Countryside upbringing led to life in restaurant game for Tedfords owners
Good, adventurous food has long been part of chef and restaurateur Alan Foster's life. As owner with his wife Sharon of Tedfords in Belfast, he's built up one of the city's best-known restaurants and the couple have just branched out with a new venue.
The original Tedfords, a high-end eaterie with an emphasis on seafood, has been going for more than 15 years in a period building which used to be a ships' chandlers in Donegall Quay.
Now in an investment of £250,000, the couple have opened Tedfords' Kitchen on neighbouring Lanyon Quay -a more casual sister restaurant which employs 20 people.
Mr Foster's interest in food goes back to his rural childhood growing up on the family pig farm in Castlewellan, Co Down.
"My grandmother, who was a fantastic cook, used to have a brace of pheasant hanging inside the front door so I've long been used to eating game."
Mr and Mrs Foster met at catering college in Downpatrick. He did work experience in the Slieve Donard and worked for nine years in the restaurant of the Burrendale Hotel, also in Newcastle.
They relocated to Dublin, where they worked at the peak of the Celtic Tiger era in some of the city's most high-end venues, including the Clarence Hotel, which is part-owned by U2.
But he didn't catch a glimpse of the famous four. "I was always in the kitchen," he said.
When the old Tedfords building came on to the market in 2000 - it had been turned into a restaurant but had not taken off - the Fosters viewed it as a good opportunity for striking out on their own. Fifteen years on, he says "we couldn't be happier".
Alan adds: "It's hard work and there's a lot of government processes to it but it's our consistency which has helped. We have a lot of people who have been coming to us for 15 years."
Seated looking out on the water from an upper floor in Tedfords itself, Mr Foster said: "When we first opened here, there was just nothing here."
Now the waterfront area is bustling, a once-deserted part of town now populated with office workers and tourists.
The success of Tedfords has helped to lift the area - and now the Fosters hope they can enjoy the dividends from developments in tourism and business in the waterfront area.
The opening of Tedfords' Kitchen at the start of this month was timed for the arrival of the Tall Ships in Belfast - and there was a longer-term plan, Mr Foster said: "Already that area has picked up with the new offices opening up like the Lanyon Tower and the Soloist - but with the extension of the Waterfront Hall we hope there'll be more people around."
With Mr Foster as head chef, Mrs Foster looks after front of house as well as doing the business' book-keeping.
"Everyone always asks us how it works for us as a couple, but it's always been very harmonious and we've always maintained a good work-life balance," he said.