Belgian waffles a new street food taste

Sam Butler talked to Michael Henderson, owner of Born and Raised Waffles, about Belgian waffles and his recently established small business.

Michael Henderson recently joined the farmers’ market scene with a range of traditional Belgian Liège waffles originally from Belgium. It’s quite a venture for Michael, currently based near Hillstown Farm, a hub of artisan enterprise, at Ahoghill in Co. Antrim because he’s never been to Belgium! “I am planning a field trip there soon to learn more about the waffles I love to bake,” he says.
His waffles have proved extremely successful at the markets he’s attended around the greater Belfast area including Victoria Square, the Inns on Saintfield Road and most recently Ballyhackamore. He’s also signed up with Food NI.

BornWhat attracted Michael to join Northern Ireland’s burgeoning artisan food revolution is a love of baking. “I used to watch my mother baking and learned a lot from her. It was something I always wanted to do. It started out as a hobby and is quite a leap from my original training as a metal worker. I worked in the ventilation business and then at Shorts for 11 years. I guess I’ve always been good at working with my hands and then had a long held desire to start my own small business,” he continues. “I like being my own boss.”

Michael decided to take the plunge into business about 10 years’ ago and set up a small cleaning business before moving into running a vending equipment, providing sweets and crisps. It was his first move into the food business, an experience he enjoyed and it encouraged him to sell up and to look at other opportunities.
“I wanted to turn my interest in baking into an artisan food enterprise. Publicity surrounding the success of the food industry and the run up to Year of Food and Drink led me to look for a unique bakery product that I could turn into a small firm. I looked at the market here and came to the conclusion that there wasn’t much scope in sectors such as breads, morning goods, cakes and tray bakes. There’s an abundance of these products on the market from longer established bakeries. I reckoned there just wasn’t any room in the marketplace for a start up,” he explains.

A gap he spotted in the local market was for authentic Belgian Liège waffles that he could offer initially as a different and delicious ‘street food’. “One of the interesting developments I’ve noticed here is the emergence of different street foods. I’ve seen Coppi selling Italian dishes in an attractive antique Citroen van and Mourne Seafoods also offering lobster burgers at markets from a mini caravan. Jolly Pies has developed a tasty range of pies from market stalls. So, why not authentic waffles prepared and cooked on site?”
He carried out extensive market research on recipes for Liège waffles and began baking them for test marketing with family and friends. They proved popular. His next step was to buy an old horsebox and to transform it himself from his experience of metal working into a mobile waffle bar.

Michael, a father of two young children, then created an identity, Born and Raised for the new start up business – Born in Belgium and Raised in Belfast, his home town. What’s a Liège waffle? “Well, it’s a richer, denser and sweeter waffle native to the street food of Belgium. They’re an adaptation of brioche bread dough, featuring chunks of pearl sugar caramelize on the outside of the waffle when baked. It’s a yeast-raised dough and is more akin to a sweet bread. Overall, there are about 500 Liège waffle recipes for me to work on.”

He was also quick to support local suppliers for ingredients. The flour comes from Andrews in Belfast and coatings such as malted chocolate, Armagh Bramley jam and sea salted caramel from Brambleberry Jams and Sauces in Lisburn, another local artisan. His initial range is cinnamon spice, plain and salted caramel.
Wife Lisa is working with him in developing the business that he set up in October. She also runs her own small business, Lisaire, a successful string quartet. Lisa is a talented violinist and member of the Ulster Orchestra.
He’s already moved to the next stage of the enterprise’s development. “I’d obviously hope to develop a retail product. This will mean looking at important areas such as shelf life and packaging. I’d certainly be keen to move forward on these and build on the popularity of the waffles at markets and food venues around the province,” he adds.

Michael is following the tradition In Belgium, where most waffles are served warm by street vendors and dusted with confectioner’s sugar, though in tourist areas they might be topped with whipped cream, soft fruit or chocolate spread.
Most common types of waffle available in Belgium are prepared in plain, vanilla and cinnamon varieties by street vendors across the nation.