Belfast Telegraph

Move over stew: Northern Ireland's new national dish will fly the flag for the region's food

By Rachel Martin

Four of Northern Ireland's top chefs have joined forces to create a new signature dish for the region - and it's hoped it will inspire food-loving holidaymakers to visit.

The initiative led by Tourism NI will see the chefs create three dishes using only Northern Ireland ingredients.

The finished dishes will then be put to the public who will vote for their favourite as part of the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016 celebrations.

Chefs Niall McKenna from James Street South in Belfast, Ian Orr from Browns Restaurant and Ardtara House in Londonderry, Kelan McMichael from Bull and Ram in Ballynahinch and Chris McGowan from Wine and Brine in Moira will form the 'cooking collective' - a team of four chefs who will be tasked with creating the three dishes.

Ian Orr and Chris McGowan have featured on BBC Two's popular Great British Menu competition and in 2010 Niall McKenna was a finalist on the TV show.

Kelan McMichael - formerly of The Poacher's Pocket in Lisbane - opened his own restaurant, the Bull and Ram in Ballynahinch, just five months ago.

In his final of Great British Menu, Niall McKenna helped prepare a banquet for Prince Charles, which featured his rhubarb and strawberries grown near Castle Ward, Co Down, and delicate baked wafers, known as tuiles, for dessert.

Despite the quartet's culinary pedigree, they will be making recipes designed for people at home to try.

The Great British Menu features food that's "okay to do for TV or a special occasion but it's not the kind of thing people are going to cook at home," Mr McKenna said.

"We want this to be achievable and to empower people to give cooking a go. We want to change how people think about Northern Ireland food.

"When people think of food here they think of stew or champ, but things have really moved on in NI cooking. We've got people making dishes from all over the world using our ingredients and putting their spin on things.

"I want to make something I can show my dad and he can have a go at making - and my dad doesn't know one end of a spoon from the other.

"We have so many fantastic products right on our doorstep here - and I don't just say that - we'll be looking at lamb, beef, fish and Lough Neagh Eel and so many others.

"All of the ingredients are things you can buy locally - one or two of them will be things you might have to pick up in (specialist delicatessen) Sawers, but the rest are things you can get from your local butcher or shop."

Naomi Waite, Tourism NI director of marketing, said: "The signature dish is going to celebrate all things good about Northern Ireland food and the experience here. We hope it will get people here talking about our food. We also want them to join the conversation online and that conversation will carry outside of Northern Ireland and hopefully encourage people to come here."

Niall McKenna added: "We're really excited to come in and get working together, but it's not an easy task - it's something I've been thinking about for years.

"But no other chefs have ever tried this before here just because it's so hard to come up with something just right."

It's hoped that the dish will become a new regional favourite.

Susie Brown, director of corporate development at Tourism NI, said: "Our firm favourites like stew and champ are so familiar to us all, but we want to create a lasting food legacy as part of the NI Year of Food and Drink 2016 to live on long after the year-long celebration is over and that is what the signature dish is all about.

"The chefs are only allowed to use Northern Ireland produce and the dishes must all be new, but other than that there are no rules."

The winning dish - as voted for by the public - will be announced next month at a special unveiling which will include a demo from the four 'cooking collective' chefs.

*Further details will be announced later this month

Belfast Telegraph