Talented South African chef Fairley Ramraj has created a novel sauce that draws from his upbringing in Johannesburg, his family heritage in India and time spent in Portugal.
He’s now working as a chef in Derry and resident there with wife Hannah and young son.
The decision to set up a small business, Fairley’s Flavours, is a new direction for the skilled chef who is particularly keen on developing business opportunities for sauces and other products for people here interested in savouring different cuisines from around the world.
Fairley says his small business, which he launched in October 2019 with Hannah, was “born from a passion for South African cuisine, with flavours from Portugal, India and maybe a bit of Ireland too!”. He continues: “We’re still in our early days as a new food company that’s determined to create products that bring local people a real taste sensation!
“Of course, we’d hope to be exporting in the future, especially to Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
“However, our main focus is currently on establishing our first sauce in the local marketplace. We’ve already gained sales in a number of local delis and butchers.
“Growing up in Johannesburg within the substanatial Indian community there, my family was always cooking bold and spicy dishes with fresh ingredients that were outstandingly tasty,” he remembers.
The Indian community in Johannesburg, a global megacity, is one of the largest in the African nation. The cuisine there is known for its variety and especially cured meat and spicy salads.
Fairley subsequently studied as a chef in a culinary school in South Africa’s biggest city and then started his own small food and beverage business there.
“I’d always wanted to run my own food business to enable me to create different flavours and taste experiences that I love,” he continues. When he moved to Northern Ireland seven years ago he missed the flavours from his home country and so he decided to bring them here.
His decision was also heavily influenced by the coronavirus lockdown, which paused his work as a chef in a local restaurant.
“It certainly encouraged me to develop another option by using my experience of running a small food business in South Africa to set up a small enterprise with my wife in our adopted home, which has been going through an exciting food revolution.” Fairley’s Flavours first product is a delicious Pirigo Sauce, a marinade and pouring sauce for meat, seafood or vegetables.
“Our favourite way to use the new sauce is on the BBQ – or Braai, as it’s known at home in South Africa.
“I came across Pirigo in Portugal and loved it. It’s essentially a tomato-based sauce with a blend of key ingredients such as olive oil, garlic, spices, paprika, lemon juice and chillies.
“In fact, there are 15 different ingredients that I’ve blended into my own version of the creamy, spicy and aromatic sauce,” he explains. “It’s also ideal for vegans,” he adds.
He says that Portuguese cuisine is based on grilled fish, seafood and local meat dishes with olive oil.
Fairley also drew on experience and advice from Emily McCorkell, a native of Philadelphia who now runs Lo&Slo, another successful spicy sauce producer for BBQs and other meals, in the city.
“Emily was tremendously supportive and helped me in a number of areas that made it much easier for me to produce the sauce in handy 265ml bottles.
“She’s very entrepreneurial and has a great business going here.
“She’s also a great supporter of the LegenDerry food scheme, which promotes local artisan food and drink. There’s great camaraderie among food artisans in the city,” Fairley says. Emily also pointed him in the direction of Foodovation at the North West Regional College in the city. Foodovation is Northern Ireland’s successful business centre of excellence for food development and technology.
Aimed at providing a one-stop-shop for current and aspiring industry producers across the Derry and the North West, Foodovation is a state-of-the-art research and development centre which promotes excellence in food innovation, science and technology.
As well as encouraging and nurturing small to medium sized food businesses, Foodovation provides industry specialists, most notably being a cadre of experienced business mentors who provide a broad range of technical advice to help start-ups and existing smaller business identify – a route to market that is likely to be successful and sustainable.
Fairley was able to draw from Foodovation mentors advice in areas as diverse as nutritional information and packaging.
He also joins the growing list of food entrepreneurs who have chosen to live and work here from other parts of the world. There are South African foodies such as Louis Ludik and Schalke van der Merwe of Belfast-based Hellbent; and Ilsa van Standen, who owns Ke Nako Biltong in Ballyclare with her partner Alanagh.
In addition, Jose Andre, a native of Portugal who owns L’Artisan Bakery in Craigavon; Italian natives Luca Montorio from Turin, a producer of sauces and ketchup, Davide Tani, a mozzarella cheese maker from Sardinia, and Gaetano Bonora of Puglia, a pasta producer, are all contributing to the local food sector.