Congratulations to all those involved in Derry’s successful bid in the Foodie Town competition run by the Restaurant Association of Ireland. It was great to see the Maiden City emerge from a fiercely contested event to be named runner up to Burren as the best place for food and drink on the island of Ireland.
While Derry didn’t win the overall title the city was the people’s choice, winning the most votes (and they did beat Dublin, Kinsale and West Cork). The support for Derry was tremendously encouraging and thoroughly justified because of the outstanding quality of food writers like Emmet McCourt and Brian McDermott and the long standing work of restaurateurs such as Ian Orr and Sean Harrigan, plus a cluster of outstanding local producers.
Because of this collective teamwork, and the support and encouragement of Derry City Council, it’s now recognised as one of the top foodie destinations throughout the island of Ireland. Emmet McCourt recently took to the message about the region’s food and cuisine to the US, presenting at a major tourism industry event in Chicago and both Brian and Emmett were present at the Gourmet Gallery at the Frankfurt Book Fair with Emmett collecting another Gourmand Award.
The Foodie Town award is also extremely important because it positions Derry to play a major role in the forthcoming Year of Food and Drink 2016 and also to benefit substantially from economic boost that will come from the decision to hold The Open at Royal Portrush in 2019.
The benefits that will flow from this world class tournament for the whole economy will be immense. It’s going to be an extremely exciting period for Northern Ireland. I congratulate the Northern Ireland Executive on its success in bringing the tournament to Northern Ireland following its work to secure the Irish Open for Newcastle and then Lough Erne.
The Foodie Town award also showcases Derry’s appeal to tourists and other visitors as a great place to visit and stay for highest quality and original food and drink. There have been some really exciting developments in food and drink including craft beer and whiskey. The city now has two successful craft breweries, Walled City and Northbound, and may also be home to a new Irish whiskey distillery, an initiative by the city’s Niche Drinks, already a world leader in Irish Cream Liqueurs. Successful food businesses in Derry city range from major export businesses like Foyle Food Group and James Doherty Meats to smaller firms focused on sales abroad such as Donegal Prime Fish, PRM and Wafer Enterprises.
Business, political and community leader are also focused sharply on assisting the growth of food and drink and tourism, both which, of course, are closely linked. Our most important industry, furthermore, has the backing of the Derry campus of Ulster University and the North West Regional College of Further Education in areas such as skills and training and innovation.
It has staged some of the most successful food festivals including the hugely successful LegenDerry and the Flavours of the Foyle Seafood Festival both of which have secured awards.
Derry clearly met the exacting criteria for success in The ‘Foodie Town of Ireland’ award. It recognised a town/destination that actively promotes itself through joint promotional activities such as food festivals, gourmet trails or farmers’ markets as well as great dining experiences for locals and visitors alike. It showcased Irish towns/ destinations that had developed a local producer/supplier network that is utilised and promoted by local businesses.
Plans for future growth and investment into the food and hospitality industry at a local level are also taken into consideration by judges. Education, training, development and employment are key components of the ultimate foodie destination.
I hope Derry will be back again during Year of Food and Drink next year chasing the top award and that other cities and towns will follow the lead of our enterprising second city.