By Aidan Kelly posted 21-10-2021 09:00



Aidan trained at the IT Tralee, leaving as NTCB student of the year. He spent his Commis years in the Blue Haven in Kinsale, and credits Sheen Falls and L’Ecrivain as where he learned his trade. Aidan has been Sous Chef and Head Chef in some busy hotels and restaurants, picking up some medals en route.

For the last 6 years Aidan has been his own boss, the last 3 being in The Grillshack, a very busy and funky restaurant in Kildare, where he also produces his range of hot sauces.



It's been a strange old year for all the food industry in every part of the world, but it won't be long until we are back to some normality for those lucky enough to have outdoor dining facilities.

For those chefs who had longed for a change but never had the time between long hours at work and family this was an opportunity do what they were always saying, to work for themselves and to make their own mistakes. An opportunity to pull that old horsebox, that old van, shipping containers all to be filled with kitchen equipment.  From fast food, fine dining, pastries and coffees popping up on side streets, country roads, towns and city car parks all over the country, this was inspiring and long may it last.

This is a quick story about my year through lockdown and my journey through the Aldi grow programme and how accessible it is to all chefs and caterers in Ireland.

Like most chefs my hot sauce recipe was Frank's and butter, around 10 litres a week and 16 lbs of butter, pretty pricey. I started looking at the ingredients in Frank's and other hot sauces.  I am a chef and should really be cooking this from scratch using fresh chillies. After a few attempts I got it to where I wanted it, smooth spicy and with no butter and no complaints from the customers.

I started jarring small batches and selling them from the restaurant for charity.   I was happy with that, tipping away. One night as I flicked through Facebook instead of sleeping, the Aldi grow programme popped up.  I thought to myself ‘why not, I'll enter, it maybe something for down the road, you'd never know’.

Days passed and I had thought nothing more about Aldi or the hot sauce when I received an email. “Aidan you are down to the last 100 and we'd like to meet you at the heritage Hotel”. I took the morning off and headed for Killenard with my 1 jar of hot sauce, a few fresh chillies, a bulb of garlic and no expectations -  it was a free lunch.

When I arrived the carpark was Jammed with catering vans (pre covid) from all over the country, some of these boys and girls had been at this business for years but I was there to have a look and hopefully gain a bit of experience from their world and of course see what was for lunch.

In the centre of the large conference room there were last year’s winners.  There didn't seem to be many 'contestants' talking to them, so I took the opportunity to chat to all of them. It hit me that these guys were just normal Joe Soaps like myself; housewives, farmers, young entrepreneurs (chancers), like myself. I asked them all the same questions:

What made you stand out? (as a lot of similar products to these where on sale already)

What happened when you received your order? (all of them had the same reaction, joy and then fear)

And finally, what was their reaction when the won (their answers where hilarious most of which involved cursing and the sudden realisation of the massive task ahead)

This had put a smile on my face.  We were than ushered off to get our pictures taken before our dreaded 7 minutes with the buyers (dragon’s den style). With no inhibitions I took my seat with my buyer.  I placed my single jar of hot sauce followed by my fresh chillies and a bulb of garlic on to the table.  That broke the Ice.

It turned out to be a nice chat, he had heard of the restaurant, and I got my points across. The seven minutes flew, with that I got up and got myself another free coffee a sandwich and stuck a banana in my pocket then headed for work. In the back of my mind was the feeling that that went pretty well but this quickly went out of my mind as I had a busy week instore.

1 week later I received an email from the Grow team to say I had made it to the last 50 and they would like to order 4000 units, (HolyS#$t) there it was, the joy followed straight away by the fear, how the hell will I pull this one off?

Aldi In fairness, were there to help constantly and had days where they filled us in on what was needed. At these days we had time to mingle which I did.  I got talking to Janet from Janet's country Fayre, an absolute Lady. She answered all my questions (there was a lot of them) and pointed me in the right direction of bulk buying jars and most importantly where to get my sauce tested by ALS regarding nutrition, date and allergens.  She even pointed out that one of my allergens on the jar would be boiled out (sulphates from the vinegar).  She took my jars and sent it down herself...Legend.


Then Covid hit, the restaurant closed so I didn't have to worry about time. I had all the time in the world.

Without boring you anymore, pulling in the whole family, nieces, nephews & staff to label we got it to the shelves on time and although I didn't win, you can't underestimate the massive feeling of pride you feel that anyone would buy your product.

What I learned was invaluable and I have gone on to sell 20,000 in the last year with a massive thank you to Aldi for 2 new orders including this year's grow and the local shops around Kildare.

Moral of the story is give it a go, worry about doing it after, there should be a recipe in every chef.

Thanks for listening

Aidan Kelly


Stay up to date with all of our latest content!
Sign Up to Chef Network today - Get notifications when we post a new blog, event, content series and more!