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“Hospitality is part of the heart and soul of Northern Ireland,” says local chef

Two local chefs are partnering with Northern Regional College to promote hospitality as an attractive and rewarding career choice in Northern Ireland.

Michael Caulfield is a part-time lecturer in Professional Cookery at Northern Regional College and proprietor of Caulfield & Dorrity Catering. He believes that despite the current lockdown restrictions and impact on his own business, there is still reason for the hospitality sector to be positive.

While his optimism in the present circumstances may seem unreal, his positivity is very much real and is relishing the opportunity to get back to work.

“We have been impacted the same as everyone else within the hospitality sector,” the Ballymena man said. “Providing catering services for weddings and corporate events is the backbone of our business and, as everyone knows, those events simply are not taking place.

“As a business owner, it has been difficult but I’m optimistic about the eventual return to the ‘new normal’. Events may be smaller and a lot more socially distant, but people will still want to capture that special feeling at a wedding, for example.

“We pride ourselves on having a personal touch in everything we do and that is something that we will never lose. No matter what, we will always be committed to ensuring someone’s dream day is as special as it should be.”

According to Michael, Northern Regional College is playing a critical role in nurturing the talent that will ensure the hospitality sector not only recovers, but flourishes and continues to grow in years to come.

“I have to admit, I am proud to play a part in encouraging young people into such a vibrant and exciting industry. Hospitality is part of the heart and soul of Northern Ireland and, despite how things appear at the minute, that’s something that will never change. It’s ingrained in our DNA,” said Michael.

Gary Stewart, patron chef of Tartine at the Distiller Arms in Bushmills, is guest chef-in-residence at the College. Both culinary aficionados honed their skills at the former Ballymena Technical College in the early 1980s, forging a friendship that lasts to this day. Having maintained strong links with their alma mater, they still work together to help train the next generation of professional chefs.

Counting Restauranteur of the Year and Tourism NI’s Best Food Tourism Experience amongst his accolades, Gary, who is also a three-time Ulster Chowder Champion, supports Michael by giving cookery demonstrations and guest lectures to his students in the College, and offering students work placement opportunities at Tartine.

Since the lockdown, Gary has been sharing online video demonstrations of some of his favourite dishes and has also introduced a successful home delivery service.

While Michael and Gary have always promoted local produce and kept up with the latest food trends, they know that an ability to adapt and innovate has never been more important. They are adamant that Northern Ireland’s food products are the best available – and this is something they quite literally bring to the table in their classes to inspire the next generation of chefs.

Gary said: “The professional and dedicated Catering and Hospitality team at Northern Regional College are committed to sourcing the very best of Northern Ireland’s local produce. Food provenance is something that more and more consumers are conscious of and that’s something that we, as industry professionals, are emphasising in our lessons and classes with students.

“I look forward to returning to the College – hopefully in the not too distant future – to continue with our series of professional cookery demonstrations and helping to develop the passion and talent of the students.”

Northern Regional College offers a range of full-time and part-time professional cookery courses at its campuses in Ballymena and Ballymoney. These include entry level programmes to Level 3 – the equivalent of A Level standard – which can form a progression route to employment or university. For further information, visit www.nrc.ac.uk.

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