Top chef lauds Northern Ireland's fine goods
Northern Ireland food producers must take their own products out of the country to attract overseas buyers and grow exports, a top Asian television chef has said.
Malaysian celebrity chef Redzuawan Ismail, known as Chef Wan, was behind an international drive on his country's cuisine.
Chef Wan has been in Northern Ireland filming a forthcoming food-based TV show. The format will be three 30-minute programmes based on Northern Ireland's burgeoning food scene.
The Asian Food Channel star, known for his flamboyant personality and presenting style, has been branded "Malaysia's most outrageous food export".
It's not the first time Chef Wan has been in the UK. In 2013, his show East Bites West saw him travel by caravan across the UK, spreading the word on Asian cooking. Chef Wan's shows have been viewed by millions, and he has also featured on Masterchef Australia as a guest cook.
In 2009, he was named Best Celebrity Television Chef at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
NI Connections chief executive Andrew Cowan, who helped to show Chef Wan around Northern Ireland, said: "It's a whistle-stop tour but Chef Wan will see the country's food from farm to plate. What we are trying to do is say, 'it's okay to talk about ourselves' and spread the word about Northern Ireland food."
Chef Wan visited a number of businesses including Mash Direct in Newtownards, the Culloden Hotel outside Belfast and Galgorm Resort & Spa in Ballymena.
He also cooked a lamb dish alongside Lough Erne executive chef Noel McMeel.
Chef Wan said he loved the lamb and beef on offer in Northern Ireland, but said that people in Malaysia did not know enough about the cuisine here.
"I loved the beef here - it's just so delicious. The food has been wonderful, with products from all the different counties. There's excellent beef, seafood, lamb and dairy. It's so good, it's unbelievable," he said.
"When I think about Irish food I think about breads and Guinness, but that's about it.
"No one thinks of Northern Ireland as a food growing country, yet there are so many talented chefs and great food products here.
"The producers really need to get out there themselves and bring their products with them."
Having seen the popularity of other types of Asian food in western countries, Chef Wan decided to promote Malaysia and the south east Asian countries using their food.
In 2007, he was awarded a Lifetime Jury Award for his contributions as the culinary ambassador for Malaysia at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.