Chefs here have long contributed significantly to local food and drink innovation in collaboration with local companies and on creating original flavours in their dishes.
Many of the foods developed through this collaboration have gone on to be export successes. Meals in local restaurants are regularly acclaimed by international food writers
Now part of the collaboration are relative newcomers Leif Jensen, 33, originally from Hamburg, and Carlos Capparelli, 38, who was born in Sao Paulo in Brazil.
Leif runs Leif’s Brot Bakehouse in Bessbrook and Carlos has launched Capparelli Cooks in Dundonald, a ready meals business, and has plans to open a high-end restaurant.
Authentic artisan breads from Germany and France are being baked fresh everyday by Leif at his small bakery.
His novel breads are now increasingly being sought by local restaurants, cafes and food shops here.
A much travelled and respected chef, Leif established the unique bakehouse in June after a stint working in hospitality from Ballynahinch.
He previously held chef posts in Michelin restaurants in France and Britain.
“Bread, Brot, is a significant part of German cuisine, with the largest bread diversity in the world,” Leif says.
“I grew up with many varieties of artisan breads and came to love black breads, Schwarzbrot, such as Pumpernickel, in particular.
“This is a coarsely ground rye bread and distinctively tasty that’s traditionally made with a sourdough starter,” he adds.
A father of two young children, Leif gained culinary qualifications and initial grounding as a chef in Hamburg before moving to French Michelin restaurants for experience.
He’s now crafting a range of sourdough and rye breads using traditional fermentation techniques for greater flavour, higher nutrition, lower gluten and improved gut health.
His credentials as a chef are thoroughly impressive and include successful stints in Michelin restaurants in Europe and Great Britain.
He was executive chef at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London’s Knightsbridge. This unique restaurant has two Michelin stars and has been ranked among the world’s best.
Leif was also a chef at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London’s Soho, an acclaimed French restaurant.
In Hamburg, Leif was chef at Le Plat du Jour, a specialist in French cuisine.
He has particularly fond memories of being head chef at Le Manoir de Retival, another Michelin eatery, in Normandy’s Seine Maritime.
An adventurous streak led him to sign on as a cook on a classic sailing vessel in a Tall Ships race, which brought him to Belfast for the Titanic Maritime Festival in 2018.
It was during the festival that he met Carol, his future wife, who was studying to be a laboratory technician in Newry.
The two kept in touch when the festival ended and subsequently married. Leif then commuted from London and Germany before landing a post at OX, the Michelin restaurant on Belfast’s Oxford Street, until the coronavirus lockdown.
The hospitality shutdown led Leif to think about starting a business that would enable him to have greater control over his own destiny and provide for a growing family – they now have a daughter, three, and a son, 18 months. The career rethink led him to look at opportunities in artisan breads.
“I’d always been interested in baking my own bread and had done so at many of the restaurants where I worked over 17 years in the industry. I saw an opportunity here,” he adds.
He began baking breads for local restaurants and shops to taste. An encouraging list of repeat orders and new business approaches led Leif to look for suitable premises for a bakery, which they found at Bessbrook.
He’s now baking a range of artisan breads for a growing range of customers who love the outstanding tastes and textures of his sourdough and other breads.
Carlos Capparelli, a former head chef at two high-end restaurants in London of celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi, is creating ready-to-cook dishes influenced by his passion for Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisine.
Capparelli Cooks, the small company he launched a few months ago, has introduced several prepared and prepacked dishes for cooking at home.
In addition, Carlos is planning to open a high-end restaurant and gourmet food store next year.
The richly flavoured meals are based on his extensive experience at Ottolenghi’s Nopi in Soho and Rovi in Fitzrovia, near the West End, two highly regarded eateries, over 10 years.
Carlos grew up with a background in the hospitality industry in Sao Paulo, where his mother runs a successful catering operation and father is a well-respected restaurateur.
He studied culinary arts and decided to travel after college and first visited relatives in Bergamo, near Milan.
Carlos completed his formal culinary education in London and joined the Ottolenghi group as head chef in February 2012 after stints in various kitchens, including a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, while he completed his degree.
He came to Northern Ireland with Belfast-born wife Lucie due to the coronavirus lockdown in hospitality and decided to start his own food business.
“I’ve been carrying forward this experience in the dishes I am currently creating for Capparelli Cooks in Belfast, such as Lasagne di Carne, Moussaka and Aubergine Parmigiana, and will continue to do so when the restaurant opens next year,” he adds.