Kim McGowan, Frank Bordoni and Hulya Erdal in serious discussion.
Well, we are through the first week of judging for the FreeFrom Food Awards and it has proved as exciting (in terms of new products) and as interesting (in terms of judges’ views) as ever!
From a judge’s point of view, what makes the FFFood Awards different from most other awards that they might judge is that the ‘look, aroma, taste and texture’ of the foods put before them are only one (or four) of a much large number of issues that they need to consider.
• Has the product been manufactured in a dedicated (nut-free/gluten-free/dairy-free) facility or in a factory which also uses that allergen?
• Is it a really difficult product to manufacture ‘freefrom’ – eg a dairy, gluten and egg-free quiche or a dairy and gluten-free croissant – or is it a product that is naturally gluten, nut and dairy free anyhow – like a coconut macaroon?
• If that latter, should one discount it as it is not that hard to make freefrom or should one be encouraging its makers as it expands the range of products that those on ‘freefrom’ diets can eat?
• What is the nutritional profile of the product and are the manufacturers just using extra sugar, fat or salt to compensate for the lack of gluten? (Delighted to say that this is happening less and less often these days.) Given that those on restricted diets may be nutritionally compromised should the nutritional profile of the product be given extra weight?
• Should they take price and value for money into account? Many new and innovative products use unusual and hard-to-procure ingredients and are made in very small quantities and are therefore very expensive. Should this be counted against the products or should price be ignored on the basis that if they are successful they will be able to produce in greater quantities and therefore the price will come down? (This has happened in a few cases in the past.)
• How good is the allergen labeling and the ingredient information? If it is not good, should the product, no matter how good it tastes, be ‘de-moted’?
Sue Cane, Lorna Rhodes, Jeffrey Hyman and Christine Bailey consulting their notes
This would be a fairly diverse set of criteria for any judge to get their head around and would be likely to lead to a good deal of discussion. However, in our case, the diverse backgrounds of our judges means that the discussions as to what should win can be both lengthy and heated! Virtually every panel includes:
• someone from the food industry
• a cookery writer or chef – not necessarily from a ‘special diet’ background
• a dietitian or nutritionist
• a wholefood/raw/natural food enthusiast
• a ‘sufferer’ – eg. a coeliac or someone allergic to nuts/dairy or intolerant to a range of other foods – in fact we often have several different allergies represented on each panel
• someone from one of the allergy/coeliac support groups
• a ‘lay’ member – someone who has no allergies/intolerances and no professional involvement in food, to ‘benchmark’ the products against ‘normal’ allergen-filled products
With that mix, the chair’s (mine!) efforts to reach consensus can be long drawn out and arduous….. None the less, it makes for a fascinating two weeks and, hopefully, produces worthy winners.
The children hard at work with Christine (left) and Cressida keeping an eye…
And this year we have added yet another layer to the mix, with our new children’s category. We have been thinking about a children’s category for a couple of years but there really had not been enough children-aimed products to justify one – and we had not got our heads around how we were going to recruit sufficient suitable children to do the judging….
However, by the end of last year’s awards we reckoned that there were now enough products – and the wonderful Christine Bailey stepped in and offered to provide the children and run the session for us! (Christine runs a nutritional consultancy, Advance Nutrition, in Reading and works with a number of allergic children and their families.)
The children’s session happened yesterday, run by Christina and overseen by Cressida and, by all accounts, the children, who ranged from seven to 14, were angelic – far less argumentative than my grown up judges! Their comments? ‘Awesome’, ’10 out of 10′, ‘Can I eat this every day please!’, ‘Yummy’, ‘I want this in my lunch box’ and ‘Can we do this again next week?’ And Christine said that the parents were equally enthusiastic. Christine’s 14-year-old son, Nathan who is coeliac has even started his own blog right here.
Beer judges Sue Cane, Colin Coyne, Jeffrey Hyman, Debra Doherty, Derek Prentice, Ruth Holroyd & James Wolfe
And finally – well for this week – I need to report on our ever popular gluten-free beer category – this year divided into gluten-free barley-based beers and gluten-free beers based on other grains. This certainly added another layer to discussions amongst our beer experts who, I am glad to say, were very positively impressed with what was on offer in terms of gluten-free beer. Last seen they were heading off for the pub to see whether ‘real’ beer was in fact any better….
Next week’s categories include, amongst other things, a great many cakes and what looks like being a very exciting innovation category. More anon – assuming ‘the chair’ can keep order amongst all of those keen and opinionated judges!