Michele Shirlow Farm Week Coloum 28th Nov

I had the great privilege to be a guest at the launch last week of another hugely impressive initiative by Henderson Wholesale which will produce worthwhile opportunities for many local food processors. The launch was held in the splendid setting of Danny Millar’s exceptional Stock Kitchen restaurant above St George’s Market and it involved tasting 6 dishes from their new The Chef range. The concept behind the new range isthat they taste as good as you would make at home using the freshest ingredients and compliments to The chef, they do.

The range includes Irish Beef stew full of delicious chunks of local beef, seafood chowder that is full of fish and beef lasagne that stands up on its own. You could pass it off as your own if you hid the packaging.  

St Georges is where the Henderson Group began in a market stall downstairs selling locally produced butter,eggs and cheese 120 years ago. It was great to see the family represented at the launch of The Chef with the Agnew family represented by 3rd and 5th generations.

To produce The Chef range the visionary wholesaler has invested £500,000 in the acquisition of kitchen facilities and the creation of 14 new jobs in Randalstown.

At the heart of this latest and very substantialinvestment in the local food industry is the appointment of chef Carl Johannesson, SPAR NI’s first in-house chef. Carl, an immensely talented and experienced chef, will further develop Henderson’s longstanding and immensely important commitment to locally sourced ingredients.

The huge investment also follows the wholesaler’s launch of a special scheme for artisan and smaller food firms, the ‘hidden gems’ of the industry here.

We welcome the locally-owned group’s tremendous support for local produce. Many smaller businesses have been helped on their journey to success by Henderson’s directors and management.

Encouraging chefs here to incorporate more local ingredients in their dishes has been a long-time Food NI campaign, because we’ve many fabulous products here from producers dedicated to premium quality and outstanding flavours. We set up a chef’s steering group to spearhead this campaign, and alongside Taste of Ulster it has been a great success.

It’s our ambition to see chefs throughout Northern Ireland signposting local ingredients to a greater extent on their menus. This is especially crucial against the background of initiatives like Taste the Island which promotes local food and drink experiences to our growing tourism industry.

It’s essential that tourists, who are increasingly attracted to a destination by the quality of its food and drink and spend a third of their holiday budget eating, should create memorable food experiences which drive them to return.

Carl, of course, brings vast experience of local food and hospitality to his new role. He previously worked with chef Niall McKenna at the award winning James Street South, a longstanding promoter of excellence in food and drink. And over the past 20 years he has worked in restaurants where you served 30 or 40 people a night, he aims through The Chef range to bring good wholesome food to hundreds of people every night.

The Chef range includes ingredients from suppliers such as K&G McAtamney, the successful meat business, Elmore Fish from Belfast, Cookstown’s Big Pot soups and Daily Bake. The range currently consists of 35 mains and sides being launched in EUROSPAR andincludes family favourites such as beef Bolognese andfish pie alongside world flavours such as risotto and stroganoff, curries and chowders, all with added professional finesse.

I am sure the initiative will prove another great success for the group and look forward to seeing the range of meals expanded with even more locally sourced ingredients. I can’t promise that I won’t try to pass some of it off as my own.