Chris Bell, who won the Chef of the Year title in 2003 and 2004, said he intends to create “something lasting” at the estate’s newly-created clubhouse restaurant, the Eagle Bar and Grill.
Bell, who was also the first chef from Ireland to win a Gordon Ramsay Scholarship, said his ethos is to produce quality food for reasonable prices in a casual setting.
“Mourne Seafood has come in 50/50 with me and with its know-how and my local knowledge, I believe it makes for a great recipe,” he explained.
“I’ve known Andy Rea, one half of Mourne Seafood, for about 20 years. I’ve been influenced and impressed by the Mourne Seafood product – its quality produce at affordable prices. In a nutshell, I believe this is the future of dining in Northern Ireland,” Bell added.
Galgorm is one of the province’s leading golf destinations, and the castle's championship Golf Club is situated within the grounds of one of Ireland’s most historic castles.
When the opportunity to open the restaurant arose at the end of 2013, Bell said he was certain it was the right time to come on board.
He explained: “I had looked at a few things beforehand then the opportunity at Galgorm came up. It’s very exciting what’s happening here at the estate. It’s a fantastic set up. This wasn’t just a flash in the pan decision for me.”
“I’d worked away from Northern Ireland for a few years but always planned on doing something back home. This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for.”
Bell said he is keen to create an informal and social dining experience where guests can book in advance, or just turn up and enjoy a drink until a table becomes available.
“We’ll have all the usual suspects on the menus, great fish and chips, Irish stew, bangers and mash and steak.
“But we’ll also have the blackboards out and if people want to try something a little different you can have your lobster, turbot or scallops. There are no set rules. If you want to eat lobster in the bar, feel free. Similarly, if you want a burger in the restaurant, go ahead, no problem.”
Where possible, produce will sourced from local suppliers, as Bell said he wants to showcase top quality, home grown produce.
“Instead of using olive oil or Parma ham from abroad, we use rapeseed oil from Limavady or cured ham from Peter Hannon in Moira. All our meat, fish and veg are sourced locally. Some of our bottled beers are from local breweries, Hildens in Lisburn and Whitewater in Kilkeel.”
Prior to his new challenge, Bell was head chef at the Galgorm Resort & Spa’s River Room restaurant almost two years. In that time, the fine dining restaurant was named Hotel Restaurant of the Year for Ulster and Ireland.
The Gracehill native has also featured as a finalist on two series of the BBC’s Great British Menu.