Culinary Entrepreneurship Student Wins Gold at Blas na hEireann Awards

A Culinary Entrepreneurship student from Athlone Institute of Technology took home the top prize at this year’s Blas na hEireann awards for his ‘Slow Roasted Smokey Pulled Pork’ sensation. Ciaran Kiveney, an accomplished chef with more than 15 years’ experience under his belt, developed the artisan ‘ready meal’ product for Irish pork producer Waldron Meats as part of his final year culinary placement.

The culinary creation, which won gold in the ‘Ready Meals & Prepared Foods, Hot (Meat)’ category, was dreamt up while he was working at a local gastro pub. “I did my market research and looked at what was popular on restaurant menus in the locality. At the time, I was working as a chef in one of the well-known eateries in Athlone, so I had an idea of what pork-based dishes were popular,” Mr Kiveney said.

After speaking to his culinary peers and to Waldron’s owners, the culinary entrepreneur decided to create an accessible product capable of bringing the restaurant experience into the everyday person’s dining room. “I tried to consider the needs of the average consumer who doesn’t have the time to make proper pulled pork - a slow and lengthy process that can take more than five hours. This new pulled pork dish is slow-roasted, smoky and delicious and best of all, it’s fuss-free. Just pop it into the oven and hey presto! Anyone can make a pulled pork dish in less than 20 mins - you don’t have to be a chef,” he added.

Mr Kiveney, who took a ‘stepping stone’ approach to his education, returned to Athlone Institute of Technology in 2016 as a mature student to complete his undergraduate studies. He enrolled in the institute’s Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Culinary Entrepreneurship with a view to upskilling and transitioning into a career in the Food Product Development sector. His work placement formed an integral part of the industry-focused culinary entrepreneurship degree.

In creating this new product, Mr Kiveney implemented many of his new skills in market research, development and scientific testing to ensure the product was suitable for market. He needed to understand the product’s target audience and the practicalities around distribution and storage. Working closely with husband and wife team, Yvonne and Michael Waldron, he carried out myriad tests, including batch testing and shelf-life testing, to great success. “When we vacuum packed the product and left it, we were getting around three weeks out of it, making it ideal for distribution to supermarkets,” he said.

Bord Bia approved, Waldron Meats has a longstanding reputation for producing only the highest quality, Irish pork products. So confident are they in their range, the Waldron’s enter all new products into the Blas na hEireann awards for blind taste testing. “It’s a good test to see if products are viable; if they’ll be well received by the public,” Mr Kiveney said. “When we entered my pulled pork product and made the shortlist, we knew we were onto a winner. To win the gold award for Waldron Meats is incredible, we’re all delighted.”

Commending the institute on the calibre of its students, Mrs Waldron said: “Close collaboration with Athlone Institute of Technology is of huge benefit to our company and, in turn, gives us the opportunity to showcase the wealth of talent we have here in the Midlands. We will continue to work closely with the college in the years to come.”

Congratulating Mr Kiveney on the award, Lecturer in Strategic Management and Applied Culinary Science Kevin McLoughlin said: “Ciaran has levered all the skills and knowledge he gained whilst studying for his degree in Culinary Entrepreneurship, using his internship to develop Waldron Meats portfolio and now his own business to custom deliver dietary requirements for his clients. We’re extremely proud of what he has accomplished to date and wish him all the best in his entrepreneurial endeavours as he moves onto this exciting new chapter.”

Dedicated to the celebration of quality Irish produce, the Blas na hEireann awards constitute the largest blind tasting event in the country. Its rigorous judging system, developed in line with international industry standards, requires that all packaging and identifying features are removed from products before being presented to ensure a level playing field for both large and small producers. The competition’s judges include chefs, restaurateurs, academics, journalists, authors, food champions, caterers and enthusiastic home cooks. More than 2,500 products were entered into this year’s competition.

Distinguished by outstanding learner experience, applied education and an industry-focussed approach to research and innovation, AIT is currently ranked 9th nationally in The Sunday Times league table comprising of Irish universities and institutes of technology. Considering a career in culinary arts or food product development? Click here for a full list of relevant courses.

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