Local food and drink tops the menus of the West’s talented chefs

Interview 7/11/19 SM Farm
MICHAEL BURCH

Chef Glen Wheeler has built his hugely successful restaurant in Enniskillen on a commitment to create original dishes using premium and tasty foods sourced from local suppliers, especially in Fermanagh and Tyrone. Glen runs the unique 28 Darling Street Restaurant in the island town with wife Zara.

They’ve created a good food destination that’s being widely acclaimed for creative and delicious dishes. “What makes it all possible for us is the wide range of richly flavoured food and drink on our doorstep,” he says. “Our ethos at 28 Darling Street is on the very best locally sourced ingredients.

“And we’ve seen a remarkable growth in the variety and scale of food and drink now being produced here by artisan businesses dedicated to quality and keen to work with local chefs in the creation of great dishes for local people and especially tourists.

“It’s a very exciting time for artisan food and drink in Fermanagh and Tyrone and across Northern Ireland,” continues Glen, a native of Fermanagh and now one of Ireland’s most highly regarded chefs.

“We’ve superb meat, fish, vegetables, eggs and dairy, including artisan cheeses, now readily available from smaller producers with superb quality, heritage and provenance,” he says.

“I enjoy meeting them and hearing their stories. Furthermore, we’ve a number of excellent food shows, including the recent Lough Erne Festival organised by the local council. We are really serious about our locally produced food and drink.”

The local council has also weighed in with a number of novel initiatives to support the growth of the industry.

Glen, who has been a chef on the Great British Menu programme, and Zara decided to set up their own high-end restaurant in 2018 on the back of successful careers in other leading-edge restaurants.

He developed his skills in some of the world’s most respected and pioneering eateries, including NOMA in Copenhagen, once acclaimed as the world’s best restaurant.

Glen was also a chef at some of Ireland’s award winning restaurants such as Neven Maguire’s McNeen House and Restaurant just across the Fermanagh border at Blacklion, and with Noel McMeel, Executive Head Chef at the renowned Catalina Restaurant and Lough Erne Resort outside Enniskillen. He was head chef at the Catalina at the tender age of 24.

In addition, he worked with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey and at The Vineyard in Berkshire and Alinea in Chicago. He’s passionate about quality and original dishes. Working in such a variety of five-star restaurants, he admits, helped shape the creative menus he’s developed at 28 Darling Street.

“I’d always hoped to have the freedom to innovate in my own place,” he says. “Opening 28 Darling Street was – and continues to be – an exciting but challenging opportunity for us.

“I’ve brought the knowledge about ingredients and meal creation to my restaurant from the experience I’ve gained from my time both here and abroad,” he adds.

Wife Zara also has a wealth of experience ‘front of house’ and ensures everything outside the kitchen runs smoothly to guarantee customers the best possible dining experience.

“We are benefitting especially from the tremendous growth in tourism in Fermanagh and Enniskillen in particular. As a result, we’ve hosted food tours and regularly entertain guests from many parts of the world. It’s great to see them in the restaurant,” adds Zara.

His friend and mentor Noel McMeel is also quick to acknowledge the contribution of local food and drink processors, especially artisans and smaller companies, to the Catalina restaurant’s impressive reputation for superlative meals.

Commenting on the Catalina being chosen in a public poll as Northern Ireland’s best eating place in a competition organised by the Irish News, Henderson Food Machinery and Food NI, he says: “What made it possible is the superb quality of ingredients from local suppliers and the dedication and talents of a great team here.”

He’s a magician in the kitchen, conjuring up delicious dishes with locally sourced ingredients from the likes of Cavanagh Free-Range Eggs in Newtownbutler, Broighter Gold Rapeseed Oil from Leona Kane in Limavady, Long Meadow Cider processed by Loughgall’s Pat and Catherine McKeever, and from the food legend Pat O’Doherty at O’Doherty’s Fine Meats in Enniskillen, the multi award-winning producer of pork, including the renowned Fermanagh Black Bacon, Old Fermanagh Corned Beef, a wide range of charcuterie and even exotic meats.

Noel is a long-time supporter of O’Doherty’s hugely successful and innovative Black Pudding Festival, which is held every September in Enniskillen. O’Doherty runs the iconic butchery/deli shop on Belmore Street in the town. Noel, in addition, supports local and other Irish food festivals by demonstrating his skills at cooking demonstrations throughout the island.

Pat O’Doherty describes Noel as Fermanagh’s “dedicated food ambassador”. “He’s always ready to support and encourage local suppliers producing excellent ingredients for amazing dishes,” he adds.

And it’s an opinion readily endorsed by Eileen Hall, who runs Cavanagh Free Range Eggs with husband John and has seen the eggs produced by their 70,000-strong flock named Ireland’s finest at the recent Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards. “We appreciate greatly the support from Noel McMeel over the years. He’s been a tremendous supporter,” says Eileen.

“The support we receive from Noel at the Catalina is immensely important to our business. He’s so enthusiastic about local food and drink. We are lucky to have such respected and talented chefs in Fermanagh focused on creating outstanding dishes from our eggs and those products of other local producers,” she adds.

Chef Neven Maguire and Brian McDermott, Food Development Centre Manager, North West Regional College pictured at the official opening of the Foodovation centre at North West Regional College on Tuesday. :

The region now boasts a burgeoning group of ambitious and award winning local producers such as Erin Grove Preserves, Erne Larder, both based in Enniskillen, Kettyle Irish Foods in Lisnaskea, Boatyard Gin in Enniskillen, Ion Distillery in Carrickmore, Kennedy Bacon in Omagh and Fermanagh Brewery.

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