Jane Harnett’s Blog From Food NI Showcase in House of Commons

On the 1st July 2014 Michael and I (Jane) of Harnett’s Oils headed over to London for just over 24 hours.  Harnett’s Oils along with 12 other artisan food and drink companies and Paula McIntyre as members of Food NI where in London has we had been invited to showcase our businesses to the members of parliament on the 2 July.

Before our showcase the next day we where all invited for a reception on the balcony at the House of Commons. What a view? When we arrived at the House of commons we came in a taxi with Thyme and Co and PoshNosh and after going through security we realised that the rest of the group had not come in the same way as us and security did not know where we should be going so after wandering Westminster Hall and nearly ending up in a ‘rock the house’ concert we were relieved to find Michelle of FoodNI/Taste of Ulster although the concert did sound tempting!

It was a great privilege to be invited especially with the MP David Simpson serving the constituency that I run our business from.  The businesses were introduced to a few NI MPs before they had to go on and vote on a finance bill.  We finished our drinks and were shown the entrance to the room that we would be in the following day before heading to dinner at the Claxton Grill.

To get to dinner we passed Westminster Cathedral and New Scotland Yard.  I didn’t realise how everything was so close together especially when taxiing back to the hotel we past Horses Guard and Buckingham Palace.  For dinner over 20 of us took up our seats for an outstanding three course meal prepared by Adam Handling a final three contestant of Masterchef in recent years.  Our starter was salmon prepared in a water bath with fennel pollen, dill and apple; the main was lamb with clams finishing with temperatures and textures of chocolate and passionfruit.  A real treat for us all.

An early night was had as excitement began to build for the next day and if we were going to be lucky enough to meet the Prime Minister.  Alas unfortunately we were not lucky enough to meet any of the present cabinet that day.

On the 2nd July we were set up with our sample boxes and our range of flavoured oils and pure oils for people to try at 10am in the Jubilee room awaiting MPs.  The showcase ran till 4pm and with ministers questions happening at 12pm we had a packed room soon after.  The NI food showcase was well attended by a range of MPs from our local MPs of DUP, SDLP to a few MPs from Scotland, Wales and England.  We also meet a few Lords and Ladies from the House of Lords some from home such as Baron Kilclooney, Viscount Brookeborough, Baron Rogan and Baron Browne of Belmont as well as Lord Tebbit.  We also met lawyers that work within the House of Commons, the chief whip, messengers (they wear golden chains worth £40,000.being part of the Crown Jewels round their necks) that hold the doors and interns working for a range of MPs.  Some of the most interesting conversations was with past secretary of states from over the years and of course there was Theresa Villiers who spoke a few words of the great products on display and the agriculture and food industry.   The day was a great showcase for NI food and it was great to be given such an opportunity to show our range of foods and that we can stand on a world stage with our products.

The day was a great showcase with great positivity for all our products.  Paula was in the kitchen producing some great entrees using our Pure Rapeseed Oil, Clandeboye Yoghurt, Glenarm Salmon and lamb to name a few of the local products.  It did give some of the mainland UK MPs something to think about and mentioned a few times to me ideas to bring back to their constituencies again showing what great products and businesses that we produce. This was highlighted by a number of people commenting not only on how they enjoyed our oils especially the Chilli and Garlic but that the NI Food Showcase had been one of the best showcases of the year.

It was a great experience and a real honour to be invited to such a prestigous event and thoroughly enjoyed our trip to London.