Like last year’s, this year’s judging for the FreeFrom Food Awards was a thoroughly enjoyable, if somewhat exhausting, experience! Made so by the range and quality of the entries, the enthusiasm and interest of our splendidly eclectic collection of judges and the superb efficiency with which Cressida, and her ‘kitchen assistant’, Katherine managed us all.
And managing us all, not to mention all the samples, is no mean feat. We run two judging rooms, alternating between them and, in each, timed to the minute, we need not only the samples (some hot, some cold, some frozen, some fried) but an endless supply of bowls, plates, spoons, rubbish bins, water – and tea/coffee to revive flagging judges.
This is all made infinitely more complicated by the fact that all entries are judged blind, judges only seeing the packs at the very end after they have made their choices – just in case their chosen winners have committed some packaging or labeling howler which would effectively, disqualify them. It has happened. But from an organisational point of view it means that every product and every tasting sheet has to be meticulously numbered – and that those numbers must tally or we are all in serious trouble!
Our judging process comes in two parts. Part one is delightfully silent. Judges look at, sniff, taste and assess each of the products laid out or presented to them, make their own notes on the relevant judging sheet and give the product a guide mark out of 10. The judging sheet will have all the information about the product (ingredients, freefrom claims, directions for storage/preparation, availability, cost etc) except the brand name and who makes it.
They are asked to bear the following criteria in mind when assessing each product:
- Quality of product based on appearance, aroma, texture, flavour
- Usefulness – does it fulfil a really useful purpose for someone on a freefrom diet?
- Cleverness – is it doing something which is really difficult to do in manufacturing terms?
- Nutritional profile
- Labelling – is the ‘on pack’ information that it gives clear & accurate?
Debbie of the Who says coeliacs can’t eat cake? blog checking out an entry.
We are very insistent that they do not talk to each other while doing this bit and that they at least try to keep their faces expressionless while they are tasting so as not to influence the fellow judges (either positively or negatively) who may not yet have tried that particular entry. Once they have all done their initial assessment, I ask them to draw up a shortlist and I note all their shortlist choices which will be used as a basis for a discussion of the potential winners.
At that point I ‘open the floor’ to discussion and, maybe because they have had to keep silent for so long – in virtually every category a very lively discussion ensued. This is mainly thanks to the diverse make up of the judging panels all of which include at least one nutritionist/dietitian, one foodwriter/chef/cook/’foodie’, one coeliac, one allergy sufferer (nuts, dairy, egg, celery, tomatoes etc) and one ‘normal’ non-foodie, non’freefrom’ person to benchmark the foods against non-freefrom food.
Coming from such very diverse backgrounds, the judges have very different ‘takes’ on what a constitutes good ‘freefrom’ product and the battle of nutritional content versus taste/quality, versus ‘Ohmigod – you mean this really is a dairy and gluten free quiche that I could eat’ can rage quite fiercely!
We were very lucky this year also to have a lot of ‘dual’ experts, nutritionists/dietitians such as Christine Bailey or Tanya Wright who not only have professional expertise in their area but are allergy sufferers themselves (Christine, dairy and gluten free, Tanya anaphylactically allergic to milk and eggs), chefs and food professionals such as Jane Milton, Hulya Erdal or chef Frank Bordoni who have also either had food problems themselves or been closely involved with some who had – and of course our new crop of ‘blogging judges’ all of whom have had very personal experience of living freefrom – and are delightfully vocal on the subject!
And what of the entries? Well, for obvious reasons, I cannot say much about them – except that there were some really exciting new products this year. Exciting not only in terms of flavour and texture (although some certainly were in those terms too) but in terms of going where no freefrom product has gone before!
Although you will have to wait till April to get the full story of who has won what, the shortlist will be out very soon so at least you will now what is in the running! Watch this space.
And meanwhile, thank you very much, again, both to all of those wonderful judges (for a full list of who they were see here on the FreeFrom Food Awards site) and to our amazing ‘in house team’ – seen below: Cressida, Katherine – and Daisy, who behaved immaculately throughout, merely waking every now and then for a quick look around and a little nosh!