This week we spoke to Ben from Dalston Chillies, the man of many talents who has had almost every job in the books – from lecturing in sound engineering, various graphics jobs to making sauces and DJing in his spare time. Impressive much?! “There’s not much of a link between them all apart from creativity.” Ben studied Art, Photography, Graphics, Film and has always made music on the side. He went on to do a degree in Sonic Art, “which is obviously very useful in everyday life! I was always encouraged to help out with cooking when I was a kid. I don’t really see cooking and making music, taking pictures to be that different. Add a bit more salt, turn the drum level up a bit, alter the lighting, it’s all about getting the right balance with all your elements.”
There are currently 3 delicious flavours – Original Hot, made with Scotch bonnet chillies, The Chipotle Ketchup and the Bajun Hot Sauce. One of the sauces is in Honest Burger’s Dalston Chilli burger, they have been featured in the Evening Standard and named one of them best hot sauces by Short List. Ben tells me how it all flourished from making sauces for himself and friends to bringing them along to DJ sets he was playing, to eventually quitting his day job and selling sauces full time.
How did it all start?
“I used to make a hot sauce for myself (the one that’s now called Original Hot Sauce) and friends tried it and asked me to make some for them, then their friends tried it and asked for some and so it went on. I DJ, although not as much these days because I’m in the kitchen all the time. But I used to have people say I see you’re on the flyer for here, bring some sauce down and I’d be selling bottles over the decks while I was DJing! Then, in 2011 a friend told me about the Fiery Foods Festival in Brighton, it’s a chilli festival and they have an amateur hot sauce competition there. So I entered and out of around 50 entries I came second place. One of the judges came up to me afterwards and said my sauce was better than most of the sauces they’d had in the professionals competition the day before and I should really try to push it a bit. We had a lot of friends on the London food scene at the time and I gave bottles to a few street food guys to see what people thought of it and then while the Olympics were on in the summer of 2012 I gave some to a friend who had a few restaurants and ran some street food events. He started tweeting about it quite a bit and when he opened up a new restaurant in January 2013, he was the first proper bricks and mortar restaurant to use it. It kept escalating from there and I handed my notice in at my day job at the end of 2014 and have been full time since early 2015.”
What does local mean to you? What do you like most about this area?
“I’m very lucky to live in such a vibrant area, we have some amazing shops and small producers around and being able to shop internationally, locally is one of the reasons I’ve stayed in Hackney for so many years. Within 10 minutes of my house I can probably eat 30 different cuisines. I can shop at the Indian shop, the Polish shop, the Turkish shop or one of the local deli stores that stock small producers from around the area. There’s a thriving scene locally and I’m happy to be a part of it. Being as obsessed with food as I am, I don’t think I could deal without the international options I have here anymore.”
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
“The biggest challenge was scaling to handle demand. When I first started I was making sauces at the weekend, and working all week. Soon that turned into evenings after work and weekends and when that became too much, I quit my job to give it a try full time. It was a terrifying thing to do at the time! Knowing I was solely responsible for my own wages was a big worry but within a couple of months I wondered what all the worry was for.”
What are your plans for the future?
“My next step will be moving into larger premises and hiring a member of staff. So ask me again in 12 months time and I’ll hopefully be saying how easy that one was a couple of months in! As for 5 years from now, I’m not sure. I’ve never really made long term plans to be honest. I’d like to see the business continue to grow as it has been over the last 3 years and ideally I’d like to have a kitchen team on production so I’m free to work on new recipes and get a bit more hands on pushing the brand forward.”
You can buy the amazing sauces on worldofzing.
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