Can you stand the heat? Farnk Jay can as Catherine Scott discovers
There isn’t much that Frank Jay does not know about chillis.
Ten years ago he organised the UK’s first chilli festival which is now an annual event attracting around 10,000 people.
He followed this by opening a shop in his native Brighton and now he has moved north, bringing his fiery business to Leeds.
He has just opened Chilli-Shop in the Merrion Centre selling more than 50 different products, but all with one common ingredient – chilli. And, if it proves successful, Frank has plans to organise a chilli festival in Leeds next year including his famous chilli eating competition.
“I organised one of the first farmers markets in Brighton and Hove and there was a chilli stall with really hot sauces. He suggested I organise a chilli festival so I did, I couldn’t believe it when 10,000 people turned up. It was before the days of social media so we spread the word through posters and leafleting,” says Frank who now lives in Pudsey.
“I didn’t realise until then just how many chilli growers and producers of chilli products there were in this country until then, so three years ago I decided to open the shop to support the local economy, I wanted somewhere these producers could sell their products all year round, not just at food festivals and farmers markets.
“I also wanted to give people more of an experience.”
To this end Frank has created a “museum of pain” where he stocks some of the hottest products in the world. The heat of food is measure in something called a Scoville unit, named after the man who invented it.
The hottest product is Suspect Device which is made from an enhanced ghost chilli, the hottest chilli in the world and measures 13 million Scoville units. That means to dilute one drop so that there is no longer any heat you would need 13 million equivalent drops of water. “It’s dangerous stuff,” says Frank. “And we are careful who we sell it to.”
The shop does have its gimmicks, including chilli gummy bears and popping candy, but Frank is surprised by the number of foodies he gets into his Leeds store.
“I really love Leeds and decided it was the right place to open my first shop outside Brighton. I loved the location of the Merrion centre in the Arena Quarter. I knew that I would appeal to students, but I have been surprised by the genuine number of foodies who come to me.”
As well as helping local producers, he is busy trying to source Yorkshire chilli products, Frank wants to give shoppers a real experienced and they can taste a wide variety of what he has on sale.
“A lot of retail now is all about the internet and it is hard to compete with that,” says Frank who has labelled all the samples out of ten – although be warned they do go up to an eye-watering 75 out of ten.
“One to three out of ten is very mild and pretty much anyone can eat those,” he explains. “Then it starts to crank up. Another thing that has surprised me in Leeds is that people who don’t know each other really start to interact when they are talking about chilli and the sauces.
“They are also very keen to tell me about things that have tried and would like me to source, which is fantastic. Everything has to earn is place in the shop.”
Initially Chilli-Shop is on a six-month trial, but Frank is hopeful that will be extended if the amount of interest continues.