Judgement Day in The Food Heartland

By ELEANOR MCGILLIE 15 August, 2018

Today was a day that chefs and bakers in The Food Heartland held their heads high as they plated up for two well known judges who were out and about in the Orchard County tasting dishes which were shortlisted for The Food Heartland Awards 2018

It’s not often you get Executive Head Chef Noel McMeel of the Lough Erne Golf Resort and Hotel and Chef Paula McIntyre walking through your doors but this is exactly what happened today as two of our members waited in anticipation to whet the appetites of these well known, multi award winning chefs.

First up this morning was Digby’s Bar & Restaurant in Killylea where Claire Macklin was ready and waiting to serve up Digby’s Homemade Armagh Bramley Apple Tart.  Baker Sheelagh Macklin prides this tart as a dish best served simply and that’s exactly what the judges got – a traditional dish which has been created using a traditional family recipe and of course delicious Armagh Bramley apples.

Armagh Bramley Apples are used to make Digby's Armagh Bramley Apple Pie

Claire said: “The judges seemed really impressed by the overall experience and complimented our restaurant and indeed Sheelagh’s tart. This is a popular dessert among our customers. Sheelagh, our baker, perfected the method of a traditional family recipe using ingredients from Co Armagh, and the surrounding counties, to create this dessert which our customers love.

“Sheelagh has a unique way of preparing the tart from baking the pastry to stewing the apples along with a top secret way to get a lovely crispy sugary top. She keeps the dish free from additives and preservatives and it is baked using only natural ingredients. Many bakers do often introduce different spices and textures, however, Sheelagh maintains her belief in her baking that the natural flavours sourced locally should speak for themselves.”

From Killylea the judges made their way to other eateries which had dishes shortlisted and one of those shortlisted dishes had been in the planning for two months.

Australian chef Dean Coppard is a perfectionist when it comes to flavours, textures and colours and so he presented the judges with a very different type of dish.

His dish? Pan seared Lough Neagh Eel, crispy Dromore pork belly caramelised in Jilly’s Honey and Burren Balsamic Glaze, Comber new potatoes, Mac Ivors Cider Co Plum and Ginger, infuse Armagh Bramley Apple Sauce and buttered local kale.

Dean Coppard's Dish - Best Use Of Local Ingredients

Serving this plate up at Molly’s Mill, Dean said: “It’s always great to welcome judges through the doors because for a chef a competition is about putting your heart and soul onto a plate so to be judged can often be a daunting thing.

“I spent two months developing this dish and this involved getting the complexity of the flavours right and making sure that one element doesn’t overpower the other. Balancing a dish is not just about taste – it’s also about proportion size so having the right amount of protein to starch, for instance, is important when plating a competition dish.

“I have used a lot of local produce from The Food Heartland and I hope I have done the producers proud. The judges seemed happy with the tasting and I am sure everyone shortlisted will do their own team proud.”

Our members will find out at a black tie gala night on September 12 whose dish wins the category for Best Dish Using Local Ingredients.


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Live It Experience It is a group of journalists and travel writers who tell the stories of our members who are tourism businesses offering accommodation, activities and great places for food and drink in Northern Ireland.

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Eleanor McGillie

About Eleanor McGillie

Eleanor spent eight years working in the south west of England - one of the UK's most popular tourism hotspots. During her stint working with key players in the tourism sector she developed a love for all things outdoor adventure. As a journalist she got to travel to remote corners of the world to write travel features about the experiences of a particular place. Northern Ireland's story needs to be told and needs to reach new audiences. Live It Experience It aims to attract tourists from outside Ireland, people from Ireland and people who live in Northern Ireland but aren't aware of the extent of the adventures on our own doorsteps. Eleanor is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) at Associate Level