Well, the Christmas party season has officially arrived and, as we all shed the pounds to look our best at the Christmas ‘do’, there’s generally one thing on most people’s minds throughout December - and that’s food!
Whether it’s shopping for it, making it, or simply just eating it, we’re all dreaming of the perfect Christmas dinner.
And, with more Jamies and Nigellas honing their skills in the kitchen than ever, it’s the perfect opportunity for budding masterchefs to show off their culinary talent.
According to local chef Ian Orr, of the award winning Brown’s Restaurant in the Waterside, diners have certainly become more knowledgeable about sourcing ingredients and are prepared to pay more for local and sustainable produce.
“People are definitely a lot more aware now about the provenance of their ingredients and are more likely to choose local products over food that has travelled, which we would emphasise here in Browns,” he said.
“We use a lot of beautiful smoked salmon which we source from Donegal Prime Fish, and to me it’s on a par with the best quality smoked salmon I have tasted. We also source our turkeys from Mullan’s organic farm in Limavady which provides real quality produce. And we get our ducks from Silverhill and they are absolutely top class.”
People don’t have to go to great extremes to support local suppliers with more supermarkets stocking the goods at competitive prices, as Ian explained: “The quality and variety of the food available here at the likes of Tescos and Sainsbury’s has really improved over the past couple of years. People can buy really good local produce and know it has been grown on their own doorstep.
“Even a lot of the roadside produce is great, as it tends to be seasonal and sourced from local farms.
“But I would love to see more artisan produce being promoted as we even struggle at times to source high quality goods. We usually have to source things ourselves rather than being approached by producers. For example, we’ve started to use Abernethy butter which is produced in N. Ireland and which I actually discovered on Twitter. I would also recommend that people check out the outdoor markets run by the Council every month to see what they can pick up.
“I can’t encourage producers enough to promote themselves and showcase their stuff at local markets. It’s the best way to get their name out there and find a niche in the food industry.”
Anyone who wants to sample some premium quality salmon has to travel no further than the Skeoge Industrial Estate where Donegal Prime Fish is based.
Manager Patsy Farren is proud to be able to say that they have had customers rate their product as simply the best they have ever tasted.
“We work closely with Ian in everything he does and it’s a great way to showcase our product,” he explained.
“We prepare it all here and then we send it off all over the world where it’s extremely well received. We have a massive order being sent to Germany next Friday ahead of Christmas. The salmon is branded Irish silver and we have been told by customers time and time again that it really is the best. And it can be purchased right here at the site where it has been prepared.
“A lot of people end up buying Scottish smoked salmon in the supermarkets which just isn’t as good. It’s so important for people to support local producers as it keeps up the demand and the quality.”
So having sourced the best that’s on offer locally, what will be on Ian’s Christmas menu this year?
“Well, we all want to enjoy something really special at Christmas, and are becoming a bit more adventurous, not just sticking with the usual turkey and ham, he said.
“I would usually serve a nice light smoked salmon starter, or maybe some crab on toast. Then I would follow that with a choice of two mains - duck breast with roast parsnips and chestnuts and turkey stuffed with clementine and apple. That would be followed up with a nice pear and almond tart and, maybe, some lovely blue cheese soaked in port.”
Anyone who wishes to check out some of the produce on offer at the outdoor markets which run monthly in the Guildhall Square can find information on the range of Christmas events and shopping ideas at www.festivetime.com