The little coastal town of Dingle in Co. Kerry is a stunning spot. Home to a working fishing fleet, Fungi the dolphin, and a host of cafes, bars, restaurants and traditional pubs in this picturesque place on the Wild Atlantic Way. As Dingle lies in the ‘Gaeltacht’ area, visitors to the area will find signposts written in Irish, and the Irish language spoken fluently in homes and in many of the town’s shops and businesses. Here is a place which encapsulates the heritage of the region - the language, the lively atmosphere, traditional music and hospitality, and close connections with food, farming and fishing.
Amidst all this, two people who have been at the helm of the food developments in the town are now jointly involved with a cookery school which brings all the gourmet elements of Dingle together under one roof. Mark Murphy and Muireann Nic Giolla Ruaidh are owners/head lecturers at the Dingle Cookery School. Both have been involved in food for many years. Muireann is hugely experienced in the food and hospitality industry at management level for over twenty years, working as Hotel Manager at one of Dingle’s long standing town centre family owned hotels. Muireann and Mark have been instrumental in developing the Dingle Food Festival and Dingle Farmer’s Market. Mark is a chef who has worked in many top establishments, including with Derry Clarke at l’Ecrivain, before moving on to lecturing in food and cooking at Tralee IT.
'The aim of Dingle Cookery School is to get people cooking. We really want people to learn here. We love passing on our knowledge and passion for food to them. We care about how our students cook and get huge satisfaction from seeing them improving. It’s fantastic to see people gaining confidence and learning. Dingle Cookery School caters for all abilities, from those who have never set foot in a kitchen, to competent home cooks and professionals. Classes are a mix of hands on learning or demonstrations over a half or full day. Hands on session can take up to 18 students, where each person has their own workstation. The cookery demonstration area can hold groups of up to forty people.’, Mark says.
Hands on classes start with reception with tea/coffee and perhaps home baked scones. An introduction to the class follows. Mark is very keen to reinforce basic skills and fundamentals all the way through, beginning with a quick run down of knife skills for safety and proficiency. Dingle Cookery School champions local produce, with explanations of each ingredient used and sourcing,. Meat comes from a local butcher, fish from the boats in the harbour, and much seasonal produce from local growers and small holders. Dishes are demonstrated before participants get cooking for themselves, working for two and a half to four hours, before sitting down to eat what’s been made and have some lively discussion on what everyone has learned in the process. Personal attention is a key part of each class. Demo groups often take place in the evening, beginning with refreshments and ending with a feast for everyone. The school has a full demonstration programme, but sessions can be tailored to suit the group. ‘We do demos for family groups, hen and stag nights, corporate groups and work colleagues. We try to focus on fun and enjoyment as well as the real process of learning. All our students for hands on classes and demos go home with a full recipe pack of the dishes we have made together.’, says Mark.
Alongside teaching from Muireann and Mark, the school also welcomes food and cookery experts to the school. Classes have been hosted by Jp McMahon of Aniar restaurant and Mark’s local butcher, showing how to use various meats. Lamb is popular in these parts, so the session on ‘Traditional Irish Cookery’ includes how to make ‘Dingle Pie’ – a mutton based pie that used to be served in every pub in town. Another favourite is the ‘Catch and Cook Class’, where participants go out on a boat from the harbour for a couple of hours to fish, and then bring their catch back to the school to prepare, cook and eat. ‘This particular class is brilliant!’ says Mark. ‘ There’s a lot of friendly rivalry about who caught what and ‘I caught more than you’ stuff and it carries on right through the cooking session!’ Fishing or this class will often lead to a sighting of Dingle’s famous dolphin Fungi, who usually appears whenever there’s a friendly boat around.
The school also offers up skilling and subject matter classes to suit professional chefs, and is now running a full HACCP course programme for those working in the food services sector. Dingle Cookery School is set in the Food Village, just a five minute walk outside the town. A small group of units which are occupied by the school and some individual local producers, including a black pudding maker. A great place to find a thriving food community and get a real food education experience!