Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Goldring Travel's 2012 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Pride - Part V (Cork, Ireland and a Lucky Leprechaun Named Darina Allen)

Due to high seas and winds, the Seabourn Pride’s sailing from Falmouth, England to Cobh (Cork), Ireland was slowed and we arrived in Cobh three hours late.  Because of this the first Goldring Travel Food & Wine Event has to be shortened.  Our visit to the Old English Market with Seabourn Chef Kurt Timmermans was replaced with a quick city tour of Cork.
 It was then on to Finin’s Pub in Midleton, Ireland.  This old Irish pub (two blocks from the Irish whiskey mecca:  The Jamison’s Experience) is an award winning restaurant specializing in Irish cuisine.  We were not disappointed.  Huge portions of hearty vegetable or mushroom soup, mussels, seafood casserole (awesome…with the best mash potatoes I have ever had) and a wonderful pate overflowed the table, paired with Murphy’s stout and Swindryk’s ale.
It was then a ride through the Irish countryside to Ballymaloe Cookery School located on a 100 acre organic farm.  Oh, it was so idyllic…right up until I stepped off our touring van.  I was greeted warmly and then, as my guests were guided into the conservatory, I was guided into the office to meet with Darina Allen, the world famous chef and owner of Ballymaloe.  Darina advised me that the operator I was working through (and had paid months earlier) had not paid her and gave her “the check is in the mail” story along with an invalid credit card.  So, as they say, no money, no way.
After advising I would guarantee the payment again, we were belatedly ushered into the middle of something other than the private to semi-private Irish cooking lesson determined by what was freshest in the garden.  It was a lecture and demonstration being given to serious cooks from 11 different countries engaged in a 10,000 Euro plus 12 week course to assist turning them into chefs.  So while my guests were learning the latter techniques in making scones and then an hour’s worth of how to clean various species of fish, I was working to turn this disaster around.
Fortunately, Darina Allen was there with me all the way; clearly seeing that I had been mistreated and she was going to do whatever it took to make it right…and she did.  You see, she understands that whatever happened was a reflection on her brand and that her brand reflects onto the Goldring Travel brand, so like me she understood that the guests come first.
Darina Allen to the rescue!  She arranged for our group to cut out of the class and offered an impromptu tea service (the best tea I have ever had) – even taken care of my guest requiring gluten-free snacks by her staff whipping up a delicious meringue and cream.  After a charming talk about her farm and cookery school she offered each of my guests an autographed cook book, but more importantly, a personal tour of her magnificent and very personal 100 acre organic farm given by her son.  

This almost totally sustainable farm has numerous chicken varieties, over 60 types of vegetables (in fields and huge greenhouses), beautiful informal and truly formal gardens.  When she couldn’t find good pork, she began raising pigs.  Cows as well.  The place is absolutely amazing.

But the highlight for most, and certainly, me was an unassuming tiny house at the end of a beautiful garden which was referred to as “The Shell House”.  But when the doors were opened, one of the most unique and beautiful experiences just happened.  The entire interior is sculpted…not decorated…in shells, with the entire ceiling sculpted in shells from her cookery school’s kitchen.

Everyone feeling they just had a wonderful experience…and that victory was pulled from the jaws of defeat…it was back to the Seabourn Pride for a sailaway with much calmer seas and, alas, a sea day.
For me, it was the first time one of my well-planned events didn’t go as planned.  But fortunately we were able to turn it around and provide an experience that was far more memorable and rewarding than that which I had originally contemplated.  The start of this cruise has, without question, been a bit of a challenge with the weather, seas, delays and a bad operator, but everyone is having a wonderful experience nonetheless…and, for sure, with the incredible assistance of the staff of the Seabourn Pride.