Erin Bunting and Jo Facer

“You only live once. There comes a time when you have to take a leap and follow your dream.”

It was in 2016 that Londoner Jo Facer and Erin Bunting, originally from Hillsborough in Co Down, decided it was time to live theirs. They had been running a supper club in East London but believed that to take the next step in fulfilling their ambitions they had to move to Northern Ireland.

Today, their multi-faceted supper club, The Edible Flower, embraces everything from regular special events celebrating the global cultures of food, to growing their own vegetables, fruit and herbs, foraging, brewing craft beer and catering.

Having met at university in England, they took different paths to putting their shared passion for food into practice. Erin, whose previous career involved event management in the fashion and design industry, graduated from the Ballymaloe Cookery School and is now head chef.

Jo, an engineer by training, worked as Head of Operations on a long-term development in London’s Kings Cross. After they moved back to Northern Ireland, she completed a Royal Horticultural Society Level 2 Horticultural course and is now responsible for the Edible Flower’s soon to be expanded kitchen gardens and greenhouses.

They both believe that supper clubs are a perfect vehicle for those who are passionate, and curious, about food to explore their interests.

“It’s a very accessible way for people to share interesting ideas about food as well as celebrating different food cultures,” Erin says. “Most people don’t have the resources (or desire) to set up a restaurant or cafe. You can host supper clubs at home or in all sorts of interesting locations.”

So far, their supper club events have involved numerous explorations of Northern Ireland’s acclaimed food culture but they have showcased other world food cultures too.

The supper club scene has grown rapidly here in recent years, especially during 2016’s Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink, with several dozen clubs now operating.

Jo and Erin, themselves, have been part of the growing network of growers, chefs, foragers and food lovers who are helping generate this new wave of interest. Jo, for instance, was greatly influenced by volunteering with gardener David Love Cameron at the Helen’s Bay Walled Garden.

Small scale, global in outlook, this new generation of food lovers is looking to grow sustainably and find a simple, sustainable path from farm to fork. With the help of social media, Jo and Erin find they can reach their target audience quickly and most events are quickly sold out as demand grows.

“We cook our own food,” Erin says, “to our own agenda. “We grow it, create the menu, showcase our produce and tell the story of the food. Our events are a communal eating experience, a wonderful way to bring people together.”

Why is this movement thriving here? Jo believes one reason is the produce. “Northern Ireland has always been famous for the quality of its meat, for instance, but now there’s a wider recognition. Old breeds are coming back. There’s a demand for Dexter cattle now. There is also a huge renaissance in cheese making, people here recognising that what we have is really special.”

It’s not just food. Erin believes there has also been a renaissance in traditional skills. “We lost a lot of those skills but now we’re starting to regain them, whether it’s preserving and pickling, bread making or brewing. To be sustainable, we don’t always need to invent new way of doing things, we can learn from our past.”

Whether it’s from their foraging outings, where they might pick herbs and flowers from hedgerows that were once familiar to an older generation, or the heritage herbs and vegetables they are introducing to their gardens, Jo and Erin are helping recover a part of our past for future generations.

“Even if you live in a city, you’re ten minutes from a beautiful natural world. It is the ideal place for what we want to achieve.”