Monday 20 May 2019

Trailblazing culinary queen who started an Irish food renaissance

Tributes have been paid from all over Ireland to Myrtle Allen, whose restaurant and hotel at Ballymaloe House in Cork was awarded a Michelin star. Picture: Provision
Tributes have been paid from all over Ireland to Myrtle Allen, whose restaurant and hotel at Ballymaloe House in Cork was awarded a Michelin star. Picture: Provision
Fiona Dillon

Fiona Dillon

Myrtle Allen has been remembered as a "trailblazer" and an iconic figure in the Irish food industry, in warm tributes following her passing.

Ms Allen died peacefully at the age of 94 after a short battle with pneumonia at Cork University Hospital yesterday surrounded by her family.

She had a 50-year-career as a chef, hotelier and restaurateur at the world-famous Ballymaloe House in Cork.

She and her husband Ivan opened Ballymaloe House as a restaurant and hotel in 1964. The self-taught cook wrote menus every day based on what was available on Ivan's farm, as well as produce from the locality and the catch from fishermen in nearby Ballycotton.

Her daughter-in-law Darina Allen said: "What a legacy she has left. She hadn't been well for a few days, but she had been keeping very well before that.

"Everyone loved her, all her staff are heartbroken."

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: "Simply put, Myrtle Allen was a beautiful person who has had a pioneering influence on Irish hospitality, ambition and food.

"When she and Ivan opened a restaurant and hotel more than 50 years ago, they could hardly have imagined that, not only would they put Ballymaloe House on the map, but also on to supermarket shelves throughout Ireland and the world.

"Myrtle Allen's success is down to her hard work, high standards, sheer determination and overwhelming pride in Irish produce.

"Many other successful Irish brands have followed the route she pioneered."

He added that the people of Cork were extremely proud of her.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that Ms Allen "kick-started" Ireland's food renaissance and will go down in history as a champion of Irish cuisine.

He said that since Ballymaloe opened as a restaurant, she had been synonymous with quality food and quality cooking.

"The first Irish woman to earn a Michelin star, Myrtle was a visionary who was never shy about championing the best of Irish cuisine," he added.

Celebrity chef Kevin Dundon, who knew her for over two decades, described her as an "iconic" figure in Irish food.

Mr Dundon said that she was a "cornerstone for good wholesome Irish food, and bringing families together and talking about the importance of food, and more so the importance of Irish indigenous ingredients".

"You could sit and talk to Myrtle Allen for hours and talk about food," he said. He described her as a "remarkable" woman.

The Wexford-based chef said she would attend small and large food events alike.

"She would jump on the bus and make her own way there. She was very, very passionate about food," he told the Irish Independent.

He said that Myrtle had been awarded a Michelin star in Ballymaloe, "cooking food from the land and not over-complicating any of her dishes".

"It was literally letting the ingredients speak for themselves. And I think it takes a very brave person to do that, and a very skilled person. A lot of chefs can hide behind technique," he explained.

"She had a huge amount of time for everybody. Any time you met her she spoke about new suppliers.

"She would say: 'Have you met this person, Kevin, they are doing great cheese, they are doing great smoked fish or their chutney is amazing'."

Mr Dundon said that she had really got behind the Irish cheese movement.

"She only cooked in season, and only cooked food that was coming into season now and it is the way you should do it. She will be missed a lot."

Macra na Feirme national president James Healy said she was a pioneer within the organisation.

"She was the first ever female vice-president, holding office for two terms from 1960 to 1964.

"She blazed a trail in Macra na Feirme for others to follow and will never be forgotten," he said.

Eileen Bergin, who founded The Butler's Pantry in 1987 and attended courses in Ballymaloe, said: "She was passionate about everything to do about food.

"She was very quietly spoken, very gentle, but she was so well versed in what she was dong, she never had to raise her voice.

"People listened to her. They hung on her every word and she was a great teacher," she said.

Irish Independent

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