.

In two weeks, he will make a counter buyout at Violet Cakes in east London, owned by Claire Ptak who shot to fame after making Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s royal wedding cake. This will be followed by a dessert takeover at Skye Gyngell’s Spring restaurant at Somerset House in London, before heading to King’s restaurant in New York, which is owned and run by a team of former female chefs from the River Cafe and the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

He already has his Jerpoint glass bowls, Fermoyle pottery plates, and stable linens there so he can put together a cart that has “that good feeling.” “It’s not just about the food and the dishes, it’s often about how they’re presented,” he says.

So what about an old-fashioned dessert trolley and 34-year-old pastry chef from a farm near Ballyhooly, Co Cork who seems to have captured the imagination of the culinary world? And do dessert carts even exist?

While there are certainly some spectacular dessert carts, like Theo Jansen’s walking sculpture-inspired traveling chocolate cart at El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, the dessert carts at high-end restaurants are so artistic and ambitious. that you could never recreate them at home. At Ballymaloe, it’s simple classics, desserts reminiscent of childhood and family gatherings, puddings steeped in Irish country tradition, plus a few must-haves.

Ryall was the last chef to be trained by Ms Allen, who died in 2018 aged 94. He sees the cookbook as a commemoration of his legacy, the foresight and valiant wisdom of a woman who opened the doors to her Shanagarry country home in 1964, intuitively cooking and serving dinner to guests using produce from her husband’s farm. She was the first Irish woman to win a Michelin star in 1975, and she held it for five years.

I find, when I come back from a trip and I have soda bread and butter, and I have a shortbread cookie or the ice cream using this old fashioned technique, that’s something I haven’t seen in the other places

The dessert trolley was there from day one, made by carpenter Danny Power to his specifications – an upper shelf where desserts were displayed and a shelf below for plates, serving utensils and cutlery. The four carts that are now in use at Ballymaloe follow the same design.

Allen planned the dessert menu each morning, and early on she realized that if people wanted to try a bit of everything, the different elements of the trolley had better eat well together. She therefore grouped the desserts into five categories: fruits, meringues, mousses and jellies, frozen desserts such as ice creams and sorbets, and a pastry, a cake or a pudding.

This is the structure Ryall follows in his cookbook, interspersed with helpful tips. With stunning photography by Cliodhna Prendergast and delicious recipes such as pistachio meringue roulade, gooseberry crazy, ice cream bomb and Pithiviers cake, this is not a book to read when hungry.

“One of my favorite desserts, and no matter the time of year or the occasion, is carrageenan mousse pudding,” says Ryall. “It’s the only dessert we serve every night, but I actually like it so much that if there’s any left, I have it for breakfast. It’s a soft seaweed milk, and the tradition of making it in Ireland goes back centuries, but the version in Ballymaloe is soft and mild, it’s not too much seaweed.

Like many young chefs, Ryall has done (an unpaid internship) in some of the best restaurants in the world, taking a two-month break each year to travel, while Anne Healy and the team of pastry chefs in the kitchen take over in his absence. Spending time in Bangkok, South America, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Mexico, it seems almost surprising that none of these influences have crept into the dessert cart dishes. Instead, discovering dishes that have a real sense of place in other countries has reinforced in his mind the importance of preserving the integrity of the classic dishes he cooks at the restaurant.

“I find, when I come back from a trip and I have soda bread and butter, and I have a shortbread cookie or the ice cream using this old-fashioned technique, it’s something that I haven’t seen anywhere else. So it actually gives me confidence to not mess with what we have and sometimes to leave things as they are and decide that this is really the best version of something .

“And it makes me very happy actually, to be able to do that. But you definitely have to be very confident to serve something simple quite often, and the temptation is there to do the cheffy thing and add the detail. But deciding not to is often the best decision,” says Ryall.

“Staying so long at Ballymaloe, my priority was never trying to change things or alter them, it was trying to distill the best out of them, hang on to them, and then at the limit , I can add new things and try new dishes.

“And it’s very exciting for people who come here all the time, who are very used to carrageenan mousse pudding and things that we’ve always done, that there’s also a new dish for this guest. But I think hanging on to the things that really matter most to the place, has in some ways been the hardest part of my job, but also the part I look back on most fondly,” he says.

Ryall jokes that Ballymaloe has never been fashionable, but over the years he has seen much of what Ms Allen valued, and what the whole team there valued, become at fashion elsewhere. “The idea of ​​a homemade butter, the idea of ​​a seaweed pudding or the idea of ​​a heirloom apple variety, whatever it is, it’s fascinating when something becomes a trend,” he said.

“And you see other people replicating it. It literally travels coast to coast and you realize that Ms. Allen has been doing it all the way. And it just makes me wonder, how did she have the confidence to do all these things, when it was almost against the grain at the time? It’s amazing.”

Ballymaloe Desserts by JR Ryall is published by Phaidon, €49.95

Recipe: Mrs. Allen’s Carrageenan Mousse Pudding

Recipe: Walnut and pear meringue cake

Recipe: Sparkling jelly with wild strawberries, blueberries and peach

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