A unique dining experience in Bushmills has served up the best of local produce from across the Causeway Coast and Glens.
The ‘Bushmills Banquet’ was held earlier this month as part of the village’s annual Salmon & Whiskey Festival and it has proved to be a resounding success.
The idea was developed by local chefs Stella Bolton (The French Rooms) and Gary Stewart (Tartine at The Distiller’s Arms) who were quickly supported by many others in the village and beyond.
Eventually around 40 local businesses, producers and organisations took part in the sell-out event which was staged in the Festival Marquee.
Explaining where the idea came from, Stella said: “Gary and I initially thought of basing the Friday evening event on the Bushmills Walking Tour which is a regular food tour of the village. The idea grew from there to a sit down banquet which would include our own specialities and locally produced food from The French Rooms, Tartine, The Cod’s Way, Bushmills Distillery and The Bushmills Inn. It was all hands on deck on the night including members of Bushmills Business Association who run non-hospitality businesses and the generous support from the wider community including churches and local groups which was overwhelming.”
The evening opened with Bushmills Whiskey Cocktails or Lacada Craft Beer before guests enjoyed Stella’s Grazing Platter which included The French Rooms’ renowned chicken liver and fig pate and sourdough baguettes. The platter also featured produce from Glass’, a long standing family-run fruit and vegetable shop in Bushmills, free range eggs from Glenballyeamon and a specially commissioned festival jam (apple and whiskey flavour) from The Woman Next Door.
The main courses, created by Gary, included his award winning Fruits de Mer chowder, whiskey infused salmon or a ragout made with Broughgammon Goat.
The dessert menu made by Gordon McGladdery, head chef at the Bushmills Inn, included whiskey infused white chocolate mousse and a raspberry and honeycomb macaroon.
Tickets for the event sold out within a week, so how does Stella feel about the Causeway Coast and Glens becoming a food tourism destination:
“There is no doubt that the area is developing a reputation for its quality locally produced food, this is a growth market and it is benefiting greatly from tours such as the Causeway Coast Foodie Tours and Irish Feast, along with high profile ambassadors like Paula McIntyre.
“Bushmills is very fortunate that it has a wide variety of quality eateries many of which such as the Bushmills Inn and Tartine were well recognised for many years before foodies were invented.
“Many of our local producers are small, family-run businesses who rely on restaurants to regularly buy their produce all year round. Delivering quality food at good value prices is important to customers and the challenge to restauranteurs is to create dishes which include locally produced food at affordable prices. With continually increasing operating costs it can be challenging for small restaurant operators to do this and survive so part of the objective of the banquet was to showcase and introduce some of the producers and their stories to our customers and allow them to understand a little more about the care and passion that goes into the produce they enjoy in our restaurants.”
Stella has a lifelong passion for good food which stems back to her childhood in Co Galway. Her family has a long tradition in market gardening and fishing which has inspired both her tastes and her approach to life and work: “Having our own fruit and vegetables, and freshly caught fish and local game regularly delivered to our door means I developed a sophisticated palette from a young age. And anyone who grows their own will appreciate that you very quickly develop a hard work ethic as there is always something needing done,” she said.
You could also say that Stella’s love of good local food is in the blood as her grandmother’s family owned the world famous Moran’s Oyster Cottage in Kilcolgan, Co Galway. After 250 years it’s still going strong and is the home of the original Oyster Festival.
“I have fine memories of the excitement and anticipation of the tents going up, the buzz around the village before the festival and of course eating delicious fresh oysters for a week. Maybe that is where I have developed such enthusiasm for the Salmon and Whiskey Festival and I hope the Bushmills Banquet becomes the hottest ticket in town.”
Buoyed by their inaugural success, Stella and the rest of the team are now looking forward to 2019 and an even bigger and better Bushmills Banquet.
Follow #BushmillsBanquet on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest announcements.