Monday 25 March 2019

'What a legacy' - Darina Allen pays tribute to her mother-in law, award-winning chef Myrtle Allen, who has died aged 94

Mrytle Allen. Photo: Ballymaloe Cookery School
Mrytle Allen. Photo: Ballymaloe Cookery School
Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe
Myrtle Allen and her daughter, Fern.
Angela Lansbury with Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House at the screening of 'Driving Miss Daisy' at the Grainstore, Ballymaloe, last night. Picture: Provision
Dynasty: Myrtle Allen with Yasmin and Maxine Hyde, oustanding in their field.
Bridget and Jack Mccarthy of Mccarthy's Butchers, Kanturk with Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe at the Irish Food Writers' Guild awards, announced in Dublin last week.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Irish chef Myrtle Allen has died aged 94, her family has confirmed.

Mrs Allen passed away peacefully, after a short battle with pneumonia at Cork University Hospital yesterday, surrounded by her family.

Her daughter-in-law Darina Allen told "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. You hear so much about restaurant kitchens now and what goes on. She always had a hugely high standard, but noone in our kitchen ever raised their voice or used swear words. That was the kind of person she was."

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

She and her husband Ivan opened Ballymaloe House as a restaurant and hotel in 1964, when their six children began to leave the nest to go to boarding school.

The self-taught cook wrote menus everyday based on what was available on Ivan's farm, as well as produce from the locality and the catch from fishermen in nearby Ballycotton.

She was the first Irish woman to be awarded a Michelin Star, which she held from 1994-1997.

Since 1964, Mrs Allen has overseen the growth of a Ballymaloe business that has since spawned the cookery school operated by Darina, and the Ballymaloe Country Relish business run by daughter Jasmin Hyde.

Mrs Allen remarked: "Everyone has got a slice of the cake – we are not millionaires out of it."

Paying tribute to Mrs Allen, Darina told this morning: “She had a whole network of local farmers and local fisherman and fish smokers who loved her. I remember once someone who’d seen her when a farmer arrived with chickens saw her saying, ‘how much do you need to be paid to produce something of that quality for me?’ She had an appreciation of the work that went into producing food.”

“How much she had touched people's lives. She did so much to inspire and give all of us cooks and chefs confidence in servicing our own local Irish food simply and proudly.”

“Many people in Ireland had almost an inferiority complex about our food but she always knew how good it was.”

“I feel so fortunate, and all of us do, feel so proud to have worked with her. Certainly meeting her changed the course of my life.”

“I was like a sponge soaking up everything. She was such a wonderful teacher and had a great generosity of spirit with everything she knew.”

“She and Ivan my father-in law were an extraordinary couple. How fortunate we were to have them. We all loved her," Darina said.

Mrs Allen was part of founding Euro-toques International and founder of Euro-toques Ireland in 1986, an organisation of professional cooks promoting and protecting Europe's culinary heritage. She served as president of the international body from 1994 to 1997.

She wrote two cookery books, now widely regarded as bibles of Irish food, The Ballymaloe cook book and Myrtle Allen's Cooking at Ballymaloe House.

Her husband Ivan died in 1998.

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