George Weldon - the teenage chef from North Yorkshire with a passion for chocolate
Jo Haywood meets a teen chef from North Yorkshire with a passion for brownies (and blondies) Photographs by Andy Bulmer
Artisan chef George Welton is an endearingly messy cook. He scatters nuts, splats softened butter and sploshes melted chocolate in his wake as he whirls round the kitchen like a culinary whirlwind.
‘It’s just the way I am, in the kitchen and in life,’ said the 19-year-old entrepreneur, who launched his own business, Brown & Blond, from his family home in Cattal, between York and Harrogate, late last year. ‘The place is usually a complete tip when I’ve finished, but I’m pretty good at cleaning up after myself.’
Probably because he gets a lot of practice. His fledgling brownie-making business is starting to gain momentum and he now often finds himself whipping up as many as 7,000 a week to sell at farmers’ markets in York, Harrogate and Leeds, at food festivals around the county and through numerous independent shops like Sunshine Bakery in Chapel Allerton, Leeds, Cranberry in Otley, Cafe Neon in York and Fruitique in Harrogate.
George specialises in rich, fudgy brownies and blondies (made with white chocolate) using only the finest natural ingredients. His range currently includes more than 30 flavour combinations, from pecan and amaretto to sour cherry and bourbon, but his list of innovative ingredients is growing all the time.
‘I love to experiment,’ he said. ‘Nothing is out of bounds. If it works, it works.’
Which is probably why his menu of products also includes chilli, Earl Grey, peanut butter, peppermint as well as lavender.
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But where does his inspiration come from, and what led a relatively inexperienced teenager to set up his own bakery business in such a tough, competitive market?
‘I’ve always loved to cook,’ said George. ‘My mum runs her own cake-making business and she taught me the basics when I was a kid. I was hooked from day one and never wanted to do anything else.’
He had his heart set on becoming a chef in a restaurant, but a three-month stint in a kitchen brigade on leaving school at 16 made him realise it was not the life for him.
He went on to spend 18 months at Jakes, a charming, family-friendly cafe bar in Harrogate, where his love of cakes and pastries was encouraged and developed.
Then, with typical teenage bravado, he decided to branch out on his own. ‘I like to work by myself,’ he explained. ‘I think I work better and more creatively that way. Although I do get a tremendous amount of help from my parents and my girlfriend. Mum deals with all the admin, dad is my unpaid delivery driver and my girlfriend helps me to sell at the markets and festivals. I have a lot of support, but at the end of the day it’s just me in the kitchen bashing out the brownies.’
When George, who has five siblings and shares the family homestead with two dogs, several sheep and numerous chickens, set out on his own in September he only had one brownie tray and a dinky mixer. Now he has a fully equipped – although by no means luxurious – kitchen in what used to be a piano workshop in the garden.
‘I initially wanted to set up my own bakery offering a range of products,’ he explained. ‘But if you offer 100 different products, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of work and a lot of waste. Most pastries and biscuits don’t last well for more than a day, but brownies actually improve if you let them sit and relax for 48 hours and are perfectly tasty for up to two weeks. You can freeze them too – actually, frozen brownies are a real treat if you ask me.’
George would eventually like to branch out into cookies and ice cream, and has long term plans to launch a two-pronged attack on the market: factory-produced treats for supermarkets and artisan baked goods for his own independent shop.
‘I really like the immediate response you get from selling direct to the public,’ he said. ‘I get a real buzz when people like my brownies. I had three Scots who bought a brownie each from me at last year’s York Food Festival.
They turned up the next day with tubs they’d bought from Lakeland and filled them with �80 worth of brownies to take back home to Scotland. That made me feel really good.’ Even though he eventually wants to break into mass production, he insists that quality, natural ingredients will remain the cornerstone of his business. And he can’t imagine a time when he won’t be in the kitchen, mixing up an experimental batch of something new.
‘I love baking too much to leave it behind,’ he said. ‘I don’t live to work – I still want to see my friends and go to festivals and stuff – but baking is a big part of who I am.’
So, which is this ultimate baker’s ultimate brownie? Walnut and whisky? Raspberry and vanilla? Stem ginger?
‘Nutella,’ said George without a moment’s hesitation. ‘It’s a childhood thing. We all used to fight about who got the last spoonful. Now it’s all mine.’