Yes, Wednesday saw the eighth presentation of the FreeFrom Food Awards – bigger, better and definitely more beautiful!! Certainly bigger in terms of entries (over 470 this year) and certainly better in that the quality of the entries just keeps on going up. Long gone are the days of brick-hard breads, chalky soya milks and medicinal gluten-free biscuits. These days it is rarely possible to tell a ‘freefrom’ product from a ‘normal’ one – and that certainly applied to this year’s winner.
As for more beautiful? Well, we had a few pretty decorative winners – and I am referring to the winning producers here rather than their products!
One of the front runners in the beauty stakes was, rather appropriately, the winner of the Raw and Superfood category, sponsored by raw coconut oil producers, Tiana – Zeta Freeman of Marvellous Superfoods. She runs Marvellous Superfoods with her mum and (I think) three sisters – and it obviously works for them!! Here she is being interviewed after her win.
Look forward to a great many more superfood beauties next year as we will be splitting this category into raw foods and then a new category for superfoods and sport supplements. The idea is to cover all of those protein supplements beloved by those who like to work out but so many of which are gluten, whey or soya based. No use at all if you are coeliac or dairy/soya intolerant.
The event, which has really now turned into a massive ‘freefrom’ family party, was held once again at the Royal College of Physicians in Regents Park.
It is a great building. Designed by Sir Denis Lasdun in the early 1950s to fill a war damage gap at the bottom of the Regency terraces, it is one of the very few post war Grade 1 listed buildings in London – so very posh!!
Apart from being a great building, it has two huge advantages for us. One – that it is literally 10 minutes down the road – and two – that it has the most lovely staff. Chef Dean creates us delicious freefrom food and transforms our random collection of winners’ samples into the most enticing buffet – while all of the waiting staff could not be more delightful.
But whatever about the getting together and the keen networking – both of which are, of course, very important – the point of the evening is the presentations to the winners – and lots of very good winners we did have. Shall we start at the top? Yes – we should.
The overall winner, who will get to house Marble Mo for the next year, were pork pie makers extraordinaire, Voakes. The Voakes, father and son, have been farming pigs in Whixley in Yorkshire for the last 40 years and, for 25 of those years they have been making award-winning pork pies. Then, four years ago, Laura, son Nick’s partner, was diagnosed with coeliac disease. Spending the rest of her life pork pie-less was simply not an option so they set about creating a gluten-free pork pie which, in the nature of pork pies, was also dairy free. They built a dedicated production unit and developed a range of pies including a traditional cold raised pork pie. ‘A perfect pork pie!’ according to our judges. ‘Just enough jelly. Ideal balance of meat & pastry – soft and crumbly – a classic!’ And here are Laura and Nick collecting Marble Mo from Antony!
Another small producer who had a very good night was Kirsty Henshaw whose Kirsty’s gluten dairy free lasagne won the Innovation Award. And yes, you did read me right – gluten and dairy-free lasagne. For years people have been producing gluten-free lasagnes and covering their shortcomings with a delicious dollop of yummy cheddar cheese. But Kirsty bit the bullet and ditched the cheddar – so successfully that we actually had to point out to the judges that her very tasty lasagne was not only gluten-free but dairy free as well as they had not even noticed!
Here she is getting her award from Antony and Briony Mansell Lewis of sponsors, Food Matters Live. (Goodness only knows what Briony and Antony had been talking about before…. Briony certainly has a very knowing look on her face!)
Naomi Hopkins of sponsors, Goodness Direct and Antony are definitely not focusing on the camera – although Zoe West of Amy’s Kitchen, winners of the Veggie Ready Meals category has kept her mind on the job!!
Amy’s Kitchen were, in fact, runners up for Marble Mo too with their Gluten-free Chinese noodles and veggies, as was the amazing Explore Asian Edemame and Mung bean fettuccine!! Not the first time that we have had a pulse-based pasta (think back to Innovation Awards winners Dell’Ugo’s chick pea pasta two years ago and the extraordinary black bean spaghetti that we had entered last year) but these green fettuccine were certainly eye catching!
The other runners up for Marble Mo were Genius’ Gluten Free’s gluten and dairy-free Pains au Chocolat. Pretty amazing products really when you think that a pain au chocolat depends almost entirely on wheat gluten and butter for its existence! I wouldn’t say that the Genius ones quite matched up to the best feather-light pain au chocolat that I have had wandering the banks of the Seine, but they were certainly one heck of a lot better than 80% of the gluten and butter filled ones that you get offered on the average English high street.
A certain degree of presentational chaos was also created by Genius as, while they were joint winners of the Breakfast category sponsored by Tesco with their Pains au chocolat, Tesco were joint winners (with their seeded brown bread) of the very next category, Bread, sponsored by Genius – so exactly who is presenting what to whom here, I am not quite sure…. (Tesco represented on both occasions by brand manger, Nicki Clowes, Genius by MD Roz Cuschieri and Marketing man, Steve Clarke.) Mind you, these were only the first of many appearances that Tesco were to make on that podium.
