Michele Shirlow MBE is the Chief Executive of Food NI, a membership organisation dedicated to enhancing the reputation of food and drink from Northern Ireland, representing over 450 member companies (including 200 Taste of Ulster Restaurants) and acting as a strategic driver to support the industry to achieve greatness.

Michele was central to delivery in 2016 of the first ever Year of Food and Drink, which increased positive visitor attitudes towards Northern Ireland food and drink by 23% and resulted in Northern Ireland winning the International Travel and Tourism Awards – Best Food Destination 2018/19.  She is now spearheading the Taste the Greatness strategy to establish Northern Ireland as a leading food region in the UK by 2021.

  • What is the best thing about your current job? Getting to meet chefs and producers from across Northern Ireland that are creating and supplying world beating produce.
  • What was your first job in the hospitality/foodservice industry? You won’t believe this but I was an enthusiastic cook from a young age, I landed myself a job demonstrating Magimix in all the top department stores in Belfast – I loved it, then I went on to work in hospitality as a waitress when I was studying.
  • Who has been your biggest influence during your career?

Too many to say, I believe people arrive into your life when you are ready to learn a new skill, but I would like to pay tribute to Charles Campion who worked with me for several years, I treasure the advice he gave me.

  • What key piece of advice would you give the future generation of hospitality professionals?

As Charles would have said, do simple things well.

  • What is your favourite restaurant or type of food?

I work with Peas Please, a UK initiative to get more vegetables onto plates, and while I do love some quality meat occasionally, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of eating veg, both for health and mental wellbeing, so anywhere that is creative with vegetables will attract me in.

  • What is your favourite dish?

I love most foods and don’t have a favourite dish, but health and sustainability are so important that I would have to plump for anything that is local and seasonal.

  • What is your favourite drink?

I’m very partial to local tea and gin (not together)

  • What or who are you looking forward most to see or meet at IFEX 22?

John Farrand, I think the Guild of Fine Food do a wonderful job.