Since the age of 14, Aghadowey-born Paula McIntyre MBE, has had a passion for cooking and appreciating the local taste of her Causeway Coast and Glens surroundings which have paved the way to her successful professional career as an award winning chef, food writer and now, Slow Food Northern Ireland Director.
From humble beginnings on the North Coast, Paula refined her childlike enthusiasm for food at the prestigious Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island USA, studying culinary arts and later returned to the UK where she opened her own restaurant, The Undrie in Manchester in 1998, picking up several awards for its quality dining.
When she returned to Ireland in 1998, Paula quickly began to dominate the Northern Irish food scene, with a flurry of media appearances including Ready, Steady, Cook, Taste for Adventure and BBC NI’s Summer Season programme with Eamonn Holmes which quickly grew her a loyal fanbase of foodies.
Over the past decade, Paula has released two popular cookbooks, contributed to various papers including the Irish News, Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph and held numerous food demos and catering events up and down the country.
Paula’s commitment to hospitality has also been royally recognised after her MBE honour from Prince William in 2018 at Buckingham Palace.
Now, Paula has had her eyes firmly set on Slow Food after being appointed the Director of Slow Food Northern Ireland in 2021. Alongside local artisan food businesses and producers, she spearheads the campaign which aims to preserve the ‘unique culinary heritage’ of Northern Ireland.
The international food movement was set up by Italian journalist Carlo Petrini in 1986 when he noticed a new branch of the infamous American fast-food chain, McDonalds, being set up in his home city of Rome. The Slow Food movement has since inspired generations of Slow Food activists across the world who are dedicated to encouraging the enjoyment of good, clean and fair food as well recognising the local community it comes from, in a way that is conscientious towards the environment.
“I got involved in 2014, but before that, I had always been interested in seasonal food and local food before it was trendy. When I started in the late 80s, I liked using local things. Slow food came to me before I knew about the Slow Food movement at a time when people didn’t understand it; but now it’s just a way of life for me” she said.
Paula describes Slow Food as the type of food that previous generations cooked which takes her back to her childhood roots.
“I like to describe Slow Food as the way our grandparents sourced and cooked food. They reared a pig and used all of it. They would have preserved some of it for the winter. They grew veg and they would have been naturally organic then. Everything would have been grown seasonally. You’d have thought about what was going to be available and you grew accordingly. It’s the opposite of fast food.” Paula explained.
After a trip to Turin in 2014 to represent the UK in the Terra Madre kitchen, Paula was offered a seat on the Board of Directors and became truly involved in 2015.
“I’ve met so many friends through Slow Food, it’s not just business and networking.”
Spearheading the six month Slow Food Causeway campaign with the Taste Causeway network, it’s Paula’s intense passion for cooking, the great local produce from across the province and bringing local communities together through food that keeps her going.
“I’m still in love with cooking and am still passionate about that and Slow Food helps articulate what I do. I think that my passion for Slow Food is an extension of the passion for cooking.
“It’s sourcing food, meeting producers and feeling a sense of pride in what we do in this country, especially in Taste Causeway. I love what I promote and everything that is slow is good from rare breed pigs to nice raw milk cheese, it all tastes better and it’s fairer.”
Being the director of Slow Food NI also requires Paula to oversee the Slow Food business accreditation process which she openly admits is strict.
“I am strict. Nothing puts me off more than a massive menu as I prefer to see a small menu that changes often because food changes all the time. One of the things that I like is to see things name checked and not just local potatoes. I want to see invoices which tell me what variety of potato the mash is made from”
“I’m really looking at whether the restaurant is sourcing locally. It doesn’t rule out using Parmesan or Irish cheeses or British cheeses or olive oil. It’s that they’re really trying to source as much locally as possible but supplementing it with other things.” she explained.
Businesses who achieve the Slow Food stamp are able to use the trademark symbol of a red snail which tells customers that food served is high-quality, unique and sustainable and is actively helping make a positive environmental and socio-cultural impact in their local area.
After being awarded the accolade of becoming the first accredited Slow Food destination in Northern Ireland, Taste Causeway have been running a busy six-month programme of sell out events, immersive dining experiences, foodie tours and special menus, many of which feature Paula showcasing the Slow Food ethos and supporting local artisan producers.
Paula is preparing to host three events as part of the March and April programme including a Slow Cocoa event in collaboration with The Chocolate Manor and Basalt Gin, Benone showcase and a wild fish soiree with Native Seafood.
“I’m looking forward to my three demos all of which will feature local produce including Seaview Farm’s, Chestnut Farms dairy cow and Corndale charcuterie.”