Derry chef’s culinary travels inspire Asian infused menu

Globetrotting Derry chef Stephen Forbes has literally gone to great lengths to perfect his passion for cooking and, local diners are now savouring exotic culinary delights from his travels across Asia.

Stephen, who is Head Chef at Pier 59, recently spent eight weeks in Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand sourcing authentic dishes which are being debuted at the city’s only seafood restaurant which was recently awarded ‘Best Newcomer’ at the Licensed and Catering News Awards.

The talented 30-year-old chef arrived home in time to take part in the Clipper Race Kitchens as part of the Foyle Maritime Festival organised by Derry City and Strabane District Council which also coincided with the Rivers, Seas and Loughs monthly theme designated for July in the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016 calendar.
As well as showcasing his culinary magic in the cooking demos during the four-day gastronomic gala at Ebrington Square from July 14-17, Stephen has also been introducing local diners to mouth-watering seafood dishes inspired by his culinary travels.Stephen-Forbes,-Pier-59-Head-Chef-with-one-of-his-popular-seafood-dishes

Stephen’s Goan fish curry – inspired by his previous travels to India – is one of the most popular dishes on the Pier 59 menu, and appetites are again being whetted after his latest food odyssey which included stopovers in Saigon, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.

Stephen explained: “I’ve travelled a lot in Asia, mainly Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and India. You learn so much from travelling as a chef; you get to see other cultures and taste things you would never have had before. I have been lucky enough to meet local people to guide me through some of the food you won’t find on your own!

“I’ve also been lucky to get into some kitchens for the day in Thailand and Vietnam. I learned so much about their styles of cooking and can’t wait to try them out in the restaurant. In Saigon I learned how to make the Vietnamese ‘Pho’ which is basically a beef noodle soup packed with lots of ingredients and flavour. It’s the most popular dish in Vietnam, so it will definitely be a regular on the menu in Pier 59.”

Stephen’s favourite dish from Thailand is a coconut seafood broth made with fresh chilli, galangal, lemongrass and Thai basil and, he’s delighted by the reaction of customers to some of the more unusual flavours in his Asian infused cookery.

He continued: “I started cooking about 11 years ago and I can safely say people’s palates have changed for the better. Local people’s knowledge of food is increasing year by year. The rise in TV cookery shows can take a lot of credit for this and the cuisine in Derry is evolving also. The Internet also plays a big part too; people have access to pretty much anything from recipes to documentaries about cuisine from all over the world.
“Cooking with seafood keeps you on your toes as every bit of fish or shellfish needs to be cooked differently, which keeps it interesting. I love creating different garnishes for seafood, there’s so much you can do. With so many varieties of fish coming into the restaurant there’s never a dull moment and I’m forever learning about what fish is available in our local waters.

“When we first opened a lot of our customers would order a steak, chicken or pork dish but, with a little convincing they would try a seafood starter and eventually be hooked! We also have had many customers tell us they’d never eaten fish until they came to the restaurant which is very rewarding to hear.”
According to Stephen, food showcase events organised by the local Council, including the LegenDerry Food Festival and Flavours of the Foyle, are a very important boost for local restaurant businesses, producers and suppliers.

“The buzz these food events create around the city is great and, provides an opportunity for local people to come along and try new things. It was also great for the city to come runner-up in the Foodie Towns competition last year; it’s a sign the town is moving in the right direction. The local produce we have around at the moment is the highest quality and long may it last. Accolades like this will only help the local restaurants in the city.”
Una Kincaid, owner of Pier 59 – which takes its name from the street number on Strand Road where Derry’s old pier stood – is delighted that food lovers are enjoying the benefits of Head Chef Stephen’s exotic culinary experience.

The Letterkenny native, who founded The Sandwich Co 30 years ago and opened Pier 59 less than two years ago to bring a new seafood dining experience to the city, said: “It is great to have our chefs travel and coming back and incorporating new techniques here. We have fabulous chefs in the city and it’s important that we support and encourage them.”

The Seafood Platter and other signature dishes such as the Goan fish curry, seafood chowder, salt and chilli squid which is baked first in milk to tenderise it, are extremely popular on the Pier 59 menu which is translated into several languages to reflect Derry’s growing reputation as an international food tourism destination. All of the fish and seafood is caught fresh daily in Atlantic waters off the Co Donegal coast and collected directly from Greencastle harbour.

Una added: “It is great to have 2016 designated as Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink, highlighting local food and our local artisan food producers. Supporting local is the way forward – made here not brought here. If we all kept to that ethos, it would be much more gratifying to everyone involved.”
Mary Blake, Tourism Development Officer with Derry City and Strabane District Council which is actively supporting NI Year of Food and Drink 2016, also paid tribute to the dedication and hard work of Una and her team at Pier 59 whose excellent food and service was recognised recently by winning ‘Best Newcomer’ at the Licensed and Catering News Awards held at a gala ceremony in the Europa Hotel, Belfast.