Novelli will be great ambassador in Britain for our food

Article by Michele Shirlow for Farm Week

Jean-Christophe Novelli had some very important and immensely encouraging comments about the quality of our food and drink during his inspirational presentation at Balmoral Show and media features last month. It was a great pleasure to host his visit to the show and to set up a number of meetings with local producers.

He made a great many friends at Balmoral, and we look forward to developing the relationship further as part of our longstanding focus on collaborating with chefs working here on behalf of local food and drink producers. Local ingredients are featuring increasingly on local menus and relationships between chefs, restaurateurs and suppliers here are probably stronger than ever before – helped by the hugely successful Year of Food and Drink 2016.

Jean-Christophe’s support for our products in the Mediterranean-style dishes he will be creating for his planned new restaurant at the Marriott Hotel in Belfast will showcase their quality, innovation and taste. I am sure he will be a tremendous ambassador for our food and drink and his presence in the city will help Food NI as we seek to assist companies here to grow business in Great Britain.

I am also confident that his support for Belfast, as the location of his first restaurant on the island of Ireland, will assist Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland as they continue to develop the food and drink theme to attract tourists particularly from Britain and Europe. A key objective for Food NI is to see our food and drink being featured by a great many more restaurants in Britain and Ireland.

We want to see Northern Ireland ingredients listed on menus both here, in Britain and indeed further afield. This will also involve developing more branded ingredients. Europe has helped this process by designating three local products – Armagh Bramley apples, Comber early potatoes and Lough Neagh eels – under its protected names scheme. Others are in the pipeline. What will happen to this scheme post-Brexit remains to be seen. It’s crucially important that an effective replacement is developed.

Jean-Christophe Novelli wasn’t the only star in Northern Ireland’s culinary firmament last month. The annual Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards recognised the achievements and talents of our chefs and the quality of restaurants here. Danni Barry, already the only female Michelin-star chef in Ireland, was named Ireland’s Chef of the Year, a tremendous recognition for EIPIC’s highly skilled and creative head chef.  EIPIC owner Michael Deane has already been shortlisted in the Catey’s as Restaurateur of the Year.

Walled City Brewery in Derry was chosen as Ireland’s Best Gastropub and OX Cave in Belfast the Best Wine Experience. Sommelier Alain Kerloc’h of OX was named Ireland’s Best Manager. And there were awards too for Bull and Ram in Ballynahinch as Best Newcomer in Ulster, The Muddlers Club in Belfast as Ulster’s Best Casual Dining Experience. Lost and Found in Derry was selected as the All Ireland Best Café.

My congratulations to all our award winners who are playing their part in Northern Ireland’s emergence as a great global food destination. Food NI is keen to see the excellence of our chefs recognised well beyond these shores.

Local producers will also benefit enormously from a recent decision by Musgrave retail group to invest £100 million this year in our food. This is a further and immensely encouraging example of a leading retailer backing local produce. Musgrave already sells 3,000 products from local suppliers.