Top chef Alex praises quality and taste of ingredients from local farms

Interview 30-7-20 SM Farm

Dundrum native Alex Greene is now one of Northern Ireland’s most respected and innovative chefs.

He’s won widespread acclaim for promoting Northern Ireland’s fresh produce and creating original dishes at the Michelin starred restaurant EIPIC that’s owned by world class chef Michael Deane in Belfast.

In addition, Alex won acclaim for his recent standout appearance on the Great British Menu show.

He’s the only chef ever from here to have served two dishes in the final banquet at the famed TV cookery programme. His outstanding chocolate dessert scored a perfect 40/40 and was inspired by Belfast author Oliver Jeffers’ book The Incredible Book Eating Boy, while his starter scored 38/40 and consisted of humble potatoes and onions sourced from Comber, wild herbs foraged from the Mourne Mountains and a selection of cheese from Coleraine, Newtownards and Antrim.

Although the kitchen is Alex’s natural environment, he has been out and about using his new-found fame to brighten up lockdown for lucky Belfast diners by delivering EPIC gourmet meal boxes to those in need of a Michelin star experience in the comfort of their own home. The appearance of a Michelin chef delivering a meal box took many diners by surprise.

Alex’s family still live in Dundrum, County Down, and own a beef farm and also sell a small amount of fresh eggs.

Having started in the food industry when he initially washed plates at the age of 12 for the Buck’s Head in Dundrum, he has a range of culinary experiences under his belt having worked in some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world, such as Petrus in London, the Gordon Ramsey Group, Saffron in New Zealand and the Cliff House Hotel in Waterford.

Back in Belfast, Alex, 31, is now carving out a successful career for himself and is hopeful that the recent Covid-19 experience has “made people appreciate why we should buy local food where possible” and is passionate about the provenance of his ingredients.

He sources 90 per cent local ingredients for Deane’s globally renowned EIPIC restaurant in Belfast’s Howard Street.

He’s also to be seen regularly foraging for wild herbs and garlic for dishes from around his home village of Dundrum.

Alex actually thought his future would be either in farming or in engineering, especially fast cars, another of his passions.

“I had my own small herd of Belgian Blue beef cattle in my early teens and loved rearing them,” he remembers. “I used to sell them at Hilltown market and once even bought the champion bull, a successful bid that didn’t really work out the way I had hoped because I lost money on the deal,” he laughs.

What changed his career direction was a stint in the kitchen of the popular Buck’s Head restaurant in his home town at weekends and during school holidays for pocket money.

He started at the bottom washing dishes and eventually became the top chef there.

His belief in the quality of Northern Ireland produce made him the perfect ambassador for this year’s Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend.

The original event was due to take place in June, but due to Covid-19 restrictions it is now taking place virtually from tomorrow (Friday) until Sunday.

Although visitors cannot physically attend any of the 19 farms taking part, they can engage with them through the online activities shown on Open Farm Weekend’s social media channels.

“I was delighted to get involved with Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend as the farm to fork story resonates with me and my background growing up on a farm,” said Alex.

“We are very lucky in Northern Ireland to never be too far from a farm shop selling produce directly from their land,” he continues.

Inspired by the breadth of produce available from the participating farms, Alex has created a signature dish especially for the initiative.

“My dish is roasted Dexter beef short rib, potato purée, caramelised and pickled turnips with beef fat crumb. I used Dexter beef from Castlescreen Farm of Damian Tumilty and Jackie Gibson in Downpatrick, White’s Oats grown on Acton House Farm in Poyntzpass, turnips from Millbank farm in Killinchy, and cider vinegar from Long Meadow Orchard Farm at Loughgall.

“I came up with the idea for the menu because I feel it’s important to champion often less used cuts of the animal. The short ribs are very tasty and a lot of home cooks will be unsure how to cook or serve them.

“The recipe might seem daunting at first, but it is very straightforward when you start cooking it and the end result is definitely worth it!”

Throughout the new virtual Open Farm Weekend format online viewers will get the chance to discover the wonderful range of fresh farm produce from Northern Ireland and celebrate our local food heroes by interacting online with farmers who have been providing vital food and drink supplies over the past number of months.

Alongside Alex there will be other well-known faces sharing their culinary experiences across the weekend, a range of educational and fun ways to help the public understand where their food comes from, competitions and much more.

n More information can be found at www.openfarmweekend.com

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