Some people travel in search of what they want, but only find it when they come home. But the process of going away enriches the traveller – broadens the mind, as they say. And sometimes, the rest of us glean the benefit.
Simon Dougan went away, spent some time in London. He was a waiter at the Waldorf, cooked posh lunches for rich insurance executives, mooched around Europe in a van. He came back for a break and found what he wanted – a chef’s job in Gilford, just up the road from where he started.
That restaurant, Sarah Moon’s, became a legend in its own lunchtime and, renamed The Yellow Door a few years on, regularly filled its tables with this island’s gastronomic cognoscenti.
However, Simon had a taste for simpler fare and an idea that others would, too. That would better be served in a deli. Inspired by the great American city delis, The Yellow Door would provide the same comfortable, easy eating infused with Simon’s own flair and style. It has become Portadown’s answer to New York’s Katz’s.
Together with its sister establishments in Lisburn and Belfast and an outside catering operation that’s second to none, The Yellow Door is buzzing, driven by an enthusiastic following for the dizzying selection of classy patisserie, delectable daily breads and an ever–changing menu that reflects the seasonal availability of fine Irish produce. Simon is a real champion for high–quality local produce, but it must meet the Dougan taste–test. “Just because it’s local doesn’t mean it’s good,” says Simon.
Happily, the Yellow Door is not short of suppliers. Simon has relied on his wife, Jilly, from the outset; her expertise in the provenance of exceptional local produce has been a huge asset and has led Simon to such ingredients as Glenarm organic salmon, Cashel Blue cheese or Moyallon bacon. Jilly also looks after what might be called the ‘home farm’; fresh herbs and vegetables are nurtured in the Dougans’ polytunnel, heritage potatoes share garden space with rhubarb, asparagus, garlic and a plethora of fruit trees. The latest addition to this culinary community is a temperamental bee colony with its own flowering hedgerow. It’s a perfect example of closing the loop – quite apart from the environmental benefits of growing close to home, there’s no better way of knowing what you’re eating.
Coming home meant more to Simon than perhaps he realised at first. Yes, there’s a Yellow Door in Belfast (“more chimney pots there”, he says) but his heart’s in the County of Armagh, as the song goes, with his family playing an integral role in the business. It’s Simon’s commitment, married to a deep passion for what he creates, that should make every one of his customers glad he came back.
The Yellow Door story (Simon’s book) http://www.blackstaffpress.com/ProductInfo.aspx?product=51