Michael eyes growth in Middle East

Feature for News Letter by Sam Butler

A plan by award winning chef/restaurateur Michael Deane to open a gourmet restaurant outside Northern Ireland could bring important business to local food and drink companies and boost the region’s culinary standing.

Among the most creative and respected local chefs and a hugely successful restaurateur in Belfast, he now has his sights set on opening a gourmet restaurant in Dubai, the business and tourism capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Michael has already appointed an agent there and will be visiting the city, among the world’s most dynamic commercial centres in the oil rich Middle East, within the next few months. They’ll be scouting suitable locations for a new restaurant. It could be in one of Dubai’s luxury hotels.
Committed to locally sourced ingredients and a role model for many chefs, Michael has helped to revolutionise the eating out scene in Belfast over the past 15 years. He has held a Michelin Star for 12 years, the longest ever in Ireland and last year gained this coveted recognition for his acclaimed EIPIC restaurant in Belfast. His restaurants have also won impressive plaudits from many of the world’s most influential food writers.
“Setting up a restaurant abroad has been on my mind for several years. London isn’t really an option because I worked there for 10 years including five years at the Dorchester Hotel and had no real interest in setting up there. I’ve been looking at other possible locations beyond the British Isles and came down in favour of Dubai because it’s such a vibrant and rapidly developing business and tourism centre. I was also aware of the business there of a number of our food business including smaller enterprises.

“I believe the time is now right for us to take Northern Ireland’s culinary skills, knowledge and local ingredients to an international marketplace such as Dubai. I am convinced that Northern Ireland must raise its game in terms of the international awareness and the overall profile of our gourmet food and drink.

“If we want to establish Northern Ireland as a good food destination for tourists we’ve got to get beyond the Ulster Fry, soda breads and stout and turn the spotlight on the creativity of our chefs and the innovative gourmet dishes being produced using the fantastic ingredients that are readily available here.

“What I’d like to see as a legacy initiative from Year of Food and Drink is a co-ordinated and coherent campaign, a roadshow, involving local chefs in promoting the breadth and quality of our food in targeted centres abroad. This would do wonders for our gastronomic reputation, would boost tourism and could also support the inward investment drive,” he adds.

His thinking about such a roadshow and the decision to push ahead with a restaurant in Dubai has been influenced by his successful stint recently as guest chef at the plush St Regis Hotel in Bangkok, one of Asia’s most respected hotels.

Owner of seven highly rated restaurants in Belfast, Michael cooked meals for leading business people and food writers over a week-long stint at the critically acclaimed VIU restaurant on the 12th floor of hotel in Bangkok.

He was invited to showcase the best of Northern Ireland food and drink by the hotel’s management. The five-star St Regis Hotel regularly holds promotions featuring food from around the world for its guests and invited VIP diners.

“I asked diners at the hotel what they knew about Northern Irish food. Those that had heard of Northern Ireland before came up with Guinness and shellfish. We’ve got to get beyond this and to show the world the breadth, quality, outstanding taste, wholesomeness and provenance of all our food and drink and the tremendous talents of our chefs.

“I am convinced that there are opportunities in hotels worldwide to highlight the quality of our food and drink and to establish Northern Ireland as a genuine global centre of gastronomic excellence.”

The gourmet menus featured quality ingredients from Northern Ireland suppliers including Glenarm Organic Salmon, Co. Antrim, Omagh’s Abercorn Estate Venison, Hannan Meats, Moira, Lough Neagh Eels, Abernethy Butter from Dromora and Young Buck Cheese, Newtownards. The restaurant was packed every evening, and the dishes he supervised were acclaimed by diners for their delicious flavours and innovation.

“It was good, hearty Northern Irish food creatively cooked to ensure rich flavours for discerning diners. I was delighted to have this opportunity to showcase how the superb ingredients readily available in Northern Ireland can be harnessed to produce outstandingly tasty and original dishes. This is the message we need to be promoting professionally in the global marketplace,” he adds.