Academy at Ulster University puts education at the forefront of sustaining NI hospitality sector

Academy restaurant, located on the edge of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, is enhancing Northern Ireland’s food, drink and culture by helping students forge a future in sustaining the hospitality, tourism and events industry. It does so not only in Northern Ireland but further afield, said panellists during a recent discussion about the educational hub and restaurant, hosted by Pamela Ballantine.

Lisa Kennedy, Business Manager at Academy was joined by head chef Wendy McGuire, former graduate Niall Beatty, who is now duty manager at the 5-star Adare Manor, and current culinary arts student and World Culinary Skills Champion 2023, Sophie Smith, to discuss the values and ethos behind the Academy, which launched three years ago.

Lisa explained that the Academy is a restaurant unlike any other. It features an immersive learning experience that has been created for students completing their (Bachelor honours) International Hospitality Management or Culinary Art Management degrees at Ulster University.

“At Academy, we strive to ensure that both students and staff feel that they are part of a welcoming, engaging and challenging community of learning that extends beyond the lecture theatre. We have developed a safe space for experiential learning. This allows students to be creative in their culinary talents and enables them to interact with leading internationally known chefs and masters of industry.  Our students led by Michael Gillies and Simon Russell build positive working relationships with industry captains and Academy colleagues.

Lisa continued; “We have embraced the idea that Academy Restaurant can achieve multiple positive outcomes: supporting distinctive forms of student learning, hosting events which progress a common agenda, and contributing to the cultural life of Belfast and Northern Ireland as the centre for food, drink and culture by operating as a commercial restaurant.”

Academy’s Head Chef, Wendy McGuire added; “In the kitchen, we are firmly focused on provenance and sustainability, which go hand in hand. We believe in teaching our students about the environment around us, from the fields and farms where we source our produce, meats and poultry, to practicing regeneration in all forms that sustains our industry for the future.

“Academy is the only restaurant on the island of Ireland and the UK to be awarded Green Key Certification, which means we have been acknowledged for our efforts to develop an environmentally and socially responsible establishment.  This all contributes to a more sustainable future for the industry. We are not only instilling a sense of professional pride within our team but also a strong sense of civic contribution. We wish to ensure the Academy plays a meaningful role in the continued development of Northern Ireland as a leading food and drink destination.”

Local suppliers including NearyNógs, Bushmills Irish Whiskey, Ewing’s Seafoods, Picked Organic, Mike’s Fancy Cheese, Jubilee Farm, Burren Balsamics, Ballylisk Dairies, Wilsons Country, Goats Bridge Trout, Ausome Growsome and O’Doherty’s Bacon all feature on Academy menus.

Professor Pantelidis, Head of the Department of Hospitality Tourism and Events Management (HTEM) explained that the department has a strong track record in sustainability and regeneration. Students often come back to work at the Academy as paid members of staff, whilst completing their degree. The Academy is a physical environment but the passion and collaboration of the HTEM department team facilitates a complete learning cycle transforming students from beginners to seasoned professionals.

“Our Academy colleagues in collaboration with our academics bring their passion to education and provide invaluable and hands-on experiences that help nurture and develop students in a realistic learning environment. All our academics have industry experience which allows them to work so well with our Academy colleagues. Hundreds of students who have graduated from our programmes have gone on to make incredible moves in their careers both in the local hospitality industry and internationally, which is a core objective of the Academy.”

Lisa added; “Academy is the center for food, drink and culture in Northern Ireland. It is as important for us to provide a world-class learning environment for students as it is for us to create a first-class dining experience for our guests.

“Our students go on to be the future hospitality leaders of our outstanding culinary, tourism and events scene both here and further afield, and we’re delighted to be the first stop on that journey for them, while simultaneously contributing to our local industry as a leading and sustainable food, drink and hospitality destination.”