IT is safe to say the humble hamburger – popular throughout the world – has crossed the cultural divide.
Now one Banbridge man and his family are going to great lengths to bring all manner of new cultures to events throughout Ireland with what they claim is the widest range of exotic steakburgers available in the UK.
Dave Mateer, his wife Dee and their sons Stephen and Robbie run Safari Steakburgers, providing a range of meat that wouldn’t normally feature at the average family barbecue.
From the slightly better known kangaroo, wild boar and crocodile, to the almost unheard of Blesbok, Impala (both types of antelope) and Mouflon (wild sheep) the regular beefburger is at risk of seeming boring when it comes to those hot summer days of ‘chucking a steak on the barbie’.
Dave, a former security worker and lorry driver, and his Limerick-born wife of 18 years Dee have thrown themselves into what they see as a fast-growing market for more-interesting-than-your-average meats.
Known locally as the provider of manys a morning breakfast along the A1 carriageway under the Licensed to Grill name and with their constant presence at Biggerstaff’s Garage in Kinallen, the couple have branched out from bacon and sausages to bison and springbok.
The enthusiasm with which they talk of the business - which boasts five staff members in total and is on the look-out for a few more - is palpable. Dave is the self-professed entertainer at events they cater for across Ireland, enjoying banter with the customers as they quiz him on where the meat is sourced, not to mention what exactly it is!
Dee meanwhile, having worked in a bank for most of her adult life, makes sure the accounts are in order as well as giving up her weekends to serve all manner of steakburgers when required.
The couple have ploughed a lot of money into a new state-of-the-art barbecue, not to mention their fully kitted-out chip van.
But, in the seven years they’ve catered for Banbridge and beyond both have noticed a radical change in what people, and large events, want.
“People don’t want chip vans at these big events anymore,” said Dave, who admits he has ‘sweated blood’ in fixing up their own and moderating it over the years.
“They want healthier options, and something a bit different.”
The 2007 Buskfest was the turning point for the business. After requesting a spot at what Dave said he sees as the district’s biggest date of the year, he was told there were enough suppliers of chips and regular meats.
When faced with the prospect of not being able to have a presence there Dave, who his wife admits “can’t say no to anyone and sees nothing as impossible”, saw it as a challenge.
“I went off and looked at what we could offer them instead, and came across the exotic meats,” he said, with a smile that says he made the right choice.
“We served ostrich, venison, wild boar, crocodile and kangaroo.”
Unsure at first how the good people of Banbridge might react to such a different range, the couple’s apprehension was soon put to rest as queues formed and orders totted up.
“A mate of mine had come up from Dublin to visit that day and ended up having to work with us because of the demand,” Dave recalled.
From there the couple have never looked back. While not everyone is a fan - an animal rights activist once took pictures of the van at an event and threatened to badger them into shutting down - Dave assures all his customers that the meat is prepared in a humane way and none of the animals are endangered.
Progress for Safari Steakburgers was slow at first, they admit, with bigger, more established companies getting their pitches in ahead of them or having the ability to pay a higher attendance fee.
Northern Ireland remains a challenge though, with both agreeing the southern market has been easier to break into.
“Across the border they have a flat rate and if you can pay it and are good enough you’re in,” said Dave.
“Here it is more difficult because most events want you to bid for a place and prices can be high.”
Palettes on either side of the border differ too according to Dave, with Northern punters asking him to ‘Burn it up’ while those in the south enjoy their meat rare and are a little more adventurous in choice.
With the whole family pitching in, it is fair to say a vegetarian would have a tough time living in the Mateer household.
Six freezers sit in the garage, stocked full of the aforementioned delicacies, and a Sunday dinner is a rarity as most weekends are booked for events.
But the family have no shortage of time spent together – whether its Sea Sessions in Donegal, Castlepalooza music festival in Offaly or the horse racing track in Portmarnock, they travel together.
Older son Robbie (20) is in America on an placement this year, and his dad said he is “itching to get back because things are really taking off”.
Closer to home the big gig this year is the Halloween Festival in Derry city, something that may eventually lead to events like Belfast Christmas market Dave hopes.
“We were really chuffed to get the event in Londonderry,” he said. “We have some more exciting events in the pipeline too. I really see the potential for this market and hope we can build on what we have here.”
During the interview an email comes through confirming a private event for mid-January, traditionally a quiet time according to Dave.
His confidence – he challenges anyone in the business in the UK with a wider range than 34 exotic meats to come forward – combined with the close-knit family nature of the company, and the obvious dedication they all have, hints that this venture might just be coming to a Christmas market near you soon.
All-new Christmas burger is a winner
YOU’VE got mulled wine, mistletoe and are feeling pretty merry. All that’s missing for Christmas to be truly present is your...burger?
Safari steakburgers are promising to help you taste the season of goodwill in an all-encompassing burger this year,
At a bushtucker trial-esque tasting session in Dave and Dee Mateer’s Banbridge home I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to taste the new creation - and gave it a massive thumbs up.
After two weeks of trial and error with the exact recipe the burger arrived at the Mateer household and 17-year-old Stephen - the brains behind the newest flavour - gave it the seal of approval.
This weekend the newest addition to the company’s 34-strong exotic steakburger list will go on sale alongside their old favourites - of which I also had a taste.
I’ll admit to not being the most adventurous when it comes to food, so I was relieved when Dave promised not to reveal exactly what I was eating until I’d tasted all five burgers.
The strong, tough meats of Venison and Kangaroo were not to my taste. And the pig’s cousin Wild Boar also surprised me as a self-confessed bacon fan, with its chewy texture not my kind of thing for dinner.
The Christmas burger, instantly recognisable by its contents of turkey (above), ham and stuffing, was definitely up my street.
And the crocodile and chicken burger combo - popular with children especially Dave tells me - could be a grower with me. Add some tomato ketchup and I think we’d have been on to a winner.
So long as I can have a side of fries with that of course.