Ballyclare chef bound for Hong Kong after receiving major award

A young Ballyclare chef has landed a major scholarship to promote understanding of Asian culture and hospitality cultures.
Callum Irwin.Callum Irwin.
Callum Irwin.

Callum Irwin, who has recently graduated from Ulster University Business School with a first class honours degree in Culinary Arts Management, is the recipient of the inaugural Ken Hom – Lee Kum Kee Scholarship.

Hosted by the Oxford Cultural Collective, the scholarship is designed to reinforce Ken Hom’s commitment to promoting cross-cultural understanding.

In addition to achieving success in his academic studies, Callum is having a positive impact in industry. During his placement year he joined the acclaimed Muddlers Club restaurant in central Belfast, where he has remained employed throughout his studies and post-graduation. He was part of the kitchen team who secured Muddlers’ first Michelin star in 2019 (read more here).

He also acts as an Ambassador for Springboard NI, a charity focused on attracting school-leavers into the hospitality sector. More recently, Callum has been assisting Ulster University with its Antonio Carluccio Outreach programme, a project focused on widening access to higher education for those who may not have considered this as an option.

The scholarship will take Callum to Hong Kong, for an educational and cultural trip that will immerse him in the local culinary and hospitality culture – an ideal opportunity for someone who loves to travel.

Callum said: “I am delighted to have won the Ken Hom – Lee Kum Kee Scholarship and I can’t wait to go to Hong Kong. It will help me develop an international network, introduce me to a new cuisine and culture and help me develop my skills further. The consultancy topic I tackled was very interesting. It opened my eyes to the struggles faced by South-East Asian restaurants in the UK.”

Applicants for the scholarship were required to produce a comprehensive consultancy report, focused on current challenges faced by Chinese and South-East Asian restaurants.

Maria Chong, MD of Lee Kum Kee for Europe, commented on Callum’s submission: “I was really impressed by his deep thinking and analysis, which showed that he truly understands the challenges of the Asian hospitality industry.

“His recommendations were practical and inspiring. At his interview, I found Callum to be a very passionate and visionary person. We need more people like him to secure a positive future for our industry.”

Congratulating Callum, Professor Una McMahon-Beattie, head of the Department for Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ulster University Business School said: “We are absolutely delighted by Callum’s success in winning this prestigious award. The Business School is focused on developing both culinary skills and broadening the horizons and experiences of our students in order to prepare them appropriately for a management career in hospitality.

“Callum epitomises everything that we aim to achieve with our students and is a true ambassador for the School. We are especially pleased with this achievement as it is a further reflection of the quality of our Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism courses which this year have been ranked first out of 54 higher education institutions in UK’s Complete University Guide 2021.”

Four generations of the Lee family have been involved in running Lee Kum Kee, which is now a household name, supplying over 220 sauces and condiments of the highest quality to over 100 countries.

For Ken Hom, Callum is a very worthy winner: “I am so impressed by his enthusiasm, his determination to build a successful career in hospitality and, most importantly, his love for learning. He sees every experience as an opportunity to absorb information, to grow as a person and to enhance his understanding of the world. That is a great example to others and it’s why we chose him to receive this award.

“Look out for Callum in the future – he is going to do great things in our industry.”


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