Belfast Telegraph

Top Aussie chef's 'eat local' pledge as North Coast venture beckons

By Rachel Martin

The award-winning Aussie chef who helped put Armagh's restaurant scene on the map is leaving for a new venture on the North Coast with the owners of Coppi.

Dean Coppard said it's with a "heavy heart" that he leaves behind Uluru - the critically acclaimed casual dining restaurant he founded 10 years ago.

The Australian chef took the food scene by storm with his fusion of a relaxed Aussie dining style coupled with Northern Ireland produce.

However, he revealed to Belfast Telegraph that he was excited about his new venture - and the potential for more seafood dishes.

He'll be working alongside friends Tony O'Neill and Sam Spain of Thornyhill Restaurant Group in the pair's Portballintrae restaurant.

The duo - the brains behind Italian restaurants Il Pirata and Coppi - will hand over the reins of Bartali to Mr Coppard next month when he will take up the role of executive chef.

Uluru put Armagh on the map as a food destination with an array of awards and a mention in the Michelin Guide.

And Mr Coppard said he hopes he can do the same in Portballintrae with Bartali.

He said: "There's something I love about seafood. I don't like to over-complicate dishes and like to let the ingredients sing.

"Northern Ireland has some great, great products and I'm very passionate about making the most of them.

"We have amazing products like langoustines right on our doorstep but they are caught in Kilkeel and go straight on the lorry to Spain because for years no one knew about them here.

"People are getting more interested in local products than ever and the hard thing now is trying to source them."

Mr Coppard founded Uluru in 2005, three years after he arrived in Northern Ireland from his native north Queensland.

The top chef became known for his love of Northern Ireland produce - specifically Lough Neagh eels and Armagh Bramley apples - both of which he hopes to put to use in Bartali.

Mr Coppard said that he will meet with Portballintrae residents later this week to discuss what they want to see on the menu.

"If there's a local supplier I should be using I want to know about it," he said.

"It's real farm to fork stuff that I want to focus on. We've got a lobster skipper with a boat right next to us - it's live lobster caught and on your plate in half an hour - that's the kind of thing I want to do next."

However Mr Coppard said he will continue to use some of his favourite suppliers such as Abernethy Butter and Broighter Gold rapeseed oil in Bartali.

And hinted that there may be "two or three" other North Coast acquisitions down the line.

He added: "We achieved what we wanted to in Armagh. We wanted to create a destination. We wanted to work with the hospitality sector and make somewhere that people wanted to come and stay - not just get the bus in stop and then go straight back out again. And working together with so many other businesses we achieved that."

Back in Armagh, Uluru Bar and Grill will be taken over by Gavin Emerson and head chef Mark McGonigle, who has been working under the Uluru brand for 12 years. The restaurant which, has brought kangaroo and crocodile to Armagh plates, will continue to embrace Mr Coppard's Aussie style.

The restaurant recently moved as part of a £2m investment to its new premises on Market Street.

Mr Coppard said: "Mark and the team have more than proved their worth and it's their turn to bring their ambitions into a reality and I have been honoured to be their mentor."

The restaurant, which has 10 chefs and 20 front-of-house staff, is growing in popularity.

Owner Mr Emerson said: "Together we have all been on such an immense journey over the last 18 months. Dean's experience, professionalism and dedication has been instrumental in mentoring Mark and his team.

"We all wish Dean good luck with his new venture and we look forward to our head chef leading the team in continuing to put great tasting food in front of our customers."

Belfast Telegraph