By SAM BUTLER
Belfast-based sauce maker Tim McCarthy is now contributing to what he describes as “the French Hot Sauce Revolution”. Founder of the artisan Blackfire Foods in south of the city, Tim has created a range of spicy sauces, several of which have gained national awards for quality and outstanding flavours, which he’s now exporting successfully to France, Germany and Poland.
His fiery sauces are infused with chilli oils and dry spice mixes and are also proving popular in his native Belfast. They are gluten-free and suitable for vegans.
“I am delighted by the growing popularity of the sauces with specialist retailers from Nantes in France to Warsaw, the Polish capital. It’s all very exciting for my small business,” he says.
He explains: “Many European countries traditionally don’t use spice or more specifically chillies in their national cuisines.
“The inclusion of hot peppers tends to be at a regional level with Italy, Bulgaria, Portugal and Hungary all producing chilli pepper dishes as regional specialities as well as growing indigenous domestic pepper varieties.”
The former graphic designer admits that it was ”a bit of a shock” when orders started to come in for his award-winning hot sauces from countries such as Poland, Germany and France.
“For countries which are traditionally conservative when it comes to food, the orders were at the hotter end of our range as well as our super spicy infused Birdseye chilli oil made with Sichuan and pink peppercorns and our lip-tingling Thai Birdseye chilli.”
To put things into context, he continues his explanation, saying: “Northern Ireland would have been seen as a culinary conservative country up until recently.
“The advent of the internet, cheaper global travel and the influx of cultures into Northern Ireland have all helped us to expand our taste buds and have higher expectations when it comes to food on our plates.
“Fantastic chefs, creative restaurants, delis and international awards for our food sectors have also been the catalyst for rapid change. So why not France and Germany?
“People across the world have been eating chilli peppers for at least 6,000 years … and for very good reason.
“Not only do they make bland food more interesting but they are packed with vitamin C and antioxidants and also help to de-toxify and burn body fat.
“Current studies, furthermore, suggest that peppers may reduce the risk of cancer,” adds Tim.
Research showed that the UK market for seasonings and condiments was worth over £2 billion annually. The potential for trading in the European markets was huge, he says.
The company is keen to build on the growing interest in the spicy sauces and to expand business opportunities in key nations such as France, Germany and Poland.
To help realise this ambition and accelerate growth in Europe, Blackfire has recently signed up to several online retail portals, which are providing a global shop window for the products.
Describing himself as “Chief Alchemist”, Tim has created original sauces whose colourful names include Pain in the Hole, Belfastard, Botanic and Hot House.
They are the outcome of his original search for hot sauces here.
“I could never really get a hot sauce here that I liked,” he explains.
“I thought to myself that I could start making it myself and started handing out samples a few years ago. I created my own branding. Feedback on the sauces was hugely positive,” he explains.
Tim, a graduate of the Art College in Belfast who has worked in design and broadcasting, began marketing the sauces around 2014 and was supported by top delis Sawer’s and Arcadia, both in Belfast.
Other specialist retailers such as French Village, Comber’s Indie Fude, and Creighton’s at Finaghy followed as also did awards in UK Great Taste.
He then participated in local food markets such as St George’s in Belfast, Junction One in Antrim and at Glenarm
He also now grows his own chilli peppers in polytunnels at the back of his home in Finaghy. Other growers in Ireland and Britain supply him.
He’s benefitting from the Great Taste award, describing it as “a real feather in the cap” and “a tremendous boost for the business”. “There are certain delis who will only stock produce from producers which have gained the Great Taste Awards, it’s the gold standard of food production and I’m delighted about that. “The chili sauce community is like Star Trek, Star Wars fans, they are die hard, they turn up and ask about the acidity of the chillies I’ve used. They want to know about the whole process.”
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