Yes, here they all are – the 2015 winners – and very happy they look too, don’t they? As indeed they were. It is one of the best things about running free awards – how genuinely excited the winners are – because they all have so much invested in what they are doing. So, who did we have this year?
Well the overall winners were last year’s Restaurant category winners, Oscar and Bentleys in Canterbury. Here they are, Katherine, Sarah and Chef Mark with Antony WT (who clocked up the longest journey time in history from Henley on Thames to Excel slithering into the awards about 10 seconds before we kicked off!!) and Phil Hooper from Sodexo, our lovely headline sponsors who have enabled us to get these awards off the ground.
O & B’s were judged by one of our strictest judges with experience of coping with nine different allergies all in one child…. Her assessment was that they had thought EVERYthing through and totally understood what they were doing – and yet managed to produce excellent food with not only minimum, but no fuss. In talking about what they had done on our post awards video, boss Sarah emphasised the crucial role that staff training and rigorous processes played in getting it so right. Encouragingly for us, she also explained that although they had started as a purely gluten-free restaurant they had realised, partially thanks to entering last year’s awards, that just being gluten-free was not enough. They needed to broaden their scope to be able to be able to cater equally successfully with customers with any of the major allergens or, indeed, with a need to exclude any food at all.
In the ‘cook off’ which happened two days later (of which more anon) Mark also explained that they do this by ‘layering’ their food. So the base of each dish (he was cooking and relating this to the most delicious curry, the recipe for which is in this weekend’s newsletter) is as allergen free as possible – none of the 14 major allergens and none the other ingredients (such as tomatoes or garlic) which can cause problems. Then, according to the customer for whom they are preparing the dish, they will add extra ingredients as they go along. So, in the curry example, the most delicious lemon rice will be started with the least allergenic spices and ingredients to which will be added, according to the customer, appropriate allergens if they are tolerated – in the case of the rice, mustard seed and cashew nuts.
This broadening of their allergen palette was also mentioned by the joint winner of the restaurant category, Victoria Hall at 2 Oxford Place in Leeds. They too had started as purely gluten free restaurant, but they too now offered a dairy free menu and had learned to handle a much wider range of allergens than they had originally envisaged.
This desire to be totally inclusive was common thread through the winners from Stonecroft, a tiny B&B in the Peak District to the joint winers of the Schools and colleges category, Eden Food Service and Fitzwilliam College Cambridge. Eden serve no less than 60,000 children of whom around 1200 are allergic to some food or other and, having ensured that they can keep them safe, their main focus is to keep them included in the general life of the school – not to have them ghetto-ised onto a separate ‘allergy table’.
Fitzwilliam College (this is Rob Clark from Fitzwilliam College collecting his award from Antony) is interesting not only because they use a tightly controlled system which allows them to track allergens and allergic students yet still offer interesting and exciting food, but because they are part of the university wide system which provide generic auto-injectors (and defibrilators) in strategic public places for emergency use. This is more of an issue than most people realise as technically, auto injectors or Epipens (used to inject adrenaline in case of anaphylactic shock) are only prescribed to individuals and not to organisations. So, for example, it is very hard for a school, even if it has a number of very young allergic children, to get Epipens which can be kept in safe places ready for use if a child does suffer a serious allergic reaction and does not, for whatever reason, have its own Epipen to hand.
We had two new categories this year: ‘corporate’, by which we meant the kind of venues that many of our judges attend regularly as conference delegates, and – fish and chip shops!! All the ‘corporate’ entries were encouragingly competent and caring in managing allergic delegates but our winners, the International Centre at Telford earned serious plaudits from two of our tougher judges.
The fish and chip category caused us endless trouble though as, apart from inviting entries, we had asked our judges to nominate their favourites chippies! As a result we ended up with the most amazing crop of fish and chip shops, in all of which the fish was of the freshest and sustainably caught, the batter was light and crispy, the chips were perfect! So we were reduced to judging them purely onto basis of their allergen awareness and how often they could provide gluten-free fish and chips. On that basis (and a rave report from the judge who went there) it was Wolfies in Hove that got the gong – although to give honour where honour was due we finally gave out not only highly commended gongs, but Highly, Highly commended ones!!
Other categories? Well, in the pub category the gong when to the Royal Oak in Marlow, the sister pub to last year’s winner, the Alford Arms: our judge went on a really busy Sunday lunch time but still got superb service and excellent allergen free food prepared freshly for her. And in Food manufactured for food service, the category that originally lived in the FreeFrom Food Awards, we had three worthy winners – Daura Damm lager, Nairn’s delicious chocolate biscuit breaks and Rule of Crumb‘s excellent and vastly useful Chicken goujons – all gluten and dairy free.
All excited winners but, probably the most excited winner of the night was the Café winner – the Labyrinth Holistic Café in Stockton on Tees. (Here is Debs Bailey Knibbs from the Labyrinth with Antony and Nicky Grainger of Can I Eat There?, sponsors of the Café category).
This is a not for profit, 100% gluten free community café in a deprived area of Stockton on Tees. Our judge who visited is from Stockton herself and, as she said, her expectations were not great. But, she was totally wrong. The staff were delightful – and knowledgeable – the food was delicious – the sofas were squashy!! What more could you want? The café is run by Debs who was already very excited about being shortlisted and who admitted to us long before the event that she was going to come anyhow just to meet Antony WT whom she had admired for years!! So to win…… she just can’t wait for us to get the video up onto YouTube….
And yes, you did hear right. We have finally set ourselves up a YouTube channel (FreeFrom Awards) on which you will find the whole of the presentation ceremony along with previous awards ceremonies and the various videos we have made after each awards presentation. And up there tomorrow at the latest will be the first of the ‘cook offs’ that we did on Thursday… In the fullness of time we intend to include interviews and video introductions to the various sections of the FoodsMatter site but for now I fear you will just have to put up with awards!!
Meanwhile, well done to all of those committed chefs and restaurateurs out there – and keep up the good work! And, many thanks our headline sponsors, Sodexo and to all of our category sponsors (here are new sponsors, Caterlyst being interviewed by the team from Media Wisdom). Not to mention our lovely and very hard working judges and, of course, the in-house awards team of Cressida, Sue, Hannah and Alex (seen here preparing for the live tweet) – without whom nothing would get done!!!