Local beekeepers dine with royalty

TWO local beekeepers have appeared on the popular BBC Two programme the Great British menu.

Lisburn optician Sam Baird and Hillsborough chef and lecturer Michael Young were guests at a Banquet with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at the National Trust's Assembly Rooms in Bath. The event was part of the popular chefs' competition shown on tv last weekend.

The adventure for the local men whose pastime is beekeeping, and producing award winning honey and mead started a few weeks ago. Winning chef, Niall McKenna who owns the restaurant James Street South in Belfast was selected to make the desert for the prestigious Royal banquet in Bath for 100 speciality food producers and TV chefs.

The series required a TV crew to film Niall visiting the producers and seeing the bees which made the honey and used in the dessert. This meant a visit to a secluded corner of Malone Golf Club where Michael and Sam keep an apiary exploiting the local limes and nectar rich flora to produce distinctive flavours.

When the film crew flew over, Michael was on a lecture tour in America, leaving Sam to 'do the shoot'. Sam commented: "This entailed dressing the entire film crew in protective bee-suits and then talking Niall through the mysteries of the opened colony of insects. The high point was tasting honey warm and newly made by Drumbeg bees from the combs on which they were still working. This is always a special experience."

Sam went back to work and a couple of days later he got the phone call inviting him to the banquet with Michael.

Sam explained how drama struck the day before the dinner. "Michael was stuck in America with the Ash Cloud grounding all aircraft. He was not going to make it. Niall was still having problems getting local strawberries, but then there was some good news. A supplier in Dungannon had Ulster's first four punnets of ripe berries."

These were couriered to Sam's opticians practice in Lisburn to be taken on the flight to Bristol for Niall. There was more good news. Michael had managed to get the last seat on an overnight flight to Manchester, not London and with only his hand baggage, he could just make it to the Ball. Sam said: "This was important to Michael as Niall started as one of his students in hospitality at Belfast Metropolitan College, and he was immensely proud of his achievements.

"The banquet was superb, the food sublime, and the experience - one to remember. The talk was all about the food and the food did not disappoint. There is something surreal about eating in the company not only of royalty but with personalities you recognised previously only from the small screen."

He continued: "Camilla told us there are a couple of honeybee colonies at Highgrove and she is taking lessons on how to handle them. Prince Charles however told us that while he owned bees, but had not the 'gift of the beekeepers calm' and could never handle them personally.

He added: "Niall's winning desert was Rhubarb poached in mead with Strawberry Jelly, Yellow man and Lavender Ice Cream from Glastry cows. It was superb. We were so proud of Northern Ireland produce and talent. It was a privilege to support Niall in his success and to fly the flag for the Beekeepers of Northern Ireland and Dromore. Our little pots of honey grace many a high table.

Any prospective beekeepers should realise this is a hobby which can take you remarkable places. Not only did we dine with Royalty, we were seen to dine with Royalty.

The food and the chefs eclipsed us all, it was really, really good."

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