“I’ve cooked my way across the globe with a cello on my back, a yoga mat at my feet and a blender at the ready.”
These are the words of Tara-Lee Byrne, a professional raw and whole foods chef who is also the founder of Wicked Wholefoods, a selection of hand-baked gránolas inspired by grá – the Irish word for love.
Looking back, Tara-Lee’s passion for food began at a young age. She was inspired both by her mother and by a desire to make her vegetarian diet more exciting:
“My love of food was both a natural and out-of-necessity affair. My Mom is a fabulous baker and fresh brown bread was always just out of the oven in our house in Donnybrook. She was however, a safe traditional Irish cook.
“When I turned vegetarian at the age of 11, dinner tragically became potatoes, parsnips and carrots, with a lashing of Kerrygold followed by a bottomless bowl of cornflakes. My Mom said learn how to cook or else this is all you are going to get.”
So Tara-Lee set out on a mission to add variety to her diet and was hooked after cooking her first vegetarian dish, amazed at variety of flavours: “My very first dish was Mediterranean stuffed tomatoes. Dried herbs and olive oil were a revelation as I had never smelt those intoxicating smells before in my life.
“I was hooked from that very afternoon onwards and I experimented extensively with all types of vegetables, pulses and exotic spices throughout my teens. Every Sunday morning after Mass was spent scouring the shelves of the glorious food mecca, Roy Fox greengrocers in Donnybrook, which sadly closed its doors last year.”
Her love of food became more personal throughout her mother’s battle with breast cancer, a time when Tara-Lee found inspiration in the use of food as medicine, using nutrition “to heal and to prevent”.
Following multiple visits to India, she was inspired to become a professional certified raw and wholefoods chef: “I trained under the ‘King of Raw’ Matthew Kenney and afterwards got my first professional cheffing job in Crete for six months.
“This was followed by two more years travelling, savouring and chopping my way through Bali, Australia, Europe, Scandinavia and finally landing the position as head chef at Purple Valley in Goa, India, back where it all began for me. My dreams became my reality and I was vibrantly living the life I had envisioned.”
However, approaching a crossroads in her life, Tara-Lee decided to move to the West of Ireland in September 2015 to launch Wicked Wholefoods, a product inspired by her time around the “intoxicating spices” of India:
“Inspired by my travels in India, Australia and Asia, I realised no granola marrying a memorable taste experience and a multitude of health benefits existed on the market. Understanding food as preventative medicine, each ingredient in my gránola is specially chosen for its nutrient-dense profile and intense flavour.”
I combined my passion for these healing and intoxicating spices, raw organic virgin coconut oil and 15-18 nutritious ingredients. Then For the Love of Gránola was born! Its name is inspired by the love (Grá) of our bodies, our health, well-being and our family.
Due to her great love of India, Tara-Lee has sourced all her spices from the spice plantations in Goa, something that is very important to her: “We are working as directly as we can with the farmers there ensuring fair consistent prices for the highest quality spices that are available here in Ireland.”
Describing the spices used, she says: “All of our spices are freshly ground every two months and shipped directly to our kitchens in Limerick ensuring premium pungency, freshness, intense flavour and increased health benefits. None of the spices have any additional preservatives and have a shelf life of 6-9 months, which is exactly the length of life spices should have.”
Like many who set up their own business, Tara-Lee had a specific goal in mind when embarking on her Wicked Wholefoods journey. She wanted to “educate and empower people to make conscious, informed and sustainable food choices for themselves and their families. One of our primary aims is to help parents establish and sustain good eating habits for their children later in life.
Wicked Wholefoods is committed to educating people on how to protect their bodies against disease by eliminating processed and refined foods and replacing them with wholefoods and following a balanced diet rich in Protein, Dietary Fibre and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Currently, the range of Wicked Wholefoods includes For the Love of Nuts Gránola (Almond, Brazil, Cashew and Coconut) and For the Love of Gluten-Free Gránola (Buckwheat, Fig, Cashew and Cranberry). Both granolas are 100% free from wheat, refined sugar, hydrogenated fats/oils, artificial colourings, preservatives, dairy, egg and soy.
The product is also baked in organic raw virgin coconut oil, contains 15-18 clean premium ingredients and is infused with a unique blend of freshly ground spices. For Tara-Lee, it’s important that “every ingredient we choose is for its health benefits and flavour”.
Wicked Wholefoods has been continuously growing over the past year and for Tara-Lee, there have been some definite standout moments along the way:
“There have been so many highlights in the past year and being featured in VOGUE Magazine UK in May for our distinct Gránola packaging was definitely one of them. I always dreamed I would grace the pages of VOGUE posing naked and pregnant, strategically positioned behind my cello and not for the Love of Nuts Gránola!”
The beautifully distinct packaging she’s speaking of was designed by Irish designers, Colim Mac Athlaoich and Erin McClure. Tara-Lee has known Colm since she was 12 year’s old, so working together on this project was very special.
Elsewhere, Wicked Wholefoods was awarded Bronze in the Bank of Ireland Start-Up Awards for Best Emerging Start-Up, and they are currently shortlisted for Dunnes Stores’ Small Producer of The Year in the Irish Quality Food Choice Awards, something Tara-Lee says is “a great testament to the visibility of our brand, what we as a new business has achieved as a small producer start-up and the quality of our products,”
But for Tara-Lee, the most important part of her work comes from the personal interaction and conversation she has with her loyal customers:
People buy brands not products. Our customers trust us as they know we invest in their health with every decision we make as a conscious food company.
“We care more about their health than our bottom line and profit margin, and this is how we have operated from the beginning and will continue to do so.”
And it looks like there are only good things to come for Tara-Lee who has a very busy few months ahead of her in the run-up to Christmas, including the exciting launch of her limited edition Christmas Cake.
With no refined sugar, gluten or wheat, this cake is baked instead with ground almonds, organic Irish butter, organic Irish eggs, figs, dates, cranberries, jumbo flame raisins, studded with walnuts, almonds, and infused with freshly ground spices and freshly squeezed citrus juices.
Looking towards 2018 and Tara-Lee is launching “a range of sustainably produced and sourced lifestyle products. In mid-2018 we will launch a distribution company for our range of spices directly sourced from India. It has always been a goal to open a Wicked Wholefoods café we just cannot decide exactly where albeit it Ireland, Australia or Bali. The debate continues.”
To stay up-to-date with Tara-Lee and Wicked Wholefoods, visit wickedwholefoods.com.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.