Belfast Masterchef- who was crowned winner?

If you were asked to make your signature dish, what would it be?

That was the challenge laid down to budding chefs at the recent Belfast Masterchef competition.

Part of the Feile an Phobail festival,  this competition was open to amateur cooks across Belfast who wanted to show off their culinary skills and, of course, be crowned champion!

I was invited along to the final earlier this month at Balmoral Hotel where the five finalists had to cook in front of a live audience, and then wait anxiously as renowned judges and the hungry crowd tried out their dishes.

So who were the finalists and what did they create?

First up was West Belfast councillor Matt Garrett who made Chicken Korma with home-made naan bread. There was a lot of banter on the night as he had, apparently, used shop-bought naan in the semi-final (shock!) but I am pleased to report that the bread was definitely made live on the night. It resulted in a very strong start with delicious flavours!

Next up was Paddy Tierney, a sports journalist from Armagh, who created Beef Stifado, a traditional Greek casserole. Paddy said he was inspired by a dish he had eaten numerous times on holidays. He had received some flack for the length of time it took him to make the dish in the semi-final but thankfully it was ready on the night and we tucked into lovely, tender beef.

Third to the table was local MP Paul Maskey, a party colleague of Matt Garrett so there was fierce competition between the two! Paul went for a Balsamic Glazed Caprese chicken which was set on a bed of sweet potato. This sweetness worked very well with the balsamic vinegar- nice one Paul!

Next up was Nisha Tandon, CEO of arts organisation ArtsEkta. Nisha delighted us with a Chicken Handi which she said she learnt how to cook from her auntie. This popular chicken curry is made in a handi cooking pan. This dish was delicious, full of the aroma of Indian spices!

Last up was Belfast woman Emma Sloan who works in the Controlled Schools’ Support Council. Of course we had to end with something sweet and Emma went for Tuile baskets dipped in dark chocolate, filled with diplomats cream and raspberries. This was finished with bitter chocolate savings and fresh mint! Wow! This dish not only looked professional, but the taste was amazing!

So, now it was time to pick my favourite! I honestly couldn’t decide between Number 1 (Matt Garrett) and Number 5 (Emma Sloan). So, in the end I bought two ballot tickets which meant two votes and I went for one each! The easy way out.

Soon the votes were counted and the winners announced:

The judges’ winner was….. Emma Sloan!

The audience winner was…… Matt Garrett!

My two favourites! Always knew I had good taste.

What a great night and well done to the winners. Check out my video for all the action from the night.


Food and wine matching with John Torode and McGuigan Wines

Sometimes, as part of this blog, I get invited to places which completely blow me away and one such event was a special food and wine matching last week.

The event, which took place in the stunning venue of Ulster Museum, was dinner cooked by none other than John Torode from Masterchef (yes, really!) with wines to compliment the delicious food from McGuigan Wines.

Australian celebrity chef John Torode has presented Masterchef  since 2005 so it really was a delight to have been invited along. McGuigan Wines, also a famous Aussie export, is one of the most successful wineries in the county.

The evening was a celebration of a new range of wines called the Founders’ series. McGuigans has just launched Founders Chardonnay, Founders Cabernet Sauvignon and Founders Shiraz which will be available in the UK at the end of June.

Myself and my husband went along last Thursday evening and were treated to a sparkling wine reception outside (McGuigan Frizzante) as we mingled with other guests and listened to a wonderful harpist. The Frizzante, which was only launched last year, was refreshing with tones of lemon and apple.

We then made our way inside and were thrilled to see a live cooking station where, for the rest of the night, John was to show us how quick and easy it was to make the dishes which were about to be served.

As the food was being cooked, chief winemaker Neil McGuigan talked through the different wines and why they complimented the food so much. It was a great learning experience for me, both in terms of the cooking and the knowledge about wine matching.

The first course was Grilled Duck Salad which was large pieces of duck served with crushed peas, mint, watercress, parsley, pecorino and bacon with Sherry & Vinegar Dressing. The mint worked really well with the Duck and the crispy bacon added another strong flavour. The first course was served with the new Founders Chardonnay.

The second course was Grilled Squid which was served with lemon and rocket and matched with MT Pinot Noir Rose. The Rose, which also isn’t available to purchase until June, is a special collaboration between McGuigan Wines and John Torode. The idea behind the Rose is that they wanted to create a light, summer wine which is very easy to drink.This was my favourite wine of the evening.

The third course was roast fish (sea bass) served with champ and capers. I’m not a huge fan of fish but this didn’t have an overly strong “fishy” taste and I devoured the whole thing. The sea bass was paired with the new Founders Cabernet Sauvingnon which left a long taste on the palette and had an obvious tannin but not a hard tannin.

The fourth course (getting greedy now, aren’t we?!) was grilled lamb cutlets with gremolata, radishes, fresh mint and ricotta. The dish was simple but the lamb was deliciously juicy. This course was matched with Founders Shiraz which was a rich and intense wine with an incredibly dry tannin. (My husband’s favourite of the night!)

The final course of the evening was a selection of cheeses, crackers and grapes. It was a lovely way to finish what was a spectacular evening. I enjoyed every dish and every wine and cannot wait to get my hands on the Pinot Noir Rose again!


Hospitality BBQ and Ascending the Wall at Game of Thrones

Partying on a Monday night? Sure, why not?

On Monday I attended the Hospitality Review NI BBQ which saw over 300 people from the local hospitality industry and the media come together for the annual charity event. It was held in The Hudson Bar beer garden and even Masterchef’s John Torode made a special appearance! The theme was ‘Hats and Shades’ which was pretty appropriate as the weather turned out nice! All proceeds raised from tickets sales and the raffle went to NI Chest Heart & Stroke (although sad to report I didn’t win anything!) Plenty of food and drink on offer, and good to see some old faces! Image

Hospitality Review BBQ


Hudson Bar beer garden


Myself and Stuart Robinson of Cool FM/Downtown Radio

On Saturday I headed to the much anticipated Game of Thrones Exhibition at the Waterfront Hall! As an avid fan of the show, I had been looking forward to this for many many weeks. I was delighted to have managed to get my hands on tickets having sat for around 45 minutes in the online queue! The exhibition was unbelievable, featuring costumes and props from the programme. But the two biggest highlights were the Iron Throne and ‘Ascend the Wall’ which was a virtual ride up ‘The Wall’! Any fan who went along will not have been disappointed! Just wish there was more of Jon Snow…Image

Little Aya on the Iron Throne


Joffrey Baratheon


Cersei Lannister


Ascend The Wall


Priestess Melisandre


Jamie Lannister and Brienne of Tarth




Me on the Iron Throne