The first foraging/cookery school is being launched in Northern Ireland to encourage greater use of locally sourced wild herbs and other edible plants. The new school is being established at Larchfield Estate, near Lisburn in county Antrim, a 600-acre privately-owned complex which has become an extremely popular venue for a host of events especially weddings and corporate meetings.
Sarah Mackie, who runs events at the estate with husband Gavin, has teamed up with local chefs in the development of the new venture, the first in Northern Ireland to offer opportunities to other chefs and food enthusiasts to learn about edible plants, herbs and flowers and to develop innovative dishes with these.
The estate also has a Victorian Walled Garden with a vast variety of plants and its own well-stocked lakes for trout fishing.
Mrs Mackie, commenting on the initiative, says: “We have edible plants growing in the estate along with state-of-the-art facilities for food tuition, preparation and meals. A number of chefs have already visited the estate and been impressed by the quality and variety of wild herbs and other plants as well as our kitchens and other facilities.
“There’s now a developing interest among chefs and home cooks in Northern Ireland on foraging for wild and edible ingredients for original dishes. We saw an opportunity to open up the estate for foraging and to provide tuition programmes that show how to identify edible plants and how best to incorporate these in different dishes.
“What we have in mind are foraging sessions which enable participants to learn how to source edible plants and then to be helped by chefs how to incorporate these in a delicious meal. We have a host of wild plants including garlic and mushrooms.
“The development of a foraging/cookery school also reflects our commitment to sourcing food and drink from local suppliers for events we cater for at the estate.
“We have a host of premium food and drink near the estate and are keen to extend this at the new cookery school project,” Mrs Mackie adds.
The husband and wife team has invested extensively in creating a modern complex offering a wide range of facilities including five-star self-catering accommodation and kitchens ideal for cookery classes.
The spectacular estate, which has also been used for film productions, has a colourful history stretching back to the 17th century. The classic manor house was built in the 1750s and redesigned by renowned Victorian architect Charles Lanyon, who created many of the best known buildings in Belfast including Queen’s University Belfast.