Sunday 17 December 2017

Darina Allen: 'I felt a deep sympathy for Nigella when she was in the public glare'

Darina Allen pictured in the gardens of Ballymaloe Cookery School, Cork. Picture: Arthur Ellis/Provision
Darina Allen pictured in the gardens of Ballymaloe Cookery School, Cork. Picture: Arthur Ellis/Provision
Tim Allen and his wife Darina Allen at Midleton District Court in 2003. Picture: Provision
Chef and food writer Darina Allen at home in the gardens of Ballymaloe Cookery School at Shanagarry, Co Cork.


WHEN I walked into Ballymaloe farm the last person I expected to greet me was Tim Allen.

It is 10 years since Ireland's most famous culinary family was rocked by the infamous child porn scandal, but celebrity chef Darina Allen's husband is firmly back at the front of house and working build up the family empire again.

For Darina, it has been a long and difficult road.

Her brave decision to publicly stand by her husband could be seen as logical in retrospect.

Memories come flooding back as she talks about another celebrity chef who had to live out her lowest moments on a public stage.

The image of Nigella Lawson walking into court facing a wall of press resonates with Ireland's best-known chef.

It's Thursday afternoon and she's sitting on the patio outside her cookery school.

She closes her eyes in empathy: "I felt a deep sympathy for her, I have to say. Because I feel, as one can understand, a deep sympathy for anyone who is in the public glare when they are going through something like that.

"Everybody goes through their stuff in some way or another but it becomes much more challenging if it's in the whole, full glare of the public.

"I felt deeply for her at that time and still feel very supportive of her."

Earlier that day the family had invited me to sit down for a family lunch.

Three generations of the clan gathered around a chequered garden patio table in the beating sunshine.

Tim sits relaxed eating salad and drinking fresh homemade lemonade, surrounded by the laughter of his children and grandchildren.

There are clearly no signs of any tension.

The family break bread over fresh avocados and wild rice, chatting with ease and looking forward to an impending arrival of another baby.

They have bucked the trend of the modern scattered family which leaves the nest only to return on occasion.

It is telling in itself that all of Tim and Darina's children live within a few miles of the homestead and come back every day to spend time with one another.

Darina describes how meal time brings them together.

And it is a tradition that she feels families need to focus on again.

"It used to be the bedrock of the family where people talk to one another ... nowadays there are families who don't sit down at the kitchen table from one end of the year to the other. They sit with an iPad or stand by the fridge," she says.

Perhaps the only thing that they are still raw over is the media coverage.

They express their anger at newspapers which they say are filled with misery and bad news and they describe how they rarely open them to avoid their negative energy.

Darina famously chose not to speak about the controversy in the press – instead waiting for the storm to pass: "You never know what life is going to throw at you and you just need to get through it and carry on.

"Any challenge that you overcome makes you stronger. Remember the person that one reads about is rarely the real person. You have a choice you can go out into the media or you can just put your head down and get on with it."

Her decision was widely debated and criticised at the time but it has brought her to the place she wanted to be. Surrounded by her family, with her business back on track. The reward for her allegiance – whether you agree with it or not – looks at though it has finally come to fruition.

Darina Allen will host an Afternoon Tea at Itsa at Harvey Nichols on Tuesday June 17 featuring recipes from the book, "30 Years at Ballymaloe".

Sunday Independent

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