Now Executive Chef at Avoca, Leylie Hayes’ passion for food, gardening and even hen-keeping started when she attended the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Leylie loved her time in Ballymaloe so much that she stayed on for another year, working under the watchful eye of Myrtle Allen at Ballymaloe House. Leylie has created many of the award winning Avoca dishes which have become household favourites. Leylie really enjoys giving cookery demonstrations and has even travelled as far as Tokyo to demo Avoca recipes. We nabbed her for a quick sit down ahead of her demo this weekend at The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest to find out a little more about her passions.
You are known for your passion for growing – what three things can Irish people grow themselves, no matter where they live?
Definitely fresh herbs. All you need is a couple of pots on a window sill or on a patio, it will make a huge difference to your cooking for both flavour and garnishing. Hardy plants like bay, thyme & rosemary are very forgiving and thrive with little or no attention, dill, basil, chives & coriander all easy to grow from seed.
Cut & come again salad leaves are great for beginner gardeners, all you need is a pot and don’t forget to water in sunny spells ( if we get any).
Finally, spuds. Nothing tastes better than home grown potatoes, if you have a vegetable patch great but if not you can buy special bags to grow them in, I promise you won’t be disappointed in the flavour.
What recipes are you most proud of and why?
My recipes for brown bread and soups probably give me most pleasure, there is something really soothing about making a good loaf of bread for family, friends and customers. It’s something we traditionally eat at the beginning of a meal and I think it sets the tone, shows you cared. Soup is just so comforting that I think it’s hard to beat, for me a good meal can be just freshly baked bread and a bowl of really good soup made on a good homemade stock.
What would you like your food legacy to be?
I will die happy if my three kids understand the importance part good food plays in bringing us together as a family, to respect the simple time shared over a meal prepared with love. We have a strict no phone, no TV policy which gets the odd moan but everyone sticks to. Most of my happiest memories are based around celebrations with family and friends sharing nice food. It doesn’t have to be posh, just really really good ingredients coked with love.
What five Irish ingredients do you think we need to support more, and why?
Irish chicken producers both commercial and small free range and organic producers, animal welfare and quality products have to be worth spending a free cent more on, I genuinely believe our customers care.
Our fabulous cheese makers, we have some amazing Irish cheese makers and we should all be supporting them.
Anything grown or fished locally, try and build up relationships with smaller growers and fishermen , treat them fairly and you can both still gain, much fresher quality products delivered to you directly, the ability to have specific things grown for your menu and better prices as you are cutting out distribution costs. Customers want to eat food that hasn’t traveled 1000’s of km to get to them and they want sustainable local fish whenever possible, and without doubt it will taste better too.
Natural Hill Lamb be it from the West or South has a great flavour.
Black pudding, it’s part of our food heritage and important to nurture it .
What professional kitchen tips would you give every home cook to improve their cooking?
1. Invest in good knives. Two or three will do, just a good chopper, a simple serrated veg knife and a carving knife, look after them and they will last you a life time.
2. Buy yourself decent heavy bottomed stainless steel saucepans, Pentole are a great brand I have some I brought 27 years ago when I trained in Ballymaloe and they still look like new.
3. Always read a recipe from start to finish before you begin to cook!
4. Use a piece of parchment paper or a butter wrapped when sweating vegetables, stops them burning.
5. Learn to know your own oven, I don’t care what manufacturers all ovens have their own little foibles , adjust your cooking times & temperatures as necessary. Remember who ever wrote that recipe doesn’t have the same oven as you.
You have travelled the world – what country has captured your heart and informed your cooking more than most?
I love most food from the Middle East , their use of spices and pulses always hits the spot for me. I am just back from a couple of days in Marrakesh where I had some wonderful food. I also love the clean light flavours of Vietnamese food.
What cookbooks sit on your shelf, and what one would you like everyone to read?
I have a very Mötley collection of cook books ranging from my childhood Hamlyn kids cookbook which I got as a birthday gift when I was about 10 to lots of Ottolenghi books, some Nigella, love Darina’ s Forgotten Skills & Rory’s Master It., I will be buying my twin daughters both of those book when they move out of home. Last book I bought was Honey& Co after a really lovely lunch in their restaurant for my last Birthday, their meatball recipe is amazing.
The third Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine runs from 15-17 May 2015. The full schedule of events and speakers is now available on the LitFest website www.litfest.ie
From world-famous chefs to boutique coffee roasters, guerrilla gardeners to polished restaurateurs, cocktail specialists to renowned wine makers, the unique international approach of the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine 2015 brings together yet another awesome lineup of fascinating and intriguing food and drink focused writers and speakers.