2016 has gotten off to an amazing start. Last week was all go with the start of a new project and a visit North for the banquet to launch the 2016 NI Year of Food and Drink.
In less than 48 hours I met a black book of incredible people – new and old faces. The craic was mighty at table 10 with fellow diners Heidi McAlpin of In Your Pocket & RadioFace fame, Aoife Whelan from Lidl and Senior Times’ Lorna Hogg. The dinner featured a menu showcasing some of Northern Ireland’s finest ingredients from the award winning Baronscourt venison to Young Buck cheese and Lough Neagh eels (go on give them a try – you will be pleasantly surprised!) all prepared to perfection by Simon Dougan and his Yellow Door team.
The unexpected bonus for me personally of the evening (apart from First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness revealing that they had each been gifted a book entitled “Porridge is an Aphrodisiac”) was the after dinner speaker, BBC Radio’s Nigel Barden, who inspired me to start my radio show when I met him during the Great Taste Awards judging in 2013. Nigel extolled the virtues of NI cuisine and 2016 is the year to make your first or return visit with a calendar of exciting events with food and drink taking central stage.
The next day Ulster Food Hero, Caroline Wilson, took a group of us on her Belfast Food Tour and as we explored some of the city’s hidden culinary gems, more great people were met and connections made.
This was the start of a busy day which saw me venturing out to the Ards Peninsula for the first time in over 10 years to meet with the softly spoken Will Taylor from award winning Glastry Farm Ice Cream to interview him about his Yellowman Honeycomb ice cream for my upcoming radio documentary.
The day concluded back at home base aka Ballymena, Co Antrim where my parents and I made Devlin’s Yellowman together whilst supping some mini bottles of Prosecco (as one does like…) We were making it for a very special VIP – Chef Noel McMeel whose impressive CV includes time at Chez Panisse, Adare Manor, Castle Leslie (he created the vegetarian wedding banquet for Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills) as well as multiple TV appearances, the Great British Menu being only one example. Noel had agreed to meet with me to talk Yellowman for the radio documentary and gave me a 5 star welcome at Lough Erne Resort.
An amazing afternoon was spent in the luxurious surroundings in Co Fermanagh, where the world leaders have congregated for the G8 Summit, with the chef extraordinaire whose enthusiasm is simply infectious. Most of our time was in the kitchen (don’t worry – I wasn’t cooking!) with Noel showing me how he makes his version of Yellowman. All will be revealed in my radio documentary “Devlin’s Yellowman – A Taste of Childhood” which will be aired later this year.
It was a long drive home to Newcastle West in Co Limerick, hindered by poor weather and appalling rush hour traffic. However, the adverse conditions did nothing to dampen my happy mood as I reflected on the stories shared, conversations had and the potential future opportunities to collaborate on new and exciting projects.
Thanks to Tourism NI/NITB and everyone who took the time to talk to and share with me. Have a wonderful 2016 – I will be in touch!