The spicy business of Kent Chilli Farm
09:31 02 August 2012
When Steve Weller describes putting on gloves, a mask and goggles to get ready for work, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was dealing with lethal substances.
In fact, he wears this garb for handling the Bhut Jolokia, rated the fourth hottest chilli in the world and with a gasp-factor of 50 times that of Tabasco sauce.
Steve is the proud owner of 3,000 chilli plants which he grows in a greenhouse off Leyton Cross Road in Wilmington.
He has 30 different varieties of chilli which derive from across the world, from Africa to America, the Caribbean to China.
Some are tall and gangly with curvy red chillis hanging off them, others are petite with delicate flowers that are deceptive of the power that their fruit bears. There is the Hungarian which is decorated with chunky midnight-black chillis, and the Centennial whose chillis change from purple to yellow to orange to red.
A victim of redundancies in publishing, the former graphic-designer, 45, decided three years ago to make a business out of his hobby.
“I find chillis fascinating. People don’t realise that they are the oldest condiment in the world. When you see them they look almost plastic but they have so many health benefits,” he said.
The dad of two started out with 180 chilli plants in his back garden and upgraded to the greenhouse.
Although he began with just selling plants he now produces a range of Kent Chilli Farm sauces, chutneys and jams, and it is all made by hand.
“I grow the chillis, I designed the labels and then I sit in my kitchen chopping the ingredients and cooking it up on the stove. I only live 10 minutes from the nurseries so in terms of food miles it’s practically nothing,” he said.
His philosophy of keeping things local is something he wants to spread and he has visited schools in Bexley to get children involved.
“Kids are very ignorant with food. You would be surprised how many children don’t know where crisps come from,” he said. “The sooner everyone starts growing their own products you will see how much cheaper it is.”
Kent Chilli Farm is now sold at festivals around the area and received a best stall award at this year’s Dartford Festival. Chillis always attract the crowds, especially the odd over-confident customer, such as the woman who declared she could handle any spicy food but ended up on her hands and knees after one taste. With people’s resilience ranging from heat-freak to korma-cool, Steve is keen to cater for all taste buds.
“I want it hot but it is all about flavour,” said Steve, who confirms he eats chilli with everything, from sandwiches and salads to roast dinners, although he calls it quits with cornflakes. “It should not be about how much it hurts.”
He does, however, make a chutney called Little Devil and a sauce called Diablo, which suggest they will indeed blow your head off.