Supper on menu at Market Club

Chef Rob Curley with gardener Frank McCooke.
Chef Rob Curley with gardener Frank McCooke.

A dining experience with a difference has taken root in Ballymena where the ingredients for its success are grown literally ‘over the hedge’.

Rob Curley, an award winning chef, has created a unique dining experience in the town where he has teamed up with the Slemish Market Garden to create the Slemish Market Supper Club.

The Club is just a few hundred metres from the market garden kitchen where all of the fruit and vegetables are grown - with every single seed planted by hand by gardener Frank McCooke, 60, and his son, and business partner, Matthew, 33.

The fun and creative dining club is attracting a movement of people from across the province who want to be close to the source of the food cooked and who want to hear the gardener and chef talk about what’s on their plates and how it was grown.

The supper club, which is often over-subscribed, will find out on May 8 if it has won ‘Best Private and Club Dining’ award at the All Ireland final for the Irish Restaurant Association Awards which will take place in Dublin.

Rob said: “There is nothing like this out there. Guests coming to the supper club don’t know what’s on the menu until Frank and I get up at the beginning of the evening to talk the guests through the ingredients used and what dishes they will be eating. It’s totally a joint effort to create a surprise six course menu comprising of a drink, a wee bite, a starter, a fish course, a meat course and dessert.

“The bespoke menu changes every time according to what is seasonal. The market garden is literally over the hedge from me. If it’s raining I pop over on the bike and if it’s dry we talk over the hedge quite a lot. At the start of every season Frank and I talk about what is grown for the season ahead and then I think about what dishes I can create. Then I know to source salmon, trout, duck, game and goat - all from the Glens of Antrim where possible.”

Rob added: “The supper clubs are near enough every month. We announce the dates on Facebook.”

Frank said: “People don’t often understand how we grow our produce here. Our chickens are very important to us because they obviously supply us with our free range eggs. But, also, whatever piece of land we need worked on we send the chickens out on to the land and they clear it for us so it’s ready for planting. Once that’s done, we move the chickens on to another stretch of land. Everything we do uses traditional farming methods. We don’t use fertiliser, pesticides or use hydroponics.

“We very much do our own thing and we stay away from food trends. What Rob has created is really wonderful. He moved to Ballymena from Dublin and what he has worked so hard to create has really snowballed.”

The next supper club will be held at Follow Coffee on Greenvale Street in Ballymena on April 29.