Lough Neagh Eels make a splash

Runner-up Cathy Chauhan from Lough Neagh Eels is pictured with Henderson Foodservice Managing Director at the final of the Flavour of the North competition.
Runner-up Cathy Chauhan from Lough Neagh Eels is pictured with Henderson Foodservice Managing Director at the final of the Flavour of the North competition.

Lough Neagh Eels has been named as a runner up at the Henderson Foodservice Flavour of the North final.

Based in Toomebridge, Lough Neagh Eels is managed by the Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-operative, was announced as a runner-up at a special breakfast event held by the foodservice company at St George’s Market on Tuesday October 11.

Some of the most respected names in Northern Ireland’s food and drink industry who sat on the judging panel said they were highly impressed by the product which is revered for its distinct texture and flavour.

Having already received awards which recognise heritage and tradition, the team behind Lough Neagh Eels want to encourage more people to try their eels which are among the best quality in Europe and so have begun to develop new products such as the smoked and jellied eel.

Judging the competition, which was launched back in May and attracted around 40 high quality entrants were some of the most respected names in Northern Ireland’s Food and Drink industry including Chef Danny Millar, hotelier Howard Hastings, retailer Gail Boyd, restaurateur and chef Tony Neill, Chairman of the Mount Charles Group Trevor Annon and Damien Barrett, Managing Director of Henderson Foodservice.

Taking advantage of the judges’ experience, competitors were given first-hand advice and guidance from the panel’s wealth of knowledge of the food and drink industry.

Joining Lough Neagh Eels in the final were four other food companies including Corndale Farm in Limavady, Pop Notch Popcorn, produced in Draperstown, Cavanagh Eggs in Newtownbutler and Eglinton-based Donnybrewer Butter which was named as the overall winner.

Each of the companies was selected by a highly respectable team of judges following a deliberation day held at Loughry College, Cookstown where 12 shortlisted companies exhibited their wares, eager to impress the panel and win a place in the grand final.

While taste was of paramount importance, judges were also looking for excellence in innovation, examining growth potential and critiquing the uniqueness of the product.

Damien Barrett, Managing Director at Henderson Foodservice, said: “Judges were blown away by the five products we shortlisted in the Flavour of the North competition and also by their drive and dedication so it was a very tough decision to choose a winner.

“We launched the Flavour of the North Competition to help us communicate our support for local produce. We believe strongly that Northern Ireland food and drink is among the best in the world and it deserves to be championed and we have greatly enjoyed every step of the journey of getting to know some of our local companies and their amazing products and shining a light on those.”

The initiative has also received significant backing from Food NI who welcomed the scheme as part of the much celebrated Year of Food and Drink 2016.

Sharon Machala of Food NI said: “Northern Ireland’s food and drink industry is widely celebrated, but in order for us to continue to grow, we need to continue to support local food producers in bringing new and exciting products to the market.

“That’s why we have been so pleased to support Henderson Foodservice’s Flavour of the North competition. I want to congratulate Donnybrewer Butter on winning the overall award and wish each of the finalists every success for the future.”

Guests at the Henderson Foodservice Flavour of the North Breakfast event were able to taste all of the finalists’ produce in innovative dishes including chorizo hash, hot buttered popcorn bread,

smoked eel eggs benedict, smoked eel hash browns, pancakes with chorizo popcorn and maple syrup, and chorizo and fennel wheaten bread.