Celebrated MasterChef judge Charles Campion, 69, who died on December 23 at his home in Warwickshire, was among the most passionate and influential advocates for our food and drink in Britain.
Many artisan producers and restaurants here benefited enormously from his wise counsel and coverage in high-end newspapers and influential magazines there.
Charles worked closely with Food NI to ensure the success of our food in Britain and also encouraged other food writers and chefs there to travel here and to sample the very best of what we offer.
He readily supported various food initiatives by bodies such as Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon and Mid and East Antrim councils, leading workshops and advising individual enterprises.
He was also a well-known personality at events here, including the hugely successful Speciality Food Show at Moira Demesne every summer.
And he loved the craic with producers in the Food NI Food Pavilion at the Royal Ulster Agricultural Show in Balmoral Park and frequently hosted visits to the event by other UK food journalists as part of his consultancy work with Food NI.
Food NI’s Michele Shirlow said: “Charles was a marvellous supporter of our food and drink and a great help to us in our work to promote local produce.
“Such was the respect in which he was held in Britain that other writers listened intently to what he had to say about our food and the people behind it.
“He also used his long-standing network of contacts within the restaurant industry in Britain to broker contacts between chefs here and in key centres such as London.
“He helped many smaller producers about how best to secure and sustain business in Britain. We all miss him, his good nature, knowledge and his enthusiasm,” she added.
He developed an especially close friendship with Peter Hannan, managing director of Hannan Meats in Moira, Northern Ireland’s most successful and respected catering butchery business.
Peter said: “We were all very saddened at the passing of Charles before Christmas. He had a very great love of Northern Ireland, our people and our food.
“We had become great friends over a period of about 10 years, and we met regularly in London to eat and drink. We also shared a love of fishing, which we did in the west of Ireland. “Charles was a giant of the industry, and a giant of a man, but a gentle giant. If he hadn’t a kind word to say about something, he said nothing … he disliked negativity.
“On the many occasions I had the privilege of being his dining companion when he wished to write a review. If something occurred that meant he couldn’t write a positive review, he closed the notebook and proclaimed ‘let’s enjoy dinner’.” “He was the Godfather of Great Taste, receiving the organisation’s Lifetime Achievement Award last year, and was encyclopaedic on all matters food.
“We will miss him enormously, but feel so much richer for having known him,” Peter added. In addition to regular visits to Northern Ireland, Charles opened doors for the Province’s major retailers, chefs and food publications in Britain.
A talented and perceptive commentator, Charles became the most persuasive supporter of our food and drink … as well as the people behind it in Britain.
What Charles Campion didn’t know about our food and food in general probably wasn’t worth knowing. His influence and enthusiasm helped many food producers as well as chefs to appreciate just how good our food and drink really is. He was quick to acclaim some of our food as genuinely world class.
“What I’ve developed is the greatest admiration for the stamina and resilience of producers, restaurateurs and café owners here,” he once told me.
“I’ve found some outstandingly tasty products here; some really is world class. I think of Peter Hannan’s meats, surely now the best beef in the world, as well as Abernethy Butter.
“There’s great tasting bread and superb fish and seafood, especially oysters from Millbay on Carlingford Lough, which impressed judges – and I was among them – in the Great Taste Awards in 2016 and 2017. There’s great gin, whiskey, beer, and cider being produced.”
The main weakness, he pinpointed in the interview, was “a lack of confidence”, especially among some smaller producers in products which were genuinely outstanding. Many more companies had to seek to become the best in the world.
When he banged the drum for our food and drink, influential people listened. This was because of the respect in which he was held in food circles in Britain and elsewhere.
Tracey MacLeod, who often appeared with Charles on MasterChef, said he was “the most knowledgeable, courtly and clear-eyed of colleagues” around the MasterChef critics table.
Another chef critic on MasterChef, Jay Rayner, added: “Charles Campion was a great and lovely man, with a brilliantly droll sense of humour.
“And boy he knew his subject. I held my breath when he was at the MasterChef table to find out whether I’d screwed up a point of detail and he was gently going to put me right. A great loss.”
A former hotelier, Charles wrote about food and restaurants in the London Evening Standard newspaper for over a decade and worked for other publications, including The Independent, The Times, The Weekend Telegraph, The Illustrated London News, BBC Good Food magazine, Delicious, Speciality Food, Bon Appetit in America, and even the Times of India.
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