Great British Menu chef Paul Cunningham has transformed his passion for foraging and sourcing the best of local produce into an innovative dining experience with the help of the Go For It programme in association with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
The project is part funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) Programme.
The Dundrum chef recently quit his day job to go full time with his new foodie venture, Mourne Larder, which is already garnering huge interest with a series of events, pop up nights, food tours and Secret Dining experiences.
Paul started working in kitchens at the age of 12, but it was his grandfather who instilled his passion for foraging and making use of the most local of ingredients.
Paul said: “I fell in love with food through my grandfather who taught me how to forage the land. He took me out all the time down to the beach to get whelks and cockles or going across the fields to get mushrooms and honeysuckles, whatever it may be.
“He had a garden centre at the house as well and he taught me a lot about sustainability before it was a thing – zero waste, using plants to make your own fertilisers, I just loved it.
“If you’re really interested in anything you excel at it and I developed the skills over the years.”
Over the years, Paul became intrigued by the Terroirstyle of cooking, an eco-friendly vision of cookery that dictates only using ingredients that have been sourced from within a 20-mile radius.
The 35-year-old said: “I wouldn’t buy soy sauce – I make my own out of mushrooms. I make my own fish sauce, I make my own bonito from trout bellies. I wouldn’t use cinnamon – I replace it with wood aven root – and instead of using coffee flavour I use dandelion roots. I would use cider instead of lemon juice. The idea is to only cook with the larder that the Mournes provide me.”
Paul approached the Go For It programme a year and a half ago and said the support they provided him with was amazing and gave him the confidence to know that he was on the right track.
“The best thing they did for me was put together the business plan. I had tried to do it myself and thought I knew where to start, but I didn’t! They helped me to get funding as well and gave me a lot of good advice,” he says.
“My plan is to keep building on what I have – I have a really good foundation with the Secret Dining and I’m hoping to do more tours, more pop ups and more private dining.”
Paul has teamed up with numerous venues and producers to champion the produce and landscape of the Mournes, and says many producers are reporting that Mourne Larder participants have been coming into their shops to buy local delicacies and learn more about their stories.
“With Mourne Larder, I’m on a mission to utilise and promote our local produce. There are serious things going on in the Mournes!” he says.
Business Adviser, Joan Ohara said: “Paul showed great enthusiasm and vision for his new business, Mourne Larder, since our first meeting. I worked with Paul on the Go For It Programme to get a business plan in place, after which the business was launched.
“He has worked really hard to get to where it is today. It has been a pleasure to help Paul on his journey and I look forward to seeing how his business continues to grow in the future. I am certain this is not the last you will hear of Paul Cunningham”
Chairperson of Newry Mourne and Down District Council, Councillor Cathy Mason said: “The Go For It Programme, which is one of a suite of Business Support programmes offered by Newry Mourne and Down District Council District Council, has and continues to be a tremendous success in the area.
“I am delighted that so many entrepreneurs have established the business of their dreams with the incredible support and expert advice on offer from our partners at Newry and Mourne Co-Operative Enterprise Agency and Down Business Centre”.