I have just spent a fascinating two days working my way through the judges’ comments on our entrants for the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards. And let me say right now that our judges did a sterling job! The forms were extremely long and complicated (much too long and complicated in retrospect but we were trying to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’) and took a great deal more time than anyone had bargained for! Mind you, the payback could be that, if they live in the right area, the judges may get to eat at some potentially award-winning eateries – so you needn’t feel too sorry for them!
However, what of the entrants? Although I am, obviously, not naming any names (the shortlist will be out in the middle of next week, so hold on to yourselves till then) it was really heartening how much genuine passion and enthusiasm had gone into virtually every establishment. Some were long standing vegan or gluten-free, many more were recent arrivals on the scene, many of them going for broke with totally gluten-free establishments – and a couple (cafés) that were not only gluten free but vegan/dairy and egg free too.
And there certainly was a major focus on gluten. While this is understandable – and there is nothing wrong with focusing on the gluten-sensitive consumer – in terms of the regulations coming into force in December (what persuaded us to start the awards) gluten is not even an allergen…..
The new regulations do not require any establishment to provide gluten, wheat, dairy, nut or any other allergen-free food. What they do require is that every establishment should know and be able to identify any of the 14 major allergens in their offering. And although some entrants had obviously got their heads around this, probably half of them had not done so at all, referring to gluten as an allergen and often failing to provide any information at all about how they would identify/separate/store/cook or serve any foods which might contain any of the 13 other allergens apart from wheat.
While this is not good in terms of compliance with the regulations, it is also not great for the significant number people (including diagnosed coeliacs) who are sensitive not only to wheat/gluten but to nuts/dairy and a whole raft of other allergens. Since our judges included a good proportion of these, there were some very frustrated comments by the time they had got to the end….
However, I absolutely do not want to gripe. As I said there was huge dedication, imagination and enthusiasm shown by all the entrants and that is by far the most important thing. Getting the facts sorted out and the protocols in place is relatively easy and there are plenty of people out there keen to help. (If you check into the info page on the FFEOA site you will find a load of them listed at the top of the page.)
So, for us, the next thing is to find out how good the ‘freefrom’ food really is at those establishments who made it through stage one at the top of the pile. As I said, the shortlist, not only for the restaurants, pubs, cafés, B&Bs and schools, but for foods manufactured for food service, judged back in August, will be out on the 8th October so tune in….
The winners will be announced and presented by Antony WT on November 18th at the Food Matters Live event – and you are all most welcome to attend. Just log into the event and get yourself ticket here – and I assure you there will be loads of other stuff to do while you are there…. From high level conferences and expert seminars (three whole days on ‘freefrom’ alone!) to cookery demonstrations and how to feed the world on insects – and much, much more….