An award-winning Londonderry restaurant is literally growing from strength to strength with the help of a special ‘plot to plate’ partnership involving local young people with a passion for horticulture.
The Sooty Olive has teamed up with the HOPE project - Horticulture, Organic, Produce and Environment - at the city’s Playtrail, growing vegetables, salads and herbs for the popular Spencer Road restaurant.
The unique community-based partnership has been praised by Mary Blake, Tourism Development Officer with Derry City and Strabane District Council which is supporting Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016 through a range of events and initiatives.
“The Sooty Olive’s wonderful partnership with the Playtrail is an excellent example of the Landscape and Places theme highlighted as one of the monthly themes for Tourism NI’s Year of Food and Drink celebrations,” she said.
Anne-Marie Donnelly, Transition Services Manager at the Playtrail, said they were delighted to be working with the Sooty Olive as part of the HOPE project which is funded by the Big Lottery Reaching Out Empowering Young People Programme.
She explained: “The focus is on preparing young people with learning disabilities ages 15-20 years changing from school to adult life. The project involves a combination of educational activities, personal development, citizenship, health and well-being initiatives and horticulture and social enterprise activities.
“This is utilised to build confidence and aspirations and promotes social inclusion. Part of the project involves our social enterprise with the prestigious Sooty Olive restaurant. The young people are involved in the planting, growing and harvesting of the herbs and vegetables.
Sean Harrigan, Head Chef at the Sooty Olive, described it as “a brilliant all round relationship”.
He continued: “The Playtrail provide us with amazing herbs, salads and an array of veg and berries which we use in the restaurant. We are so proud of our association with the HOPE project and of the produce.
“Some of the young people have also been in to eat in the restaurant to see how their produce is incorporated in our menus and they are very proud of their work. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”
The young people at the Playtrail have even more reason to be proud after the Sooty Olive was recently included in the prestigious McKennas Guides listing the 100 Best Places to Dine in Ireland.
Sean Harrigan said: “Being included in the McKenna Guides is a sign of good quality and standard of food and service, and allows tourists to discover our restaurant while visiting the city. Derry has deservedly earned its reputation as a foodie destination. We are very lucky to have award winning chefs, restaurants and producers throughout the county.”
The Head Chef believes that the high standard of food on offer in the city’s restaurants has been boosted by local chefs working in top kitchens around the world and returning home with fresh ideas. The Sooty Olive has doubled the number of chefs it employs since opening three years ago.
Sean added: “NI Year of Food 2016 is excellent for everyone in the industry, having guests and events showcasing us to a wider audience. Our customers really appreciate that we use and promote local suppliers and producers as it is genuinely a better product, and putting a location to it really helps. It is also very satisfying to know that we are supporting local jobs and talent.”