BEN Armstrong who is a chef at Old Barn Catering, Markethill has been named the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Northern Ireland Chef of the Year at IFEX 2024.

The DAERA NI Chef of the Year is one of the highlights of the Salon Culinaire Belfast competitions and Ben impressed the judges with his creative flair and inspirational use of ingredients throughout the course of the competition’s challenges.

Ben competed against five other culinarians to win the top ChefSkills accolade at IFEX – NI’s largest food, drink, retail and hospitality exhibition - which took place at the Titanic Exhibition Centre from Tuesday 5th – Thursday 7th March.

Hailing from Armagh, Ben’s winning menu consisted of an amuse bouche created with heirloom tomatoes, avocado and balsamic reduction followed by a starter of pan seared scallops, crispy chicken skin, black pudding scotch egg, cauliflower and rocket oil.

For his main course, Ben cooked up a fillet of Glenarm shorthorn, mushroom pie, artichoke puree, fondant potatoes and vegetables. To finish off his incredible menu, Ben served white chocolate basil and lemon mousse strawberry salpicon, sesame and black pepper croquant, olive caramel, raspberry and valpolicella sorbet.

Commenting on winning the top accolade, Ben said: “I am thrilled and honoured to have won the Northern Ireland Chef of the Year title against some extremely tough competition from my supremely talented peers.

“IFEX is synonymous with discovering new talent and to now share the IFEX hall of fame with some of the industry’s most skilled chefs is a dream come true for me.” 

DAERA Minister, Andrew Muir MLA, said: “The DAERA Chef of the Year competition highlights the strong links between our farming industry, the culinary environment and our successful agri-food supply chains.

“Chefs here are incredibly fortunate to have such a rich pool of Northern Ireland award-winning producers and artisan food and drink companies on their doorstep. It’s a testament to our agri-food industry that Northern Ireland’s international reputation is continuing to grow.

“I would like to congratulate each of the six finalists for their creative and talented use of our local products and I wish each of them well in their culinary careers.”

For many years, IFEX has been pivotal in nurturing some of the best culinary talent that Northern Ireland has to offer and Salon Culinaire Belfast this year was no exception.  Supported by Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Stephen’s Catering Equipment and Flogas, over 250 students and industry chefs took part in 30 category competitions.

The competition was judged by some of the industry’s most respected chefs and was adjudicated by Gary Gamble, IFEX Chairman of the Judges.