As everyone into the room must have been aware, Wednesday was the ultimate bad day in the office for Tesco with the announcement of their £6.4 billion losses and their shares tumbling by 5%. And no doubt we have all had our go at slagging them off for their dubious treatment of suppliers, their take over of our high streets, their horrendously sprawling megastores encircling our towns – but…. I think that most people in the freefrom world would admit that, ever since Patricia Wheway launched it way back in 2002 the Tesco freefrom section has actually done a pretty creditable job of offering a decent range of freefrom foods for those on restricted diets. However, this year, with the recruitment of a coeliac to the frozen development team, they have gone mad with new – and really excellent – innovative products on an almost weekly basis! As a result, they somewhat swept the board in other categories – joint winners of the ‘Down the Pub’ category with their Savoury Party Pack selection, joint winners of the Bread category and outright winners of the Meaty and Fishy Ready Meals with their Smoked haddock fishcakes with melty middle! Hardly surprising then that they also walked off with our new Retailer of the Year award!
So here is Fiona Carter, that innovatory new coeliac development lady, collecting her awards for those fish cakes from Mike Birch from sponsors, Genon Laboratories, for her party pack from Holly Wales from sponsors, Udi’s and Fiona and Nicki collecting their Retailer of the Year award from Sallie Attwell of sponsors, Oakland International.
Meanwhile, back on the floor…. Under strict instructions from Alex perched up on the balcony tweeting to the world, keen Twitterers in the audience were ‘RT-ing’ winners as he tweeted them – while others were just focusing on Chef Dean’s delicious nibbles!
But, of course, there were more culinary delights to come… The second highlight of the awards presentation over the last couple of years has been the buffet of the winning products, revealed only after Marble Mo has been allocated his new billet – and fallen on with cries of delight by the audience who have been getting hungrier and hungrier listening to the judges comments about the winning products!
We thought we had ordered enough of those tasty pork pies for everyone to get a taste but while Antony got in there quick to give it a critical once over, I am not sure how many others did. (My impression is that those that got there first thought it was so good that they took a second piece, and then maybe a third….) But there was plenty more – although all of those pastas seen below (Rizopia, brown rice spaghetti, those amazing edamame bean fettuccine and Amy’s Chinese noodles) had gone by the time that I got there. Indeed all that I managed to get was a handful of Primal Joy’s grain free cereal (jolly good!) and, which made me very happy, half of one of Glamour Pud’s delicious Bakewell’s tarts, joint winners in the Dessert category sponsored by Romer Labs.
Meanwhile, some people were just enjoying the beer!! Not sure whether that is horror or delight on the face of Ross Honeyman’s from Monty’s Brewery, but it is certainly giving Melanie Lenz from, Karkli a laugh!
The kids seem to be having fun too, although I sincerely hope they were not on the beer!! This is Isaac and Simeon, judges in the Childrens’ category along with their mum, Christine Bailey who organises the Children’s category judging for us – and Steve Bessant of the Coconut Collaborative, who, as Bessant and Drury, were a Marble Mo winner in the past. I presume he had been instructing them in the wonders of coconut ice cream and yogurt….
Other people enjoying themselves included Anni, last year’s Marble Mo winner who was VERY reluctant to give him back as she said he has brought her such good luck! That certainly seems to be the case as here she is with her new business partner, Jay Cooledge who has just invested in their new joint venture, Anni’s Country Kitchen. With them is Adriana of GlutenFree4Kids who originally taught Anni to make focaccia!!
Also enjoying themselves were Tim Oakes and Gary Stiles from Red House Foods – and well might they be as they had won the Children’s category for the second year running with their Georgia’s Choice Chicken Bites and Chicken Grills – and these lovely Tiller girls! Well, actually, they are not remotely like the Tiller girls in anything except the precision of their smiles!! Nicky Granger of Can I Eat There?, Liz Allen of the Allergy Aware Kitchen and Julia Kitchenham of Allergy UK!
And last, but most emphatically not least….. Our two ‘Kitchen K/Catherines’, stepping in to collect the certificates for the confectionary category, neither of whose winners were able to join us – doing the honours, Antony, of course and Sarah Lindsay of sponsors FreeFrom Heaven. And….
The most important person of all – the powerhouse of the awards – Cressida. With Antony (redheads unite!!) and telling us what to expect in the FreeFrom Food Awards 2016! And from the smile on her face, you might really wonder what that might be…
And just in case I have missed anyone – which I certainly will have – here are all the winners – desperate to get to the buffet but obediently standing for their photo!!
To see all the winning, commended and highly commended products, see the awards site here; to buy at least some of the winning products see our new Amazon FFFA shop here; to see short video interviews with some the winners and sponsors see here, and, if you missed the presentation and want to see the whole thing – be patient!! It should all be upon YouTube very shortly…..