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Ozarka Goes to School Chapter 2: GPS in Ireland means “Get Possibly Somewhere.”

I stood in line at the Sixt rental car desk at Cork Airport for a considerable amount of time. There were two customers in front of me. The first customers, British, were two elderly sisters and their extra elderly, wheelchair-bound mother. The rental car customer service woman was on the horn with one of the ladies’ husbands (I know this because I could hear him yelling through the phone).  The ladies had not bought insurance and the insurance could not be purchased through the husband’s credit card because the name didn’t match the name on the reservation. The ladies did not have a credit card of their own. I’m not sure what happened to them. They were placed to the side and I think perhaps transportation by bus was being arranged for them, possibly back to England.  I am always baffled by people who do not know how airports work.

The next customer in line was a distinguished Dutch gentleman who became incensed when the purchase of insurance at the desk quintupled the total amount for his car rental. He relished giving his customer service desk man a mighty lecture about what the man already knew: that the insurance costs more than the rental of the car itself and how ridiculous this is. We live in a world of fake discounts (Hello, Easy Jet).  I know that this man (because I know the Dutch) was angling for a discount which he was not going to get and probably knew it. But it’s always worth a try. He finally slapped down his credit card with no lack of indignation and got on with it.

Next was my turn. Not that I wouldn’t be extra nice anyway (of course), but I knew the beleaguered service desk reps could use a break so I cheerily said I would like the full insurance, I was very happy to be in Cork, and on my way to my cooking school.  The Sixt man said he would give me an upgrade to a brand new small SUV that had GPS/satnav already installed which was saving me 12 pounds per day.  Score!

Anyone who has driven through Ireland knows that driving directions are something akin to treasure hunt. As soon as I was to get off the main highway, I was to drive through a few tiny villages, turn at a church, turn again at a pub, and drive on until I would find the entrance to the school on my right.

I had the directions printed out and should have just followed them. But why do that when you can rely on technology?! I thought I would town hop by directing the GPS to take me to the town center of Castlemartyr then I would do the same for Garryvoe and would know I overshot my mark if I ended up in Shanagarry.

Most of the roads in Ireland are narrow and rugged. This I was prepared for. But it had been raining and many of the roads taking me to my destination were flooded over and pocked relentlessly with inhospitable potholes.  As I got deeper into the countryside, the roads became ever more primitive. Finally after about an hour of driving a route that should have taken 40 minutes I had “arrived at my destination” which was a muddy path (under no criteria could it be called a road)  that led to a single, isolated farmhouse.  The GPS had a different idea of what the “center of Castlemartyr” was.

After a few minutes of denial, self-doubt, incredulity, and swear words, I realized that the GPS in this rental car had no idea what the center of anything was. I used my phone the rest of the trip.

It took another 20 minutes bouncing through opaque water and gravel and small craters before I arrived at the school. It was Sunday.  The gates were closed.  Someone was supposed to be there to let me in.  I had no idea where I was staying. I got out of the car and repeatedly pushed a button at the gate. No answer. I called the number to the school and someone answered and then opened the gate.  It was Tim Allen, Darina’s husband.  I drove through the gate to culinary Oz. After some confusion as to which entrance to the school I was to walk though, I found Tim who shook my hand and said I was “very welcome.”

Tim took me to the cottage which would be my accommodation and home for the next two weeks. It was a home I would share with 5 housemates, all of whom ranged from half my age to less than half my age.

 Credit: Anne O'Sullivan

Credit: Anne O’Sullivan

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Ozarka Goes to School Chapter 1: Ballymaloe Who?

In order for Ozarka to open, we need funding. And to get funding, we need investors.  Investors love Ozarka, and everyone says that investors invest in the entrepreneur more than the business.  But they all find a shield against my charm offensive on a single, ever so pedantic little observation: “You don’t know anything about food retail.”

Investors, advisers, and friends wiser than I keep coming back to this chink in the chain we’re climbing toward getting Ozarka open.

Ok then, where do I get food retail experience? My new friend Damien, an experienced chef and bottomless pool of industry tall tales, said that on-the-job experience is best, but in lieu of that, get thyself to the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland.

Ballymaloe? Never heard of it.  Which is the first indication that I know almost nothing about this industry. It’s a culinary school founded decades ago by Rory O’Connell and his sister Darina Allen—known widely as the Julia Child of Ireland, or perhaps the Alice Waters of Ireland, take your pick.  It’s located on the farm founded by Myrtle Allen, who was pontificating the value of local and organic/biological at a time when most people would look at her feet to see if she was wearing socks with sandals.  Again decades later, these issues have become mainstream.

I signed up for the two-week immersion course entitled “The Business of Food.” It was to be taught by Blathnaid Bergin (One of those lovely Irish names. It’s pronounced “blahnet” rhymes with “bonnet.”)  who is an expert in restaurant and hotel management, and later I was to discover, Darina’s sister. Ah, really a family business this is. But more on that later.


This is me. Learning stuff.

Photo credit: Anne O’Sullivan

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