Our Year of Food and Drink 2016 was launched in some style last week by Tourism Ireland in London. This important introduction of what will be a very exciting and enjoyable year-long programme of colourful events to chefs, food writers, travel journalists and bloggers in Britain was hosted by Tourism Ireland. It featured award-winning chef Theo Randall, owner of Theo Randall at the InterContinental London Park Lane and former head chef at The River Café and was a tremendous boost for Year of Food and Drink.
Randall and local chefs Niall McKenna of James Street South, Derek Creagh of Harry’s Shack, Will Brown of The Old Schoolhouse Inn cooked up a superb meal using Northern Ireland produce.
They were very ably supported by KraziBaker Mark Douglas of Dromore, who has been reviving interest in griddle baking of traditional favourites such as potato farls, soda bread and potato apple at markets around Northern Ireland, and James Huey of Walled City Brewery in Derry, one of the 26 craft breweries now operating here and producing an impressive range of beers, ales and stouts.
Reaching out to engage key influencers in Britain, the Republic of Ireland and further afield will be a crucially important element of our commitment to Year of Food and Drink. Guests heard all about our world-class ingredients, talented chefs, wonderful restaurants and great cookery schools
We are already working, for example, on scheme to engage with leading chefs especially in London and to encourage exchanges with their counterparts here.
Our aim will be to introduce leading chefs there to the variety and quality of produce now available from Northern Ireland suppliers. I know that some of the most eminent chefs in Britain already use food from here.
They include Abernethy Butter fans Heston Blumenthal, Marcus Wareing and Andy McFadden. The BBC’s James Martin has also used our beef and Glastry Farms whiskey ice cream. And Mark Hix, among the most successful chef/restaurateurs in London is a long time customer for superb Himalayan salt-aged beef from Peter Hannan in Moira. Interestingly, Hix flew to Northern Ireland recently to cook a beef banquet for his Glenarm shorthorn suppliers.
A number of top chefs in Britain have already expressed a keen interest in working with us during Year of Food and Drink.
The benefits from such exposure in Britain, still our most important market for food and drink, will be substantial for local producers, hospitality providers and the wider community. I see no reason why it shouldn’t result in a significant increase in sales of our food and drink in Britain in both retail and catering sectors. It would be marvellous to see more Northern Ireland food and drink listed on the menus of more restaurants in Britain. While Hix, for example, already lists Glenarm Mighty Marbled Steak on his menus, we want to see more products featured.
Why? It means more high profile business for our producers and also encourages diners to think of Northern Ireland as a destination for holidays or short breaks. More product sales and increased tourism boosts our economy, especially the farming community, and increases employment opportunities. Food and drink is a key consideration when people consider a break.
We want them to experience our food and drink and to look for the products in their supermarkets, delis and restaurants when they return home.
We are inviting people across Great Britain to come here and enjoy 366 days of culinary celebration – where they will discover the best of local produce and have the chance to experience the spectacular scenery and wonderful coastline and friendly people that makes Northern Ireland and our food and drink so special.