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Focus on Food Conference marks start of new food journey for Belfast


The Oxford Cultural Collective has been invited to curate Focus on Food, a high-profile, one-day conference, to be held at Belfast’s International Conference Centre on 28th March 2023.

Co-hosted by Belfast City Council, Tourism NI and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, the event marks the start of a new food journey for Belfast. It signifies a more strategic and inclusive approach to developing and promoting the city as a leading food and drink destination.

Food, drink, and hospitality make a significant contribution to the economy and culture of Belfast and Northern Ireland. They shape the lived experience of local people, generate considerable civic pride and stimulate national and international tourism. The city’s growing gastronomic reputation is built on the quality of its independently owned restaurants, bars and markets, as well as distinctive initiatives including street food hubs, micro-breweries, food tours and community-focused venues. Belfast is also the gateway to Northern Ireland and its producers who are growing, rearing, fishing and distilling world-class ingredients.

The Focus on Food Conference will explore the power of food, drink and hospitality to achieve urban community regeneration. In addition, it will provoke discussion about how to enhance Belfast’s standing as a gastronomic destination.


Book your place (£30 per delegate – £10 for students)


The programme for the day includes (more names to be added):

A welcome and overview from Councillor Christina Black, Lord Mayor of Belfast.

The power of regenerative hospitality: creating a food and drink destination in which everyone can flourishAnna Pollock, tourism sector strategist and visionary thinker on innovative approaches to community regeneration.


Councillor Christina Black, Lord Mayor of Belfast, and Anna Pollock

What makes a Great Food and Drink City? Donald Sloan of OCC in conversation with Grace Dent, author, broadcaster and restaurant critic for the Guardian.

Grace Dent and Donald Sloan

New Voices: Finding success in a competitive world. Vinny Hurrell of BBC Radio Ulster in conversation with Gemma Austin, Chef Patron, A Peculiar Tea; Chris McClurg, Chef Patron, Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 in Cornwall; and Alex Greene, Head Chef at Deane’s EIPIC, all of whom have represented Northern Ireland on the BBC’s Great British Menu.


Chris McClurg, Vinny Hurrell and Gemma Austin

Beyond sustainability: our collective responsibility to act. In conversation with Conor Spacey, Founder of the Food Space; Skye Gyngell, Chef Patron of Spring and Heckfield Place; and Giles Gibbons, Co-founder of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.


Giles Gibbons, Conor Spacey and Skye Gyngell

Nurturing talent – the role of education in shaping Belfast’s culinary reputation. In conversation with Professor Una McMahon Beattie, Chair, Council for Hospitality Management Education, and Mairead McEntee, Ulster University.


Professor Una McMahon-Beattie and Mairead McEntee

Looking ahead – next steps for Belfast.  A panel of key players will reflect on lessons learned from the day’s contributions and consider what next steps should be taken in Belfast to progress its status as a respected food and drink destination. Donald Sloan of OCC in conversation with Michele Shirlow, Chief Executive of Food NI; David Roberts, Director of Strategy, Tourism NI; and Anne McMullan, Senior Director, Marketing and Communications, Visit Belfast.


Michele Shirlow MBE and David Roberts

Conference delegates are invited to have dinner in the Academy restuarant at Ulster University. Prepared by chef Robin Gill, with support from from hospitality and culinary arts management students, this dinner forms part of a Culinary Salon series of events featuring many of the UK and Ireland’s best loved chefs and food writers. Over the last ten years Robin Gill has made his mark on London’s dining scene, where he now has six hugely successful restaurant: Darby’s, Sorella, Bermondsey Larder, Bottle & Rye and two branches of Maria G’s. He also operates Rye by the Water, an artisan bakery and café in Brentford.


Robin Gill, who will prepare dinner at the Academy restaurant.




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