Jack Morton always wanted to be a chef, an aspiration he has held since the age of 14. “I’ve always been interested in food and keen to get involved in what is our most dynamic industry,” he says.
Jack’s love of food led him to approach Mark Brown of Arcadia Deli on Belfast’s Lisburn Road, among the city’s oldest and most respected gourmet food and drink businesses, for a job at weekends and during school holidays.
“Mark was immensely encouraging and gave me a chance to get some experience in food retailing,” he remembers.
“I started working at Arcadia at weekends at the age of 15. I was really excited and keen to learn as much as I could about food.
“Mark and his team taught me a huge amount about the industry and especially about customer service. I loved meeting and talking to the Arcadia’s customers,” he adds.
Arcadia, of course, has a tradition of helping budding entrepreneurs. As well as offering opportunities to smaller food firms to become suppliers, Mark Brown has also helped several aspiring producers gain a foothold in food by hiring them.
Among Mark’s best examples of this supportive approach and passion for local food and drink is the outstanding success of Mike Thomson, the founder of the multi award-winning Mike’s Fancy Cheese in Newtownards, who worked on the Arcadia’s well-stocked cheese counter for many years.
Mike subsequently went on to develop the popular Young Buck raw milk blue cheese which has since become an export success in discerning markets such as France and Germany. It’s a handcrafted cheese which has won acclaim, especially among chefs here, in Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
It was Mark who suggested that Jack consider developing a fudge for the shop to sell to shoppers to the deli who come from most parts of Belfast and even from further afield for novel taste experiences.
“I decided to take him up on his suggestion,” Jack continues. “I went away with the idea and began some basic research on existing fudge and on recipes for producing it,” he explains. Suzanne, Jack’s mother, who was also a member of staff at Arcadia, weighed in with support and encouragement.
Jack continues: “I was really excited by the opportunity to make my own fudge and spent a considerable amount of my time after school on creating a product that I enjoyed. I also had a great deal of help and advice from family and friends.”
Jack developed and refined his own recipe and method of producing the fudge which he still uses today. He took samples to be tasted by Mark and the Arcadia team. “They all enjoyed the quality taste and rich flavour of the fudge and decided to try it out
with some regular customers,” he says.
Arcadia’s Mark Brown takes up the story: “Customers liked the fudge, and we decided to stock it. We are always keen to give start-up producers from Northern Ireland a helping hand.
“Such artisan and smaller producers are the lifeblood of the local food industry and are making an increasingly important contribution to the economy, especially in rural communities.”
Encouraged by the very positive feedback, Jack, who continued to make the confection while studying at university and afterwards, subsequently launched his own brand of fudge, “Jack’s”, late last year. He dreams for Jack’s to become a renowned and loved brand of fudge.
Seeking further feedback, he subsequently decided to pitch the fudge into the influential Great Taste Awards, the annual competition run by the Guild of Fine Food in Britain. And it led to a marvellous endorsement of the fudge by the expert judges who gave it one of the highest awards for outstanding food – two gold stars. Less than 15 per cent of the over 12,000 entries achieved this rating.
“Gaining two gold stars in such a challenging national competition was amazing,” he continues.
“They loved the fudge I hand make in the traditional way in small batches.
“They said it was ‘packed with the flavour of rich caramel and good butter’, ‘melts beautifully in the mouth’ with ‘a toasted caramelisation that we like a lot’.
“I could hardly have done any better. It was brilliant,” he adds.
Jack’s award-winning fudge is made by “first adding the finest quality ingredients such as Ballyrashane Butter from Coleraine and Tate and Lyle light brown sugar together”.
“We then stir our fudge mixture over open flames
in traditional maslin pans that are ideal for cooking large volumes of jams and sweets. Once thickened, we beat our fudge by hand until we get it just right,” explains Jack.
He continues to make the fudge at home in the evenings and weekends after his day job as a business researcher. In addition to the original fudge, he’s added two tasty varieties – chocolate and orange and salted caramel. He’s also started selling the products successfully at markets around Belfast, including the monthly Saturday event at the Inns on the Saintfield Road.
“It’s great to get feedback about the products from shoppers at local markets. Feedback has again been extremely positive,” he says.
He’s being assisted by mother Suzanne on his Saturday market stalls. And he’s looking forward to the day when he can devote all his time to new product development as well as sales and marketing.
“I’d love to see the fudge selling across Northern Ireland and then into Great Britain and the Republic. This is my dream,” he adds.