By SAM BUTLER
Experienced chef Ruaraidh Bailey has launched North Coast Chocolates to produce a range of vegan chocolate bon bons with unique flavours in Ballymoney.
Setting up the artisan North Coast Chocolates was a logical move when Ruaraidh, 42, decided to start a small business after more than 20 years in catering for high profile events in Britain.
“I had been responsible for major catering events in Britain for 20 years and wanted to do something a bit less pressured and creatively more rewarding,” he explains.
“The opportunity to do something different came after I moved with wife Lisa and our two young daughters to settle down near her home-town of Ballymoney.
“It was a chance to move in a completely different direction from the pressures and anxieties of large scale catering for various events,” he adds.
Originally from Scotland’s picturesque Mull of Kintyre, Ruaraidh started training as a chef shortly after leaving school.
“I had been interested in food preparation at school and had decided to train in culinary skills and to become a chef,” he continues.
It was a sensible career move from his upbringing in one of Scotland’s hospitality and tourism centres, one reinforced by Paul McCartney in his global chart topping song.
Ruaraidh expanded his knowledge and expertise in chocolate by signing up with the influential Academy of Chocolate in London, an independent membership body that’s dedicated to “real chocolate”.
“One of the reasons why I was drawn to the academy was its commitment to encourage sustainable and ethical chocolate production,” he explains.
“I had decided in my early planning for the small business to focus on ethical production and sustainability, especially in key areas such as packaging.
“I decided my chocolates should be suitable for vegans and produced from fresh ingredients,” adds Ruaraidh.
North Coast Chocolates was formed by Ruaraidh in 2013 to specialise initially on flavour filled chocolate bonbons for sale over his website, by retailers and in response to commissions from individual lovers of great tasting chocolate.
“While I made thousands of bonbons during my career in catering, my artisan products are delicate creations filled with deliciously different flavours largely sourced from local ingredients,” he explains.
The small enterprise has been assisted and advised by the Taste Causeway promotional body, Causeway Coast and Glens Council and business mentor Tangible Consulting in Belfast.
“I appreciate greatly all the encouragement and support from these bodies. It’s been invaluable,” he says.
His exquisite bonbons are made from carefully selected cocoa beans sourced directly from long-established growers for rich flavours and premium quality.
“I only use sustainably grown, well-fermented and sun-dried main crop cocoa beans traceable to farmer communities in west Africa, especially Ghana and the Ivory Coast, the two largest producers of cocoa: together they produce more than half of the world’s cocoa.
“I prefer main crop beans because they are bigger and offer better taste.
“Furthermore, farmers pack their beans in jute bags, because these protect them against humidity and drying out during their long journey to our roastery. This approach, I am convinced, guarantees a great chocolate taste,” he continues.
He says local is key to the chocolate brand. “We use only the finest local ingredients. I’ve discovered that Northern Ireland has the most divine produce and I believe this is what makes our chocolates stand out,” he adds.
Ruaraidh has linked up with other local artisans for his unusual flavours. His suppliers already include North Coast Smokehouse in Ballycastle for smoked black pepper; Causeway Coffee in Bushmills for coffee flavours; Pumpkin Spice in Portrush for spices; Sperrin Herbs in Coleraine for lemon basil; and Jam at the Doorstep in Armoy for raspberry jam.
A bespoke bonbon developed for Jawbox Gin in Belfast proved to be “a huge success”. He also grows his own peppermint and rhubarb for the bonbons.
His commitment to sustainability is reflected in his promise never to use single use plastics and focus on 100 per cent compostable packaging.
“This applies to the production, packaging and postage of all our chocolates.
“We will only use biodegradable or compostable products in our packaging,” he adds.
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