Top chef Nina blends healthy granolas from artisan foods
A serious health scare led talented chef Nina Cristinacce to take a take a tighter grip of her own diet and to start focusing on foods that were good for her including homemade breakfast granolas.
Originally from Corsica but based in Bangor for the past 22 years, Nina subsequently decided to launch Morning Glory Granola Company, a small artisan business specialising in breakfast foods which are low in sugar and without additives and also feature largely locally sourced ingredients.
She was encouraged to do so by family and friends who sampled her handcrafted granolas and wanted to be able to buy them from Nina and local stores.
“I had cancer around 10 years ago and this led me to look closely at my diet,” Nina, now the head chef in the Guillemot café overlooking the harbour in Bangor, explains. “Tasting food being cooked means it isn’t always easy for a chef to keep a tight grip on diet especially in terms of salt and sugar. But I was really determined to recover control and to start eating food for my health.”
She began investigating the provenance of products, and the impact additives, sugar and preservatives have on overall health and wellbeing.
“As a chef in a very busy and popular cafe, I knew the importance of starting the day with a healthy breakfast. This was especially important because it’s not always easy to eat at regular times during the day working in a restaurant kitchen,” she continues.
Nina, a graduate in Hotel and Catering Management from Sheffield Hallam University in 1994, started exploring breakfast options and eventually to launch her own handmade granolas, focusing on carefully selected and local produce.
“The impact of the food we eat on our overall health has now become such a massively important issue and starting the day well is essential. I believe that the perfect kick start for the metabolism is provided by a healthy bowl of granola,” she explains.
The journey that brought Nina to Bangor began when she decided against a career in hospitality management and instead to pursue her passion for good food by joining a catering company working on television and movie projects in Britain and further afield.
“It made sense for me to explore a career in catering because I’ve been passionate about food and cooking from my childhood in Corsica,” Nina says.
“I loved the French and Italian culinary influences on the island and especially the sharp focus on locally grown foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, cured meats and cheese. There’s great meat for hearty stews and excellent seafood. There’s much that Corsica shares with Northern Ireland in the quality of its meats seafood, vegetables and dairy.”
Food is her passion - the tastes, textures, aromas, the stories behind every small producer, the joy of creation, the friendships formed through food.
Her parents left Corsica for London when Nina was still a child. She came to Belfast to provide the on-set catering for the cast involved in a production for BBC Television of a work written by Bangor journalist and writer Colin Bateman….and stayed.
“I loved Northern Ireland, the quality and variety of the food and made a number of good friends here,” she reiterates.
She subsequently brought her passion for food to The Drawing Room, her own small café on Gray’s Hill in Bangor.
“It wasn’t the right location because of a lack of footfall and parking difficulties in the area close to the largely derelict Queen’s Parade which has been awaiting regeneration for around 20 years,” she says.
Morning Glory Granola, which Nina launched in 2016, was born out of her love of simple, wholesome and nutritious food especially from local suppliers. “There are many marvellous and quality-focused food suppliers here, and I was keen to incorporate as many as practicable in my range of granolas. Included in the seven-strong range are Irish oats from Flahavan’s, cacao nibs from top chocolate maker Neary Nogs, Armagh apples, local honey, dulse from Quality Sea Veg and free range eggs from Clements. In addition, the granolas are cooked in Broighter Rapeseed Oil from Limavady.
Assistance in developing her start-up enterprise was provided through the council’s Go for It programme.
She’s also come up with some funky names for the granolas such as Rock the Kasbah, Wild at Heart and The Morning After, the latter featuring spent grain from the Bullhouse Brewery in Belfast. The waste grain from brewing is rich in high in protein and fibre and rich in nutrients. Rock the Kasbah features the flavours of Morocco such as dates, apricots, spices and cashews.
Nina, in addition, has created different flavours for Corries, now among the most successful farm shop/delis groups, such as Apple Pie. She also supplying granolas to other delis and to LocalboxNI, a successful food hamper delivery business.
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