A French woman who has championed French food in Ireland for over 30 years, and who is about to be honoured with a major award by the French government, has urged Irish food producers to look beyond Britain for markets as the UK prepares for Brexit.
Isabelle Sheridan, who set up the food stall On the Pig's Back in the English Market in Cork almost 25 years ago, will be presented with the prestigious Medal of the Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Mérite by the French ambassador to Ireland, Jean-Pierre Thébault, on Friday.
Other recipients of the honour include former French president François Mitterrand, actor Gérard Depardieu and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
Speaking ahead of the event, Ms Sheridan said Brexit poses a huge challenge for Irish food producers.
"The prospect of Brexit is causing great uncertainty in the Irish food world, due to Ireland's huge reliance on Britain as a primary market, so it is very important to strengthen Ireland's food links with France and to help Irish producers find markets for their produce elsewhere in Europe, " she said.
A French embassy spokesman said the decision to honour Ms Sheridan with the Medal of the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite, an award which is second only to the Légion d’Honneur in terms of prestige, was due to her promotion of cultural links between Ireland and France for almost 30 years.
“Awarding the Medal of the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite to Ms Sheridan is in recognition of her contribution to both French and Irish food and her role in helping to establish strong cultural and trading links between the two countries,” said the spokesman.
He said the award was also in recognition of Ms Sheridan’s work in the local community, including establishing the Cork French Food Festival, which helped forge links between French natives living in Cork and locals.
Ms Sheridan, who was born in Montesson near Paris, said she was greatly honoured by the award.
She said she had become an adopted daughter of Cork since first arriving 30 years ago. She has married an Irish man and raised three children in the city.
She said she was pleased to have been able to promote Irish and French produce at On the Pig’s Back, which began selling French cheeses and homemade pates and terrines in 1992.
It has now expanded to include Irish cheeses, charcuterie and artisan food products.
This week’s honour is the latest in a series of awards for Ms Sheridan, who has already won a Gold Blas na hÉireann award and a Great Taste prize, as well as an Irish Food Writers’ Guild award in 2015 for her services to the Irish artisan food sector.