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Curiosity and passion: Camlough chef Melissa McCabe’s recipe for success

Melissa McCabe
Melissa McCabe, former SRC student who has built up a successful small business and was the Northern Ireland winner of the Great British Menu 2024

If you love food, then you will love Great British Menu’s Northern Ireland’s 2024 winner Melissa McCabe.

Spanning nineteen seasons, the BBC series has connected Northern Ireland to yet another chef master, Melissa McCabe from Camlough.

Melissa is an unexpected, but refreshing contender within the Northern Ireland regional competition, having built her hospitality business from a food truck serving world class seasonal produce across NI.

Melissa’s mind is always in overdrive thinking about her next menu, with her only rule that her food “has to be delicious”.

After completing her Level 3 Travel and Tourism Diploma, Melissa commenced her foundation degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management at Southern Regional College before the lure of travel became too much.

Melissa completed work experience in Australia and returned after several years with a wealth of culinary knowledge.

She has worked her way around numerous kitchens, being taught by head chefs from Cork and sous chefs from Berlin, working her way up the rank.

Reflecting on her life experience, Melissa always preferred to hand in coursework at the last minute as she states: “I’m good at working under pressure and I didn’t realise at the time where I was going to end up and being a chef is a very high-pressured job.”

Melissa is a one-woman band, running her food truck, preparing menus, foraging food for courses as well as managing her own social media and advertising.

As someone who does it all, Melissa’s advice for aspiring small business owners and students alike is to do something “that genuinely makes you happy, you can’t replicate what others do, otherwise what’s the point”.

Melissa prepares everything on her menu from scratch with an emphasis on quality over quantity. When she sets up at local street feasts and markets, she is sure to sell out fast.

Business advice from this entrepreneur includes: “If you are going to start a business, you need a fire inside you to start and you shouldn’t be trying to imitate others.

“I have a small menu, usually about three items, and it’s all locally sourced. I spend a lot of time prepping to make good food at affordable prices, because I want people to taste what I’m selling. I’m genuinely passionate about what I do and if it’s not making you happy, don’t do it.”

Melissa was headhunted for the BBC show Great British Menu, with show producers contacting her to appear as one of four Northern Ireland regional finalists.

After making it through the finals of the competition Melissa’s aspirations for the next few years include having many happy customers, a bricks and mortar establishment with a team of chefs that are always learning.

Melissa concluded: “Go live your life, find out what you want to do. If you are not sure, go travelling for a while, and find out who you are. Ask plenty of questions and don’t let curiosity ever leave you. Learn everyday.”

Caroline Chamber, Lecturer at Southern Regional College commented: “Melissa joined the college in 2008 studying Level 2 Travel & Tourism. As her tutor, I remember Melissa very well, she was a strong character, and although her direction in life has changed a little, I feel so proud to have seen her recent success representing Northern Ireland on the Great British Menu. Well done Melissa!”

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