Chef Marco Pierre White dishes out praise to Belfast cafe
Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White cooked up a storm with an unexpected visit to an east Belfast cafe staffed by young people with special needs.
Workers at Level Ground Cafe, based in Dundonald's Elim Church, welcomed the chef with a hot cuppa and a homemade muffin before taking him on a tour of the facilities.
Level Ground Cafe, which employs five people aged from 16 to 23, serves up a range of delicious treats on a not-for-profit basis from 9am until 4pm, Monday to Saturday.
"People in Belfast have a duty to come here," said Mr Pierre White, (54) from Leeds, who was on his third trip to Belfast.
"It's certainly the nicest cup of tea and most perfect muffin I've had in a while - served, crisp, hot yet soft, with lashings of butter.
"The facilities here are excellent. The kitchen is spotless and the young people here are learning valuable skills and the artform of cooking."
Employee Nathan Campbell (23), a former pupil at Longstone School in Ballybeen, started working at the cafe after going to college to study retail and finding it was not for him.
Nathan, who is originally from Dundonald but now lives in Newtownards, works full-time in Level Ground and attends the Elim on Sundays.
"People should come here because our food is lovely," he said.
"We are friendly and welcoming. We are used to serving people and being happy.
"We're also a very good team and all the money goes back into the cafe and church.
"I went to tech to study retail, but I have learned more here. I love it here."
Eddie Patrick, head chef at the Park Avenue Hotel, where Marco Pierre White's Steakhouse Bar and Grill is situated, volunteers with the young people, whose special needs vary from mild to severe.
"I volunteer to help the young people develop their skills and confidence in the kitchen, and it's really pleasing to see how they benefit," he said.
"They are all very enthusiastic and their talent for hospitality really shines through.
"It's great to see the young people really enjoying the experience. Hopefully, it will help them get on the career ladder and maybe even work in the busy kitchen of the Park Avenue one day."
Level Ground was officially opened by UTV's Paul Clark last September and is open to all members of the community, not just churchgoers.
"People have a duty to volunteer their money or their time at such a place as this," said Mr Pierre White, who also told how he was kicked out of both Harrogate and Westminster catering training schools as a teenager.
"I don't give advice as I believe it is patronising, but I do believe in living by a philosophy, and the philosophy of success, I believe, is luck," he added.
"Luck is being given the opportunity. It's an awareness of opportunity that makes one take advantage of that luck, and I would urge these young people to continue doing what they are doing and continue to be inspired."