From scallops to sirloin, how Simon and friends won all-island catering competition
He oversees the menu for staff canteens at industrial giants such as Bombardier and Moy Park. Now Simon Toye and his employer Mount Charles have won an all-island award for their contract catering abilities.
The senior team from the Belfast-based firm triumphed in the contract catering division of the Chef Ireland Culinary Competition at the CATEX exhibition in Dublin.
Belfast-based Simon is former executive chef at Michelin-starred Deanes restaurant in Howard Street. He and his team had to create a gourmet, three-course dinner for guests and judges within two hours.
Their budget was €12.50 (£10.81) a person - and cost of the successful Mount Charles entry was well below budget, the chef said.
Simon and colleagues defeated corporate catering heavyweights like Sodexo and Aramark with a menu featuring culinary favourites from scallops to sirloin - and for dessert, a chocolate and feuilletine delice.
The scallops were accompanied with cauliflower puree, curry oil and apple, while the 35-day aged sirloin was served with braised short rib, Jerusalem artichoke, burnt onion, chard and onion powder.
Cathal Geoghegan, managing director at Mount Charles, said: "We're thrilled to have won top prize in contract catering at what is undoubtedly Ireland's biggest and most prominent hospitality showcase event, run by the Irish Foodservice Suppliers Alliance.
"We came third at CATEX in 2015 and very much came to this year's event with our eye on gold. It was a huge team effort with a lot of preparation involved so it's gratifying that it all paid off, with the team commended for both the innovation and quality of the dishes as well as the high standard of food service.
"We've spent the last 18 months focused on recruitment and training, and have brought some brilliant new talent in to collaborate with our existing, experienced teams."
Simon, who trained at the College of Business Studies in Belfast in the 1980s, joined Mount Charles as group development chef seven months ago, following seven years at Deanes.
"My main task at Mount Charles is develop menus and use my experience in the restaurant trade and bring my experience from restaurants to bear."
But it isn't all about scallops and sirloin, as Mount Charles also caters for companies like Bombardier and Moy Park, as well as schools around Northern Ireland.
"It is a very diverse job. You might have someone in a big company where you have guys working outside in the cold, and need a good feed," he added.
"And on our educational sites, there are strict rules and regulations about nutritional values, so you have to be mindful of those."
He has also been in charge of catering at high-end events such as the Lord Mayor of Belfast's dinner, and this weekend will cater for a major company event.
Simon said certain cuts of meat had become a regular feature of corporate dining menus, including daub of beef.
"The main driver is price but with daub, it happens to be good value but also a great cut of meat, and it's full of flavour.
"When you're doing a corporate event I always want to produce something that's great quality. But not everything suits a corporate event and you have to avoid potential disaster - you wouldn't want a souffle for 200 people. Instead, you'll go for something a little bit simpler but packed with flavour."
He says he's proud of the success of Northern Ireland in the food sector, in particular following the 2016 Year of Food and Drink.
"Northern Ireland is one of the leading regions for food.
"Chefs like Deanes' Danni Bary and Stephen Tomlan from OX have achieved wonderful things."
And the increasing ambitions of restaurants were also feeding through.
"People have fancy tastes from eating out and that comes the way through into what they expect at business dinners."