Meet the Willy Wonka of Sheffield who went into business aged 12

Max Scotford at Bullion Craft Chocolate in Sheffield. Picture Scott Merrylees
Max Scotford at Bullion Craft Chocolate in Sheffield. Picture Scott Merrylees
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Bullion Chocolate co-founder Max Scotford has been called the Willy Wonka of Sheffield. Daniel Dylan Wray visited him at Cutlery Works. Pictures by Scott Merrylees.

When Sheffield’s Cutlery Works food hall opened in 2018, its co-owner Matt Bigland spoke with excitement about being the new home to the award-winning craft chocolate company Bullion Chocolate. “He’s launching a chocolate factory and he’ll be the Willy Wonka of Sheffield,” he told The Yorkshire Post. Several months later and that factory is up and running, with founder Max Scotford playing the role of Wonka, albeit with considerably less umpa lumpas around.

Bullion Craft Chocolate in Cutlery Works, Sheffield. Picture Scott Merrylees

Bullion Craft Chocolate in Cutlery Works, Sheffield. Picture Scott Merrylees

A passion for food and innovative business ideas came early for Max, who at just 12 started a small business called Sandwedge that sold sandwiches to players on his local golf course in Dronfield.

However, after going to catering college,

Max decided the high pressure kitchen environment wasn’t for him and moved into sales and marketing – although his love and food never left him and in his spare time he made chocolate as a hobby, as well as running a food blog called Lads that Lunch.

Years earlier, at 17, he had trademarked the name for a protein yoghurt called Proyo. A few years later, with the idea not being developed, a big company called him and made an offer for the name. This allowed him to invest more in his hobby and by 22 was making it part-time and selling to local coffee shops and retailers. However, what came next really elevated Bullion to a level Max wasn’t expecting. He entered his chocolate on a whim to the Academy of Chocolate

Hot Chocolate is on the menu. Picture Scott Merrylees

Hot Chocolate is on the menu. Picture Scott Merrylees

Awards. “I knew my mum liked my chocolate,” he says. “But beyond that I had no idea.” It turns out a lot of other people like his chocolate too and the chocolate won a silver award, which soon meant he was stocking in places like Harvey Nichols. “I got to turn my hobby into a profession,” he says of that period.

Bullion Chocolate offer three types of chocolate, all dark and all single origin that result in a crafted process Max refers to as bean to bar. “Normal manufacturers will get beans from all over the place and over-roast the cacao to make it bitter and then add sugar or vanilla to make a bar and then you get a bar that tastes the same every time. Due to different bean varieties, harvests, origins and post-harvest production processes we know it’s going to taste different every time so I was roasting like coffee roasters do, to bring out the flavour that is already there.”

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All three bars contain 70 per cent cocoa and all have a unique origin: Haiti, Bolivia and Guatemala.

Max working with cocoa beans. Picture Scott Merrylees

Max working with cocoa beans. Picture Scott Merrylees

The bars are produced and hand wrapped in the new factory at Cutlery Works.

The whole process can take up to a month, going through the stage of roasting, winnowing (removing the husk from the roasted cocoa

bean), grinding and refining, conching (stirring under heat) and then finally moulding and tempering.

The result is a distinct yet tasty one. Max describes the Bolivian chocolate flavours as “soft fruit, almost floral” and the Guatemalan one as “peachy and jammy”.

The finished product.

The finished product.

“With us, people are going to try something that they might not have had before. I’m not going to boo-hoo Kit-Kat, I’ll have one with a cup of tea but what we’re doing here is different.”

The scale of production has increased hugely since Max moved operations into Cutlery Works and opened his factory.

The move was helped by a kickstarter crowd-funding campaign, which raised £10,000 in 20 days. The cafe opened in 2018 when Cutlery Works did – selling coffee, chocolate bars and bakes made with their chocolate such as brownies – and then the factory opened earlier this year. As a result, Max is really expanding on what he can do with the place and his chocolate. “It’s not just the bars that we’ve been doing but we also do chocolate cocktails, day bakes and evening desserts.”

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Max is especially excited about venturing into evening desserts where on Friday and Saturday nights you’ll be able to taste hand-crafted desserts made with Bullion’s award-wining chocolate made by chef Callaghan Ward. Callaghan has worked in some of the finest restaurants around the world, including as Head Pastry Chef at Sergio Arola’s double Michelin Star Gastro, in Madrid, as well helping launch Central in Peru – currently rated the fifth best restaurant in the world.

On top of this there have been a variety of collaborations with local businesses that use the leftover husk from the roasted cocoa beans. This has found itself in whiskey, stout and tea. “It’s something that is going to be waste that we can give to local businesses and it adds a bit of spice and flavour to what they are doing whilst collaborating with other independent organisations.”

They also do their own craft drinking chocolate that Max hopes will take off in a similar way that speciality coffee has. “The way we treat our chocolate is a bit like speciality coffee and the way roasters would treat their beans,” he says.

Max feels the success of Bullion is linked to a general rising interest in supporting independent and craft traders.“People want to know where things are from, to appreciate it and to have a story behind it. It’s more of an experience. If you are gifting somebody something, you want it to have value and be something that they appreciate. Anything with craft has that story.”

They are already having to double down on production over summer to meet that inevitable Christmas demand and they have also launched tours of their factory that include tasting the chocolate itself.

A few years down the line from making chocolate that he thought only his mum liked, Max has turned Bullion into an award-winning product. “Everything we try and do we push the boat out on it,” he says. “We just keep pushing it and seeing where we can take it.”