Much travelled chef John Crowe is developing a reputation for tasty and original foods that are really easy for consumers to enjoy at home.
A chef who has cooked for VIPs outside Northern Ireland, John first started thinking about setting up his own small business during breaks in cookery demonstrations at major food shows across Ireland.
The 52-year-old, who is originally from the Republic but now calls Derry his home, explains: “I’d create original snacks for visitors to enjoy during downtime between cookery demonstrations at outdoor events here and in the South.”
This led him to set up Carrick Foods, an enterprise which is based in Derry but named after his birthplace in County Tipperary.
“Many people enjoyed the snacks so much that they offered to buy them to take home.
“The interest and very positive feedback led me to start shaping a business idea that eventually became Carrick Foods in Derry earlier this year,” adds John, a father of two teenagers who began cooking in commercial kitchens at the tender age of 16.
“I loved the experience and creative opportunities the kitchens provided and this influenced my subsequent career decision,” he adds.
The affable and highly motivated chef was born on the family farm in Tipperary and gained vast experience in restaurant kitchens in Ireland and Great Britain. John has since served gourmet dishes to presidents, VIPs, and even a former James Bond in leading restaurants and hotels, including the Everglades in Londonderry.
He now lectures in culinary arts at the North West Regional College (NWRC), a role he has performed for over 16 years. His is also co-ordinator in the Professional Chef Diploma course which helps in career development. Demand for talented and experienced chefs continues to develop here and further afield.
Carrick Foods, John says, is based on keeping things simple: “I have created two signature products that are easy to use for meals and snacks,” he continues. “The first is a moist and moreish Stout City loaf that’s made with buttermilk and dates. The second is a ‘fresh, velvety dill and lemon cured salmon’.
“Both reflect more than 35 years’ gastronomic experience,” he says.
The Stout City loaf is “inspired by the traditional wheaten bread my mother and grandmother used to make back home”.
“I’ve given the wheaten loaf a LegenDerry twist with my use of our very own Foyster Stout that is made from shells of the flat oysters from Lough Foyle. It’s delicious served with a simple slather of butter and a cup of tea, or some of my distinctive cured salmon,” he adds.
A collaboration between LegenDerry’s Walled City Brewery and Sippy Fest, Foyster Ale was developed to promote this pearl of the Foyle. All oysters used are sustainably sourced through the Lough’s Agency and local fishermen, and every part of the oyster is utilised to create a unique stout.
The stout has been supported by James Huey, owner of the Walled City Brewery, selected bars and restaurants there.
The salmon dish is sourced from Donegal Prime Fish in Derry. “I cure each side of the salmon for four days, turning every 12 hours in dill, and carefully hand carving each slice.
“Our motto is ‘Our craft, our hands, your table’,” continues John. “Food is all about sharing. It brings people together and connects us with the land,” he adds.
Feedback from other chefs and especially consumers has been “immensely encouraging”.
These bespoke artisan food creations are being produced under the Carrick Foods brand, reminding him that food is rooted in tradition such as flavours and family. The essence of the small enterprise is “bringing home to your table”.
John turned to NWRC colleagues, especially in Foodovation, back in October 2019 to help in shaping the gravlax and wheaten bread concepts for the market. This involved recipe standardisation, packaging development, labelling skills and production methods and processes for food production.
He also sought support to create a celeriac remoulade for kit packs as well as a retail product with a longer shelf-life that would enable the new brand to grow in the condiments sector and lead to collaboration with other local artisans and thereby help to strengthen the food sector here.
He was keen to explore online sales through a DIY version of the wheaten loaf for retail.
NWRC Business Support Centre identified support for the projects from the Department for the Economy InnovateUs programme.
NWRC Product Development Technical Consultant Rita O’Kane provided upskilling in recipe development of an ambient stable sauce, as well as production method and processing for an ambient stable sauce and product labelling for health claims.
Salmon and wheaten bread, the initial two products, were subsequently launched following the easing of the pandemic restrictions and lockdowns.
“The support I received from Rita in Foodovation was brilliant in moving my products to be ready for the retail market. I have now stocked the salmon and wheaten bread products in shops in Derry, Claudy and Limavady and recently launched the wheaten bread in a dry mix format with the remoulade to follow in the near future.”
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