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OCC curates Focus on Food Conference – shaping Belfast as a food and drink destination

Donald Sloan with Guardian restaurant critic, Grace Dent

The Oxford Cultural Collective was invited to curate a one-day conference in central Belfast, focused on the power of food, drink and hospitality to effect positive change in society. The event was hosted by OCC Chair, Donald Sloan.


Around 250 delegates gathered in Belfast’s International Conference Centre on 28th March 2023 for the Focus on Food Conference. Hospitality and tourism professionals, including chefs, restaurateurs, producers, educators and policy makers, came together to consider the development of Belfast as a leading food and drink destination. In a week that saw three Belfast restaurants – OX, The Muddlers Club and EIPIC – retain coveted Michelin stars, those at the conference discussed how to further enhance the city’s gastronomic reputation.

A range of expert speakers tackled issues including the role of food and drink in urban and community regeneration, the need for the hospitality industry to work in harmony with nature, the power of sector ambassadors, the value of cross-city collaboration and skills development through higher and further education.


Chris McClurg; Deputy Lord Mayor Michelle Kelly; Gemma Austin

It is intended that the conference should kick-start a new, more strategic approach to the ongoing development of Belfast and Northern Ireland as a region known for its distinctive food and drink culture, in ways that benefit local people, enhance national and international profile and stimulate responsible tourism.

The Focus on Food Conference was a collaborative initiative involving partners – Belfast City Council, Tourism NI, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development and Food NI.


Download the Focus on Food Conference brochure


The speakers were:

Councillor Michelle Kelly, Deputy Lord Mayor, providing a welcome to Belfast

Anna Pollock, tourism strategist and OCC PatronThe power of regenerative hospitality: creating food and drink destination in which everyone can flourish.

Grace Dent, Guardian restaurant critic and broadcaster, in conversation with Donald SloanWhat makes a great food city?

Conor Spacey, Founder of Food Space, and Giles Gibbons, Co-founder of the Sustainable Restaurant AssociationBeyond Sustainability: our collective responsibility to act.

Professor Una McMahon Beattie, Chair of Council for Hospitality Management Education and Mairead McEntee, Ulster UniversityNurturing Talent: the role of education in shaping Belfast’s culinary reputation.

Vinny Hurrell of BBC Radio Ulster in conversation with three head chefs and BBC Great British Menu finalists – Gemma Austin of A Peculiar Tea; Chris McClurg of Paul Ainsworth at No.6; and Alex Greene of EIPICNew Voices: finding success in a competitive world.

Michele Shirlow, Chief Executive of Food NI; Gary Quate, Food and Drink Tourism Manager, Tourism NI; Petra Wolsey, Director, Beannchor Group; and Rachael McGuicken, Director of Business Development, Visit Belfast Looking Ahead: next steps for Belfast.


Conor Spacey; The Gourmet Boys with Grace Dent; Anna Pollock


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