Star chefs at top venues turn up heat to retain Michelin honours for Belfast in 2017
Belfast's brightest culinary star Danni Barry has done it again - this time becoming the first woman to be named Irish chef of the year.
And Miss Barry, head chef at Deanes Eipic and Ireland's only female Michelin-starred chef, has hinted she may be thinking of setting up her own restaurant.
"I think every chef wants to see their name above the door some day," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
The award from Food & Wine magazine, announced last week, is the latest of many the 30-year-old has won since Eipic opened two years ago.
Danni began her career 13 years ago under Michael Deane at his restaurant Deanes in Howard Street, before she travelled around South Africa, Australia, New Zealand.
After a spell at Simon Rogan's l'Enclume in Cumbria, now the number one restaurant in the UK, she led the kitchen at Rogan & Co in Cumbria until Deane persuaded her to come back to Belfast to take the helm at Deanes Eipic.
Danni said she also hoped to open her own restaurant - possibly within the next five years. "I really love being at Deanes and I've a really good team here but I do think after five years time it will be time for someone new to take over. I want to take it to the level I can and then I see someone new taking over and pushing it on further."
The chef took part in last year's Great British Menu programme, a competition featuring chefs from all over the UK.
"It's coming up to the time that the next series will be out and the shine will soon wear off me, but it has been enjoyable and it's done a lot to help me make a name for myself.
"I have had a lot of attention - taking time out to do interviews and speak to people - but you've got to make hay while they sun shines.
"I don't think I did particularly well on it but I've had a lot of people get very involved with it and have come up to me to tell me I was robbed."
Northern Ireland restaurants missed out on the top award of overall restaurant of the year in the Food & Wine magazine programme - with Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin triumphing instead.
But Eipic and Belfast's OX - both of which have Michelin stars - were highly commended and commended respectively in the competition.
The only other Northern Ireland restaurant to feature was Lough Erne Resort's The Catalina, whose executive chef Noel McMeel was given a commendation in the category for best Ulster chef.
However, Eipic won the best restaurant in Ulster category and Michael Deane won the entrepreneur award for his success in setting up a chain of restaurants.
And OX won two awards for best wine experience, while best sommelier went to co-founder Alain Kerloc'h. Last year, OX's Stephen Toman won chef of the year.
Alain Kerloc'h said he sees Danni's award as a victory for the whole of Belfast food scene.
"We've done it again - we've done the double - we are very proud of Danny and Stevie as both of them are championing Belfast's food scene.
"For us last year to have won chef of the year and now to have won two of these awards one year after the other is fantastic."
Despite being pipped to the post for 2016's chef of the year by Danni, Alain insisted there was no rivalry between the two restaurants and that both could thrive in Belfast.
"People can come out to Ox one night and go to Eipic the next and have two completely different experiences. We are both offering something which is completely different."
Danni Barry added that there was strength in numbers from both having a Michelin star.
"You never want to be the only Michelin star restaurant, because having one is just an exception whereas by having two it becomes a mark of the standard people can expect here.
"People won't travel somewhere for just one restaurant - you want Belfast to become a destination for food.
"The food scene here seems to be becoming more vibrant and I think more new chefs and restaurants will start to feature in the awards. People are becoming much more interested in food in general here and that's pushing the standard up.
"Customers are travelling and trying top restaurants and they expect to find that standard in Belfast, too.
"Now you have a lot of chefs like myself returning home from travelling and bringing back ideas and techniques they've seen abroad."
She said that Tourism NI's Year of Food and Drink had "encouraged chefs and producers to work closer together".
And the pressure is on as both restaurants hope to retain their Michelin stars - the 2017 winners will be announced at a live event on October 3.
It's the first time in the 105-year history of Michelin stars that winners of the most coveted award in restaurants will be revealed live.