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Mud Foods wins Channel 4’s Aldi’s Next Big Thing!

When Christian Barrington of Mud Foods in Midhurst, said “yes” to appearing on Channel 4’s Aldi’s Next Big Thing, he had no idea what was in store for him and his beloved pies.

Aldi’s Next Big Thing is a cross between Dragons’ Den and Bake Off, with the prize being the opportunity to sell your product on the shelves of national supermarket, Aldi. Something any British food producer can only dream of. Christian knew competition for a place on the show would be fierce but decided he had nothing to lose.

“The idea of being on TV petrified me, but I thought what the heck – nothing ventured nothing gained. Mud is nearly 13 years old, if not now, when? And, in any case, I never dreamt we’d actually get selected for the programme!”

Filming in kitchens

Striving for pie-fection

Christian slowly made his way through the application process, beating over 300 others for the chance to pit his pies against the best of Britain’s food producers. After various phone calls, zoom interviews and on-site inspections at the bakery, at last he found himself as one of 6 contestants in the ‘dinners’ category, competing for their product to be Aldi’s Next Big Thing.

“When we were chosen to go through to the filming that’s when I realised it was a big deal and all of a sudden I felt a weight on my shoulders, not just for me and my family, who are the motivation for everything I do, but also for everyone involved in the business - I felt responsible for the unsung heroes behind the scenes, working flat out making pies to my specification and standards all these years.”

Christian with Chris Bavin
Christian getting makeup

Stage fright

Christian was invited up to Aldi HQ in Tamworth for the studio day. There they had a big development kitchen set up as a studio, a bit like the Bake Off tent! It was very daunting and Christian was a bag of nerves but the whole experience turned out to be great fun.

“The team of professionals at the production company, South Shore TV, and presenters Anita Rani of Countryfile and BBC Radio 4, Chris Bavin of Britain’s Best Home Cook and Eat Well for Less, and Julie Ashfield, Managing Director of Buying at Aldi UK were all really warm, supportive and kind - everyone wanting you to do well. They made it an enjoyable experience, putting me at ease and everyone else too. It was so different from what I do day in day out, and seeing what goes on behind the scenes when they make a television programme was fascinating. It was brilliant being part of that.”

Christian grilled for show

Sharing the limelight with a bag of insects

In Christian’s episode, competition was stiff. He was up against all sorts of products, all worthy winners, from pasta sauces and ready meals for toddlers, to food made of insects!

Christian in studio with Anita

What Makes Mud Foods Special

The programme brief was to find a product which was innovative and different and stood out from the crowd, and Christian had just the thing. Mud makes handcrafted artisan pies using only top quality, locally sourced ingredients from suppliers as near as possible to the bakery, many of whom Christian has had a relationship with for years. His legendary shortcrust pastry is made with real butter and you can taste the difference. It contains no artificial additives or preservatives and is allowed to rest overnight to relax naturally, just like his grandmother used to do.

And although Mud Foods makes all the old favourites, such as Steak and Ale and Chicken, Ham and Leek, they also have some pretty quirky varieties. Christian decided to enter his unique Chip Shop Chicken Curry Pie into the competition, a recipe containing succulent free-range chicken in a mild, sweet curry sauce, infused with fresh ginger, chilli and coriander for a rich flavour. “This pie was inspired by the curry sauce I used to buy at my local chippy when I was a boy, it has an incredibly moreish taste - once tasted, never forgotten!”

And it certainly seemed to go down well with the judging panel.

Mud foods at the market

As the contestants progressed throughout the competition, some were eliminated along the way, until it came down to the last two. And that was the end of the first studio day. The next stage was to film the two finalists doing what they do best – in Christian’s case, that’s making pies!

Mud Foods is a family business and the production team were keen to come to Midhurst and film with Christian’s wife Toni and two daughters, Emelia and Liberty, at a weekend farmers’ market; and behind the scenes at the bakery, including his in-laws, Heather and Colin, who’ve been working at Mud since day one. There was a lot of nervous anticipation and excitement and, again, the crew were really professional, friendly and positive; the filming went smoothly and great fun was had by all.

Heather and Colin
Christian and Chris Bavin at table with camera

The Big Reveal

Then it was back to Aldi HQ for the big reveal, to find out who would win and become Aldi’s Next Big Thing. It was between Christian of Mud Foods and Mandira of Mandira’s Kitchen, who makes Indian food for her catering and online business. “Mandira was a lovely person and so deserving. I had an element of mixed feelings – wanting to win but also wanting her to win. I was absolutely convinced she would beat me anyway, she’s articulate, really composed and had outstanding products taste-wise, so when they called out Mud had won I was genuinely in a state of shock. I had wobbly legs! It was a moment of absolute disbelief but once it had sunk in it was pure joy and elation.”

Ha-pie ever after

Mud Foods is a small family business founded on the core principles of great taste, good ethics and quality ingredients with superb local provenance. “What we make is amazing from the outside in. Total pie-fection. Good value but without compromise. I go by my own adage, stick to your principles and quality will out – we haven’t buckled to substituting ingredients, despite their increasing prices, like butter for example; or using flavour-enhancing additives, and we never will, even during these difficult times. What I think and hope made us win Aldi’s Next Big Thing was that we are true to ourselves and true to our customers.”

Mud, Aldi’s Next Big Thing

Taking part in Aldi’s Next Big Thing has been a wonderful experience in many ways, not least in joining the ranks of the series 1 alumni! We’ve enjoyed getting to know some of the other contestants, and finding out about their amazing products, including Mandira’s Kitchen, Belle and Wilde, The Honest Bean Co, The Greek Farmer, The Artful Baker and Harry Specters, to name but a few. What a lovely and talented bunch!

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