We recently interviewed the lovely Allison and Will at Abernethy Butter as part of our interview series for the 2016 NI Year of Food & Drink, and next up we have one of Northern Ireland’s most respected food critics, the Belfast Telegraph’s Joris Minne. We quizzed Joris on everything from his love of food to the local NI foodie scene, and also got some tips for fellow food writers and bloggers. Check out Joris’s thoughts below.
Interview with Joris Minne (Belfast Telegraph Food Writer and Director at JPR).
1. Where does your love of food come from?
I only started noticing food and how much people enjoyed it when I lived in London. Friends would fight over whether or not to go for a Chinese, Indian, Italian or burger and it became clear that people who never talked about food actually did have a love for certain kinds of food. I’d be talking to somebody about what we’d have as our last meal and then it would all start pouring out; even those who said they had absolutely no interest in food would start salivating over thoughts of roast chicken dinners, crab salads or Lebanese lamb kebabs!
2. What is your fondest food memory?
Being offered a third sausage in second year at school dinners when the allocation was two each, a spoonful of mash and some beans. At the age of 12 we were always famished and bangers were at the top of the favourite foods hit parade. A third sausage was like winning the lottery. It was unthinkable and completely memorable as a result.
3. Can you tell us how you became the food critic for The Belfast Telegraph?
I met Matthew Fort in 1994 when he was food and drink editor of the Guardian and I was running media facilitation visits for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. We didn’t have too many travel journalists coming over never mind food writers. But we spent a few days together, became friends and he offered me a correspondence role in his Guzzler column in the Guardian G2 on a Friday. My job was to write 200 words on a meal which cost under £15. My day job in PR means working for different clients, one of which is Independent News & Media which published Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life and Sunday World. The former publisher, Michael Brophy knew of my experience on the Guardian and when he launched Belfast Telegraph Weekend magazine in 2008 he asked me if I would write the food column. We agreed terms and here I still am!
4. What are the best and most challenging aspects about being a food critic?
Being a food critic is one thing, writing about restaurants is another. Everyone is a critic these days. I am not a good cook (my wife is the advisor because she is an expert cook) but I know how to eat. Northern Ireland has more than 1,000 restaurants and take aways. These are an integral part of our economic fabric. They employ people, they keep the wheels of food distribution turning and they are central to our tourism sector as well. Therefore the key challenge is to criticise as a friend would, respecting the role of the restaurateur as an economic player as well as his/her skills as a cook. The three pillars to a successful restaurant include food, service and environment and not one of these is more important than the other. Being able to make sense of these, spotting the misjudgements in design, lighting, comfort, service and food quality require some skill but mainly a lot of experience. I write the Belfast Telegraph column every week and haven’t missed one since June 2008. Hopefully when you read this I’ll still be doing it.
5. Is finding new and unique ways to describe food ever a challenge?
Yes! There are masters of this such as Marina O’Laughlin, Jay Rayner and AA Gill but I content myself with describing what I see, experience and taste in a way that readers who enjoy eating out can enjoy and understand. My good friend Catherine Cleary who writes the restaurant column for the Irish Times was formerly a crime correspondent. I envy her writing style the most as she is forensic in her descriptions as well as funny and entertaining.
6. Where in Northern Ireland would you say has been your finest dining experience?
My wife’s mushroom terrine, my mother’s chocolate fudge cake and my mother in law’s fish pie remain unchallenged in their brilliance. Probably the best ever paid-for experience was in Roscoff for lunch with my wife Jill one Friday before we had children and had the afternoon off! We had confit of duck, salmon, rib-eye, side order of noodles (nobody, not even the best Chinese in Belfast could match Paul Rankin’s noodles) and crème brulee.
7. Have you seen a big change in the direction of the food here in Northern Ireland since you began writing for The Belfast Telegraph?
The changes are eye-watering. We have gone from a small selection of half a dozen reliable, high-quality European influenced restaurants to a much broader portfolio of international, world and very high-end dining. From the top class burritos available in Boojum, Chalco’s, Kurrito and Slum’s for only £5.50 to James Street South, Eipic and Ox there are, in between, a vast portfolio of excellent, carefully thought out and highly polished bistros and brasseries. Belfast is not the only population centre to boast an enviable list of restaurants. Derry has Brown’s Quays Social, Custom House and others, the north coast as the Loft, Harry’s Shack, Mermaid, French Rooms and Bushmills Inn and County Down is a knock out with Brunel’s, Boat House and many more.
8. What advice would you give to aspiring food writers / bloggers?
Remember you are writing about somebody’s business and life. If it’s not good, go back a second time. Be fair, respect the people who work there and be honest with them before you leave so that they don’t have any surprises when they read your review.
9. What is your idea of food heaven?
My Belfast fantasy menu is updated every month. Right now it’s: Niall McKenna’s crab salad (James Street South), Simon Toye’s grilled prime rib (Meat Locker) and Ciara McGee’s polenta cake (Ox).
10. What is your must visit eaterie in Northern Ireland for 2016?
Kurrito on Botanic Avenue. Where else in the world will you find an authentic Pakistani- Mexican burrito made with farm fresh Ulster produce?
We’d like to thank Joris for taking time to answer our questions and give us a little insight into the world of a food critic. For fellow food bloggers, we think the biggest thing to take away from this is answer number 8. Be fair and honest when it comes to reviews. We’ve all had good and bad dining experiences, and like Joris suggested, if it’s not good, go back again and try a second time. Everyone is allowed an off day 🙂
You can keep up to date with Joris and his foodie reviews and adventures by following him on Twitter – @jorisminne.
A YEAR OF INTERVIEWS ON PIKALILY
We’re planning a series of interviews with local food & drinks producers, restaurants and foodies as we celebrate an important year of food and drink here in Northern Ireland. Get in touch if you would like to get involved.