Meet the Michelin-starred chef on a mission to bring back the ‘Mighty Spud’

Inspired by his love of farming, a Michelin-starred chef is urging the Irish public to get back behind its favourite vegetable.

The latest weapon in a Northern Ireland potato producer group’s arsenal, Great British Menu contestant chef Mark Abbott, is trying to prove why the potato is ‘mighty, not humble’.

Abbott, who grew up on a Co. Antrim farm, first wanted to become a farmer – but now has dedicated his career to promoting fresh, local food.

He won the Northern Ireland heat of the show which pits the UK’s best professional chefs against each other, and his dish ‘Ordinary to Extraordinary’ was such a hit with judges that it was chosen for the show’s banquet.

He currently heads up the kitchen team at high-end Cambridge restaurant Midsummer House.

Mighty Spud

‘Ordinary to Extraordinary’ used five varieties of potatoes and was one of the few on the series to achieve a perfect 10 out of 10 score.

The potato extravaganza saw the humble spud transformed in 14 ways: butter milk mash potato, potato, truffle and onion airbag, bacon basket, purple potato salad, garlic creamed potato, crispy potato skins, champ croquette, pickle onion puree, baby onion petals, curly chives , nasturtiums, pomme souffle, bacon jelly and baked potato infusion.

Since his appearance on the show, Mark has worked with a group of potato producers and growers in the North to fight back against a decline in potato consumption.

I grew up in a very traditional family and farming is in our blood; up until I discovered a love for cooking, farming was all I knew and all I wanted to do,” Abbott said.

“Whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner, potatoes were on the menu in our house, but what many people don’t realise is every variety of potato has its uses and I am proud that I was able to showcase this during my time on Great British Menu.

“I am honoured to be an ambassador for the Mighty Spud campaign, helping to shout about the amazing produce that comes from here, and prove that the potato is anything but humble and boring.”

Mighty Spud Mark Abbott
Mark Abbott’s ‘Ordinary to Extraordinary’ dish

The Mighty Spud campaign is a promotional initiative championed by the industry that was launched three years ago.

It sought to challenge misconceptions of the potato and educate people on the versatility, convenience and health benefits of the vegetable and return the vegetable to its place as ‘king of the dinner table’.

The latest figures released by the UK Agriculture and Horticulture Board (AHDB) show, for the first time in a decade, consumption of the potato increased by 1.4% year-on-year – the equivalent to 18,000t of spuds annually – a sign the potato’s fortunes are on the turn.

Ivor Ferguson, Deputy President, Ulster Farmer’s Union and chairman of the Northern Ireland Stakeholder Potato Promotion Group (NISPPG) added: “The group was inspired to take action following some challenging years and downward trends in the sector – however we’re fighting back.

Recent figures can offer reassurance on purchasing habits and it’s really encouraging to see that, after three years of hard work, we have started to see negative trends reversed.

The Mighty Spud will also feature at the upcoming Northern Ireland Potato Festival taking place in Bushmills on Saturday, October 7.