In the hot seat

Paul Clarke, managing director, En Place Foods

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF

I am an ex-chef who now works in speciality food production. I run En Place Foods in Cookstown and CRAIC Foods in Craigavon. As well as MD, I also undertake most of the NPD work for both businesses.

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY INVOLVE?

Very varied. Both En Place and CRAIC are small businesses, but are very innovation-focused. I don’t recall a time when I haven’t had a product development project running either for ourselves or for one of the many clients we now work with so, as well as the general operational demands, some part of the day will always involve recipe or process development. In lockdown, we also started craicfoods.com, an online speciality food store which is primarily an outlet for direct selling the products of the start-up brands we work with and developing/managing this is currently a daily task.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE?

Hard to pick a particular highlight, there have been lots of good and also some very tough times. I tend to celebrate the small victories rather than particular big moments; what seems like an important celebratory achievement has usually only come about because of the often hard won small wins along the way.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

The biggest part of our business is to foodservice and being speciality focused, we never stand still. There is always an unexplored kitchen technique or a chef doing something new that warrants investigation. It’s an excuse to indulge in the latest cookbooks from some the world’s leading chefs and for a bit of fine dining a couple of times a year.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST DIFFICULT TASK?

Time management.

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?

The Eisenhower principle: ‘most things which are urgent are not important, and things which are important are not urgent’.

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST GRIPE?

Food waste. It’s estimated that a staggering 15m tonnes of food produced is lost or wasted every year in the UK. It’s a paradox that the industry has this enormous amount of waste and yet a growing percentage of households still struggle to buy sufficient healthy food to eat. Given the land resources, time and effort that go into food production, it appears we don’t seem especially concerned about dropping tonnes of the stuff into landfill to pump out greenhouse gas instead of feeding the people who need ít most. There have rightly been various campaigns for retailers to stock wonky veg etc, but I believe there needs to be more education on the true value of food.

WHAT TALENT WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE?

Teleportation would be handy; could settle for just between Cookstown and Craigavon.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS/AMBITIONS?

Some of the small brands we work with have great potential and for the ones that are up for the challenge, I’d like them to grow with us. There are some truly world-class artisan food producers in Northern Ireland and while many may wish to remain lifestyle or small-scale enterprises, there are a few who I know have the ambition to do more. I’m also of the opinion that the integrity of food production doesn’t have to be diluted when scaled. Countries such as Italy and France with long historical food cultures have proved the ‘giant artisan’ food producer model and I see no reason why some of our unique Northern Irish brands can’t do the same.

WHOM DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?

Anyone who gives it their best shot.

WHERE IS YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE?

The Channel Islands, Jersey, I get there whenever I can.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD PRODUCT?

No single ingredient as I always see food as more than just the individual product; it’s contextual and so many other factors influence the experience. If I am in the Channel Islands, it’s lobster and oysters, at home it’s a tomato from the greenhouse at the end of summer, and on a wet weekend in Donegal, bacon and cabbage is favourite for a day.

HOW DO YOU RELAX?

A trip to Queen’s Film Theatre when I get the opportunity. Other than that, good food, wine, music, time with the family and frequent dog walks.

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