University's Academy Restaurant helping students forge a future in hospitality and putting NI food on the map


Academy restaurant, located on the edge of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, is enhancing Northern Ireland’s food, drink and culture by helping students forge a future in sustaining the hospitality, tourism and events industry.

Launched three years ago, the Academy is a restaurant unlike any other. It features an immersive learning experience that has been created for students completing their (Bachelor honours) International Hospitality Management or Culinary Art Management degrees at Ulster University.

Academy incorporates a state-of-the-art city centre restaurant, culinary and beverage school. It works as an educational hub while also making a contribution to the local hospitality sector, and is one of only five training restaurant facilities in the UK.

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The restaurant gives students hands-on experience working within the hospitality industry in Northern Ireland, as well as providing practical support to entrepreneurs. One of those students is Lisa Quinn, 19, from Co Armagh, who is in her first year studying Culinary Arts Management at UU during the week and working at Killeavy Castle Estate over the weekend.

She told Belfast Live: "After working as a waitress for a long time and being in the kitchens, it seemed like a really fun environment and I had family members in the cookery line of work too so I thought why not give it a go!

"The Academy Restaurant is a learning environment, first and foremost, but it's also open to the public so you can get really good quality service and food brought to you by people learning for their future profession.

"It's great food in a great environment especially as we do offer daily lunch services and on Tuesdays and Thursdays there's a tasting menu by the students so there's always something different happening."

Lisa Quinn, who is in her first year studying Culinary Arts Management at Ulster University
Lisa Quinn, who is in her first year studying Culinary Arts Management at Ulster University -Credit:Belfast Live

Lisa has just returned from the first Regenerative Hospitality Summit, co-hosted by UU in Transylvania, Romania, which shone a spotlight on how regenerative practices within the industry can continue to enhance Northern Ireland’s reputation as a leading food and drink destination.

Expert contributors from different locations around the world, including Chef Skye Gyngell, of Heckfield Place in Hampshire, led conversations about the need for hospitality to promote behavioural change, with respect to the climate crisis and cross-cultural understanding.

Hospitality and culinary arts management students from Ulster University like Lisa played a central role in proceedings by cooking alongside TV chef and author Romy Gill MBE and Oxford Cultural Collective Patron, chef Paul Bloomfield for the delegation throughout the three days.

The Regenerative Hospitality Summit also included a dedicated session focused on food, drink and hospitality in Northern Ireland – its prospects for the future and how it might give the region competitive advantage on the basis of its contribution to communities and the natural environment.

"My biggest takeaway from the event was that you just need to keep calm in the kitchen and not everything is always going to go right so you have to keep your cool and everything will work out. Also the facilities around you aren't always going to be what you need them to be so you just have to work with what you've got," Lisa added.

"Getting to work with Paul Bloomfield was really helpful and he was always completely ready to explain anything to a first year student who doesn't know everything - always happy to teach which was brilliant."

Lisa speaking to Belfast Live in Academy Restaurant in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter
Lisa speaking to Belfast Live in Academy Restaurant in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter -Credit:Belfast Live

And for anyone considering a career in the industry, Lisa has this message: "In my first year I've been learning all the basic skills and obviously got the great opportunity to go to Romania.

"In second year you get to do a tasting menu course on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which I'm really excited about as it lets you take complete control and create your own menu so you're essentially the head chef in the kitchen for the night, which is a great experience.

"You go off on your placement in third year which again will be really exciting and fourth year is focused on managing the business side of things. I would definitely recommend this course to anybody considering this career as it's a great experience with great opportunities."

Video by Belfast Live videographer Harry Bateman.

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