Northern Ireland produce deserves top billing, says chef Novelli
Celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli says Irish produce does not get the top billing it deserves.
The multi-Michelin-starred and five-out-of-five AA Rosette-winning chef was turning heads yesterday at the Balmoral Show where he was cooking up some spectacular seafood dishes with Trevor Orr from The Irish Seafood Company.
Speaking in the popular NI Food Pavilion, he said: "Irish products don't get enough credit. I am amazed at the quality - you can buy the best beef, the best meat, the best charcuterie, the best fish.
"Look at where Ireland is on the map. Scotland always has the credit - and it is well-deserved - for producing some of the most fantastic seafood, but they share the same current.
"It's the depth of the sea, the very cold water and the produce grows very slowly. It's the position where Northern Ireland is on the map that is so important and it's one of those things that people don't know about.
"Seafood from Northern Ireland is consistent and mature - I love it."
The award-winning chef says he was turned onto Northern Ireland produce by Jim Mulholland, head chef at his new Novelli at City Quays restaurant, his first on the island of Ireland.
The restaurant draws on the expertise of top-notch local companies such as Abernethy Butter, Hannan Meats, Ewing's Seafood, Yellow Door and North Down Group. Set on Belfast's waterfront in the City Quays quarter, the new 112-seater venue opened in April and the celebrity chef says people have been queuing up to get in.
He says he is inspired by the quality of food he has been able to find on the doorstep of his new venture.
"Jim Mullholland is the one who introduced me to all this. I was fortunate to employ him to work as my assistant and he has been going for so many years now," he said. "That is why we cannot fail. If you have the best produce, the only thing you can do wrong is burn them.
"I am like a football scout, I am always trying to search for great produce. The chef has to be like Columbo, that for me is really important. Without the best produce I am nothing."
It's not Jean-Christophe's first time at the Balmoral Show - he came last year as well.
"It's brilliant. The only problem is I haven't got time to go everywhere, and I know I will only see about 10 per cent of it and you know there will be something good to discover in that 90 per cent," he says.
Fish producers in Northern Ireland have often pointed out that local consumers can sometimes be among the least appreciative and that they will often go on holiday to the Mediterranean to consume langoustines or fish caught in the Irish Sea while ignoring the seafood aisle back at home.
As he prepared the work station, Jean-Christophe was looking forward to showing people in Northern Ireland how easy it is to cook seafood.
"People get intimidated by not having knowledge and they think you will get sick or ill which is nonsensical," he said. "The best way to cook fish is the most simple approach. I'm like a footballer - I just can't wait to start."