Last week saw the presentation of the third FreeFrom Eating Out Awards at Foods Matters Live – a considerably bigger event than in previous years – indeed, a lot too big for the Catering for Health theatre where we were situated! Not that the squash, nor the technical hitches which dogged the presentation (not our fault I hasten to assure you….) appear to have dampened the enthusiasm of the winners! Here, for example, are a posse of happy gold-award-winning fish and chip shop owners!!
And here is Deb Bailey-Knibbs of the Labyrinth Holistic Café in Stockton-on-Tees being presented with the overall winner’s silver platter by our Pathfinder Award winner, Chef Dominic Teague of Indigo at One Aldwych. We loved the fact that our winners went from a top class West End restaurant (Indigo) to a community café in a very deprived area of the north east of England – both doing a fabulous freefrom job in their own spheres.
We have already waxed lyrical about Chef Dominic and his ground-breaking decision, when Indigo re-opened after a refurbishment in 2015, to offer and entirely gluten and dairy free menu – without telling a soul! You can read about it here. And you will get a chance to see some of his food ‘in action’ next week the we upload a video of the demonstration he did for us on the Thursday of the FML show. But the judge who visited the Labyrinth café was not going to be outdone in enthusiasm:
‘Not only is Labyrinth a not-for-profit business, it is 100% for the community. They cater for everyone, all diets and are 100% gluten free. All the staff are knowledgeable, totally allergy aware, well trained, friendly and passionate about giving others the best experience they can…
Because they wanted Labyrinth to welcome everyone, from all walks of life, that meant all diets too, and they cater for Gf, all allergens, veggies, vegans and also halal. I have never seen such an extensive menu and the food is amazing. The plate was attractively arranged, and the food was colourful, of varied textures and flavours and fillings, all freshly prepared. The idea is that it can all be tweaked at the last minute to accommodate different diets and allergies. It is also incredibly good value.’
Labyrinth operate a food bank, pay it forward scheme, and collect filled handbags for ladies on hard times. They are CUK accredited and since they won the award last year the business has developed and progressed in leaps and bounds. They really deserve to win the award again… it could be made for them… everything they do is for everyone… no one is excluded.’
But the Labyrinth was not the only establishment about which our judges got excited. Indeed, we had so many contenders for winners in several categories that we decided to change the way that we award. Instead of going for winners, highly commended and commended we swopped to Gold, Silver and Bronze. We felt that while we could not realistically have half a dozen winners of a category – if their offer was all at ‘gold’ standard, we could have half a dozen ‘gold’ award winners – as we did in the Restaurant category. After all, our mission is to raise awareness and to award excellence – so award excellence we should! And here are several of this year’s ‘gold’ restaurant winners:
And here are our twin pub gold winners, the Alford Arms and the Royal Oak: the Alford Arms was over all winner in 2014, the Royal Oak was winner of the pub category in 2015 when the Alford Arms was closed due to a fire so was not able to compete!
To get the full details on each and a snapshot of what the judges thought of them, go to the winners pages of the FFEOAwards site and follow the links.
And, do not let us forget that all important category – Foods manufactured for food service! A very well populated category with a number of the ‘big players’ joining us this year. And we were really delighted that it was one of those ‘big players’, Brakes, who walked off the with gold gong – for their gluten and milk-free sub rolls. Not, you might think, the most exciting of products – but, how amazingly useful within food service! A good gluten and milk-free roll, useable for any number of different dishes, which not only tasted good but was fortified and high in fibre! Unanimously voted for.
But back to our judges for all of our eateries. We do ask a lot of them and really appreciate their fantastic feedback. To give you an idea, the awards’ judging process (of which we are quite proud as we do think it is very rigorous) works as follows:
First there is the on line entry form. This is long and complicated, deliberately so, as it is intended to tease out whether or not an entrant really understands about allergens and allergen control. This, if you are interested, in the entry form for this years’ restaurant category. At this stage we are not really interested in the quality of the food they are offering (although we are interested in the choice they offer), but we are very interested in the systems that they have in place and the training that their staff receive.
This form goes to three judges who look at the answers, comment on them and mark them. If, at this stage, the judges do not feel that the establishment really understands what they are doing or that their systems or training are not sufficiently rigorous, then either that entrant will not progress any further, or, if they are ‘borderline’ they may still be shortlisted (we are aware that being shortlisted is a valuable marketing tool) but they will still not progress any further.
‘In person’ judging. If our on line judges feel that entrant really does understand about allergen control and stands a reasonable chance of winning a bronze, silver or gold medal, then we send out two judges, incognito, to visit that establishment. The purpose of their visit is to actually try the food (no matter how good the allergen controls if the food is not good the entrant will not win an award) and to ensure that the systems that are in place, especially those around staff training, actually do work. These judges then report in some detail on their visit and we use those reports to choose the gold, silver and bronze winners.
But this does mean that it is a bit of a lottery as a judge! You may slog away at the on line forms and be rewarded by a slap up meal for two at one of our award winners – but if there are no potential award winners in your part of the country, you may have done all that work and not even get to try a cup of coffee and a freefrom chocolate brownie!!
However, bless them, they took it all, in their stride and provided us with very detailed reports, most of which we have been able to feedback to the entrants concerned to help them improve their offer.
Anyhow, a very successful awards. Lots of superb individual outlets from the five star to the local café and, for the first time, a number of chains – from the ultra health minded Filmore and Union restaurants in Yorkshire to Centre Parcs and Wetherspoons pubs – all 960 of them!!
Obviously you are never going to get the same service in a chain of restaurants or pubs as you will in a single owner café or restaurant, but you can do a lot. For us the crucial element is giving the allergic/coeliac customer confidence. So while we do not expect every waitperson in a chain to understand everything about allergy (that would be patently ridiculous) we expect every waitperson to take their allergic/coeliac customers concerns seriously and respectfully and never to be vague: if they do not know the answer to a question, they say so and go and ask. We feel that is a ‘do-able’ aspiration and is the least that we expect of our entrants, whatever their size.
Anyhow, a good year and a final word of thanks to Kathy Askew, out awards co-ordinator, who joined us this year tasked with bringing new people into the awards – which she did, in truckloads!! And we are very much looking forward to next year when we hope to capitalise on the many new contacts that she made…. Onwards and upwards – and bigger and better!!
And here is Kathy – the ‘A’ in Alex, Cressida’s and her ‘FreeFrom Awards’ at the Allergy show in the summer!