Local chefs collaborate to create NI’s premier foodie destination

Pictured are, back row, John Whyte (Armagh City Hotel), Simon Dougan (Yellow Door) and Steven Dick (Uluru) and, front row, Mervyn Steenson (Groucho’s), Gareth Reid (4 Vicars) and Liam McEvoy (Lean Supper Club).

Pictured are, back row, John Whyte (Armagh City Hotel), Simon Dougan (Yellow Door) and Steven Dick (Uluru) and, front row, Mervyn Steenson (Groucho’s), Gareth Reid (4 Vicars) and Liam McEvoy (Lean Supper Club).

A chef-led initiative has been established with the aim of turning the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon area into Northern Ireland’s premier foodie destination as a legacy of the 2016 Year of Food & Drink.

Supported by Tourism NI, the chefs have teamed up to create a thriving Hospitality Forum as part of the local council’s Food Heartland initiative. Working with producers, the Forum encourages food outlets to source more ingredients locally, drive consumer demand for local artisan produce and further develop the Food Heartland brand.

Since its launch, the Hospitality Forum has taken part in a wide range of high profile demonstrations, pop-up cookery schools and restaurants, and events attended by over 40,000 people.

“In the past decade the dining scene in the Food Heartland has been transformed with new gourmet restaurants opening due to demand,” said Mervyn Steenson, chef at Groucho’s on the Square, Richhill. “Together, we want to go further and make this area Northern Ireland’s premier foodie destination.

“We have brilliant local produce on our doorstep including two of Northern Ireland’s three PGI products, Lough Neagh Eel and Armagh Bramley Apples.  We also have some wonderful artisan producers who between them have accrued dozens of awards.

“By combining the skills of local chefs with the calibre and variety of local produce, we believe that we can maximise the economic potential of the local food sector to create jobs and drive tourism.”

Part of the Hospitality Forum’s task is to raise awareness of local produce and introduce new and varied culinary experiences to this region. The Forum is encouraging chefs to showcase local produce in seasonal menus, provide more information about producers and adopt the Food Heartland branding as a mark of excellence.

Simon Dougan, proprietor and chef of The Yellow Door, said: “The Forum wants to promote the entire food experience and encourage greater consumer appreciation of food integrity. By working with other chefs, producers and the local council we’re already starting to see the benefits.

“There’s greater awareness of what produce is out there and restaurants are looking for ways to source local ingredients where possible. We’re also getting to know producers, sharing best practice and developing new products.

“Great produce makes great food, but customers also want to know where it’s from. If they know that it’s supplied by a family firm which has been in business for generations or understand how an innovative product has been created, that really adds to the experience.”

The group is also organising fact finding visits to local producers such as the Armagh Cider Company near Portadown which currently exports to eight international markets.

The next Hospitality Forum meeting is at the 4 Vicars, Armagh, recently named as Georgina Campbell’s Casual Dining Restaurant of the Year 2017. Upcoming public events include the Armagh Food & Cider Festival in early October, the Richhill Harvest Fayre at Halloween and the Georgian Banquet in Armagh in November.

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