A former construction boss who lost everything in the economic crash is to be ‘knighted’ for his award-winning white pudding.
John Paul O’Connor, 61, who founded Sásta Sausages and Puddings with his wife, Kathleen, near Killorglin, Co Kerry, in 2012, will travel to France next week to accept the award from the Commanderie des Fins Goustiers du Duché d’Alencon during a ceremony organised by a brotherhood which recognises Europe’s top gourmet meat products.
Dubbed the European Championships for artisan butchers and pork food producers, it is widely acknowledged as one of the most prestigious awards in the culinary world.
John Paul will also hold talks with representatives of French supermarket giant, Carrefour, in the hope of securing a major export deal.
“I hope Irish people take inspiration from the likes of us,” says John Paul. “I never sat an exam in my life, but I am passionate about food, and what I do. I feel very strongly about this, and would like people to see that there is hope.”
The O’Connors’ white pudding won the Fins Goustiers award in Normandy last October.
However, next week’s award will mark the end of a remarkable two years for the inspirational husband and wife team, who are poised to move in to a new production plant, ramp up production and create 20 jobs.
Working in construction all his life, John Paul fell victim to the economic crash. His engineering business collapsed, with the loss of over 20 jobs.
“I found myself out of work for the first time in my life,” he says. “I was entitled to nothing, because I was self-employed, and I was too old to emigrate again.”
But the man who has always had a love of food and cooking turned his hand to crafting artisan sausages and puddings, using the finest local produce. He tested his products at farmers’ markets and food fairs, and always sold out. He said he knew then he was onto something big.
“It just sort of spiralled from there,” he says.
The couple have gone on to scoop seven national and international food awards, including one for the best sausages — with more than 90% pork — in Ireland and Britain.
“Quality is the secret,” says John Paul. W”e are not competing at the bottom end of the market. We identified and went for a niche, high-quality market.”
However, their operation at Cromane Cross outside Killorglin is operating at full capacity, producing about 500kg of sausages and pudding for farmers’ markets and specialised butcher shops, as well as five-star hotels and restaurants. They plan to relocate in March or April to bigger premises at the Kerry Food Hub near Kerry Airport and raise production to several tonnes a week with the addition of 20 staff.
John Paul, who emigrated when he was 13 and again in the 1980s, said: “Creating these 20 jobs is not just about the money, it’s about keeping people in Ireland.”