Bord Bia’s Bernadette Byrne has been awarded a prestigious honour by the l’Académie Culinaire de France for her work promoting Irish beef.
She becomes the first Irish person and one of only a handful of non-French people to receive the Chevalier de l’Ordre Mondial. The oldest association of culinary and pastry chefs in the world, l’Académie Culinaire was created in 1883 by Joseph Favre; it now has 900 members in 27 nations.
Since its creation in the 1800s the Chevalier award has only ever been held by two women, both of whom were French. Ms Byrne was instrumental in Irish beef being chosen as the key meat ingredient at the Bocuse d’Or culinary competition in Lyon, France.
“The award was a big surprise to me, I really didn’t see it coming,” said Bernadette Byrne, a Paris-based marketing executive with Bord Bia for the past 30 years. “First of all, I am not French; these awards are very much part of the French culinary network.
“As my job is to promote quality Irish beef and lamb in France, I would have thought I was outside the system. I work very closely with French chefs, and with members of the Chefs’ Irish Beef Club, for which a lot of Michelin star chefs are ambassadors and talk about the quality of Irish beef and lamb. My award is really a testament to the quality of the Irish beef and lamb product.”
A native of Rathangan, Co Kildare, Ms Byrne has been hugely successful in helping to build the reputation of Irish meat products from her base in Paris over the past three decades.
In 2010, encouraged by Ms Byrne, the Chefs’ Irish Beef Club launched a recipe booklet, which has been endorsed and supported by 11 prestigious beef club members. Some 1.5m copies of the recipe booklet were distributed to French consumers.
The selection of Irish beef for use in the Bocuse d’Or was a major coup. Widely regarded as the ‘Olympics of the Culinary World’, the Bocuse d’Or is a centrepiece of the SIRHA foodservice trade show, which attracts over 170,000 food buyers and almost 5,000 international chefs. Irish beef proved a very popular choice among chefs at SIRHA.
“This has been a particularly special year,” said Ms Byrne. “Around 1,600 top class chefs cooked with Irish beef at the Bocuse d’Or in January. The work to get the support for that event was done over many years.
“France is a difficult market. It is a huge food nation with its own very strong agri-food industry and rich culinary tradition. They like Irish beef and lamb. If the quality was not up to scratch, they would not be using it in their kitchens.”
The elite Chefs’ Irish Beef Club has also been a big success. Created by Bord Bia in 2004, the club is an exclusive European forum which brings together some of the world’s leading Michelin Star chefs to collectively endorse the high quality of Irish beef by serving it in the finest restaurants across Europe.
The president of the Chefs’ Irish Beef Club is Jean Paul Jeunet, a chef and owner of several hotels and restaurants in Paris. Its members range from Jacques Cagna, the recently retired Parisian chef to Hollywood stars, to hugely respected new chefs like Romuald Fassenet.
Bernadette Byrne has been living in France since 1981, where she started working for the Irish Livestock and Meat Board. She began working with Bord Bia in 1994.
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