Enthusiastic ‘foodie’ Emily McCorkell has brought her passion for barbecued and grilled food from her birthplace in Pennsylvania to her home in Derry.
And Emily’s love of grilled food has led her to set up an increasingly successful small business, Lo&Slo, to develop a range of authentic American smoked BBQ sauces and dry rubs for enhancing meat flavours in particular.
Born in Philadelphia, Emily graduated from the University of Missouri, worked in California and then volunteered to mentor teenagers in Derry on what she intended to be a short stint.
She arrived in the city in 2005 to work with the youngsters, subsequently met Norman, a local businessman, married and made Derry her home.
Emily, now a mother of two young children, admits that starting up a business was “a big jump mentally”.
“While I’ve always been keen on healthy food in particular, setting up a small company was quite a departure from my background in charity work and youth mentoring,” she explains.
“I’d always loved cooking and entertaining though and was keen to explore the potential of a food processing enterprise, particularly when the children were settled at school in the city,” she continues.
“I am a creative person naturally, so thinking up flavours, meals, and ideas for two, three, or four years down the road is exhilarating for me.” Her love of cooking and recipe creation, she adds, came from her parents in Pennsylvania.
Emily’s focus is on “an old fashioned way to cooking, simple, creative, nutrient-dense food” from ingredients carefully sourced from local farms and other suppliers in the region.
She has launched two sauces, Sweet & Smoky Barbecue Sauce and Sweet & Spicy Vinegar Mop under her eye catching Lo&Slo brand and is also developing four new products, creating new recipes, and making the sauces and rubs.
The sauces, both natural and vegan friendly, are based on premium ingredients and recipes she’s developed from her experience in the US and her conviction that grilled food is generally healthier.
Grilled meats tend to be healthier because fat is able to drip away, leaving less fat on the food itself. Her sauces also benefit from being cooked slowly. The distinctive Lo&Slo branding reflects her commitment the low temperature and slow cooking technique which ensures a healthier product with greater flavour.
Emily is now busy marketing the sauces – often on her bike or on foot – to delis, farm shops and other independent retailers in Derry and further afield. She’s talented, dedicated and driven.
Her interest in a food enterprise was also fuelled by the growth in festivals and food fairs such as the LegenDerry food event and the Walled City Market. She launched the new business, in fact, at last year’s Slow Food Festival in Derry, an imaginative initiative by Derry and Strabane Council with celebrity chefs Paula McIntyre and Brian McDermott, now owner of the successful Foyle Hotel in Moville, Donegal.
“I saw people didn’t care who sat next to them or who they were buying food from. Food here is breaking down a lot of the barriers that once divided people,” continues Emily. It’s a view that’s been influenced by her previous work and experience in the community
She describes food as “the delicious mortar that binds individuals and societies together, masking the jagged edges and sharp corners for the time that is spent sharing, laughing, and enjoying food together. Food heals the body and society.
“And I believe food has the power to blend harsh edges and join strangers and loners in a momentary eclipse from their realities into friends and family for the short duration of a meal,” she says.
Food didn’t simply help “to mend current and future cracks”, she continued. “Food tells a story. It is the face and identity of a culture: how a culture has survived and evolved through time. Food is also cultural vehicle for engagement.”
Emily turned to the innovation-focused Foodovation Centre at the North West Regional College on Derry’s Strand Road for expert guidance on developing her original and delicious sauces. “Foodovation is a marvellous operation and has helped me to turn my ideas into commercial products. It provides excellent facilities for me in the production of the sauces. The advice I’ve received – and continue to receive – from expert staff there is invaluable.
“The team helped me prepare for the launch of my American-style sauces at the Slow Food Festival. And it’s tremendous to see Derry at the forefront in Northern Ireland of the global Slow Food movement
“I was in awe at how many people loved my sauce at the event. Seeing the public’s reaction to my products was unreal! I almost sold out on the first day,” adds Emily.
“There has never been a more exciting time for food lovers to be in Derry. And, I really love the collaboration that is now happening across the city, adds Emily
She’s enthusiastic about the “growing number of people, businesses and organisations all working together to make the city a better place for everyone”.
“I am looking forward, for example, to being involved in the new food network being created in the area,” adds Emily.