Enterprising Chef Gary Expands His Popular Restaurant Business

Swiss-trained chef Gary Stewart decided to bottle a delicious pickle sauce long popular with diners at his Co Antrim restaurant during the lockdown.

Gary (54), chef/patron of the acclaimed Tartine at the Distllers Arms in Bushmills, has just begun supplying the unique sauce to delicatessens, other specialist retailers and over the restaurant’s website. 

The sauce is likely to be the first in a line of retail products which will broaden the business base of the popular eatery on the Causeway coast. He’s been assisted by the team at the Foodovation new product development centre at the North West Regjonal College in Derry, in the refining the recipe, an ideal accompaniment for cheeseboards and meat dishes.

The novel sauce was developed at Foodovation under the guidance of food technician Karen Marran using an Invest NI Innovation Voucher. Gary, in addition, received encouragement and support from the Taste Causeway food promotional body and also consulted Deirdre Fitzpatrick of Causeway and Glens Council’s Alchemy business growth initiative.

“I started planning the pickle sauce, always popular with diners, before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic,” Gary explains. “I had been considering the development of Tartine signature sauces for a couple of years following a visit to a food hub in Leitrim organised by Taste Causeway. We met a leading chef there who had developed good business for his restaurant by creating products for retail including specialist sauces,” he adds. Other specialist products in Gary’s planscould include chilli and a spicy relish.

The pandemic was to delay Gary’s development of the project for about a year. “Our focus during the lockdowns was on how best to generate cash for the survival of the restaurant,” he continues. “We responded, as many restaurants did, by launching a menu of premium meals for delivery to diners or for them to collect,” he adds.

Prepared by Gary, who lives near the restaurant, and his talented team, the dishes included Tartine staples including roast salmon, steak and chicken breast, all featuring locally sourced ingredients.

“It’s been an immensely tough time for us and, of course, all restaurants in the village and across Northern Ireland. We are relieved to be able to welcome diners back again from the 25thand already have bookings. We just cannot afford the lockdown to continue or to have it to be imposed again. Thatwould be devastating. We’ve also spent a lot of money on ensuring the restaurant is safe for diners and staff,” he says.

Originally from the Ballymena area, Gary studied to be a chef at the local technical college and now closed culinary college in Portrush before travelling to Switzerland to hone his cooking skills. He worked in a number of high-end restaurants there for three years. He subsequently decided to develop his career at home and worked in the kitchens at several highly regarded eateries including Galgorm Hotel and Resort.

A desire to run his own restaurant led to a small place on the Causeway coast before he spotted an opportunity to grow his business and to spread his culinary ‘wings’ when theestablished Distillers Arms, a historic pub, in Bushmills village suddenly became available.

He invested everything in the premises in 2009 and set about creating an “exceptional restaurant that would offer diners a memorable eating experience”. 

“I reckoned the premises had great potential in a village that was growing into a significant tourism hub in particular around the iconic Bushmills Irish Whiskey distillery, the salmon station and, of course, the Giant’s Causeway,” he explains.

A Taste of Ulster member, The Distillers Arms has long established links with the nearby distillery. It was originally home to the distillery’s owners and was then a lodgings and pub before being converted to the restaurant. Gary was keen to retain most of the original features of the distinctivebuilding in keeping with the picturesque village which isbecoming a premium food hub and home to the hugely popular Bushmills Salmon and Whiskey Festival, a colourful event that’s been stalled for two years due to the pandemic.

“We take pride in the simplicity of our cooking style and the quality of the raw ingredients, mostly from local farms and artisan producers, that we use in creating original dishes which also offer outstanding value for money,” he says.

Restaurateur of the Year 2017 winner at the Northern IrelandInstitute of Hospitality Awards and Ulster Chowder Champion the following year, Gary is an enthusiastic supporter of Taste Causeway and a driving force behind the creation of Bushmills as a successful food centre for visitors from Ireland and further afield.