Philippa James visits FatJax, makers of chutneys and relishes in Bamber Bridge

PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 October 2013

Robert Weekes, Philippa James and Paul Ainscough

Robert Weekes, Philippa James and Paul Ainscough

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Two chefs with 50 years experience in the kitchen are relishing their new challenge as makers of seriously good chutney. Philippa James reports

Paul Ainscough and Robert Weekes in the kitchenPaul Ainscough and Robert Weekes in the kitchen

For anyone brought up on Branston Pickle, the ‘ravishing relishes’ produced by Lancashire chefs Paul Ainscough and Rob Weekes might come as a bit of a surprise. A pleasant one, of course.

FatJax chutneys and relishes, based in Bamber Bridge, has only been in operation for 18 months but their cheeky chutneys are already hot news among among those who love to be in a pickle.

They have eschewed the ‘country kitchen’ persona and gone for a modern style. After all, how many chutneys have their own Twitter account? (If you tweet it’s @bengali_chutney)

Paul and Rob worked together for ten years, including a stint at Eaves Hall, near Clitheroe.

I asked where the name FatJax came from only to discover it was they name they gave to a ‘monster burger’ that Paul used to make when he was a young chef.

Paul and Rob made chutneys and relishes to serve alongside their dishes for many years and they were always popular. Out of the blue they decided to try putting some into jars and seeing if they would sell. They did.

They now have a core range of six chutneys and six relishes. ‘We’ve changed some, and come up with some new ones. It’s been a bit of this and that and, at the end of the day, the difference is in the taste.’

What has been the biggest challenge? ‘Keeping up with demand,’ said Paul. ‘Oh, and working from home. We have to be very disciplined to keep work and home hours and allow for family time.

‘We try to finish before the family returns home, but it’s not always that simple. We only produce batches of 24 jars at a time, and they are all hand-filled, it’s incredibly labour-intensive.’

Rob added: ‘We never could have expected this level of demand.’ They did their first farmers’ market at Great Harwood in April, 2012, with two dozen of each of the 12 flavours. They are now up to 500 jars a week, and trying to mature the chutneys is becoming an increasing dilemma. They are now looking for a local production unit to keep pace with demand.

Paul’s nephew, Michael Ainscough, who graduated from Leeds University with a graphic design degree, designed the company logo. ‘We wanted a logo which was funky and contemporary, to reflect the flavours of our products,’ said Paul. Rob jumped in, adding: ‘We bounce things off each other, it’s great!’

The most popular flavour is the Fiery Bengali Pineapple ‘Cheeky’ Chutney, but hot on its heels is ‘Ravishing’ Relish, Scotch Bonnet Hot Chilli.

The company has just introduced two new flavours, Moroccan Spiced Apricot and Lemon Chutney, and Pear, Fig and Real Ale Chutney. Rob and Paul also concurred:

‘Consistency is very important to us.’ As well as selling at markets and festivals, the business is also flourishing on-line (via www.fat-jax.com)

Paul said that customer reaction can be interesting. One lady asked to try ‘something with a lot of onions in it’ so Paul gave her the Sweet Red Onion and Chilli, and the Sweet Tomato and Onion relishes to sample. She proclaimed them ‘very nice, but a bit oniony.’

The reaction of children at markets, food festivals and events has surprised Paul, too. Many children, despite warning that they are spicy, will dive into the hotter selections, and urge parents to buy jars for them.

Because of the purity of the ingredients everything is gluten-free, even down to the chips used for the samples. Paul said that people are, increasingly, picking up the jars, before they even taste the products, to see what is in them. As all their recipes are made with fresh fruit and vegetables, vinegar, sugar and spices, with no ‘fillers’, many new customers are converting to their chutneys and relishes.

The pickle pair summed up their business thus: ‘Our products are lovingly handmade by chefs and squashed into jars for you to enjoy.’ There’s no denying they are being enjoyed – and in growing numbers.

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