Quality Food Awards

Food producers and retailers scoop top industry awards

Thursday 10 November, saw the prestigious Quality Food Awards presented at The Park Plaza Hotel, London where Britain’s leading food and drink producers and retailers were honoured.

It is a really strong competition where I have been on the panel of judges for many years and have been enthused by innovation and drive for quality despite difficult economic climate.

These awards are highly regarded as the ‘Oscars’ of the food and drink industry and reward products on sale in UK grocery outlets.

I was delighted to present the Christmas awards that has put me in festive spirit!

Check out winners at http://www.qualityfoodawards.com/

‘We suffer so they don’t’ – 100 Miles, 1 Day, 1 Goal

The Independent London2Brighton Ride
10 September 2011

Thank You

A few friends & I attempted the uphill endurance cycle recently and due to great support from many of my friends and collegues we all raised over a thousand pounds for action medical caring for children – thank you & truly appreciated.

Now the Irish pal rushed off & finished in record time, the French pal decided to use his iPod sat nav instead of following the sign posted route and of course got lost leaving the Swiss fellow & myself to complete the ride.

All went swimmingly (ok painfully) well until almost at the end we faced the Ditchling beacon a never-ending cliff where there were moments when the bike was about to be thrown over the side!

Our butts looked like a baboon for a few days but I have to admit it was a great adventure and I am looking forward to my next Peter Pan male menopausal stunt!


Barista of the Year!

Announcing our Barista of the Year!

In September the annual Barista of the year championship was held at at the Business design centre in London.

We originally received over 300 entries from M&S baristas across the UK and Ireland. In-store assessments were held during the summer in over 180 stores.

From these assessments eleven finalists were selected:
Darren McCory, Jayne Semple, Chloe Prenton, Sean Linden, Jack white, Eve Haslam, Hetal Sodagar, Maria Thomas, Amanda McLean, Amy Jackson, Luke Evans

On the day all the finalists were required to set up their coffee machines and adjust the grinder to check the quality and time of the espresso coffee which forms the base of all our speciality coffee drinks.

Finalists were asked to produce four perfect espressos and four perfect lattes. Bonus points were awarded for latte art where the aim is to make a pattern on the coffee using only the milk and a great deal of skill.

Each contestant was asked to devise a speciality coffee based drink using only M&S ingredients. This year flavours included cherry, caramel, hazelnut and cinnamon, all were delicious with a mixture of iced, blended and hot drinks.

Sensory judging was carried out by a team of four including M&S cafe operations manager, David Condliffe, last year’s M&S Barista of the year, Alex Passmore and our coffee partners, Matthew Algie including Caroline Carter, National training manager and Regional training manager Kerry Wilkinson. Technical judging was conducted by Natasha Kemp and proceedings were overseen by head judge Sarah Bolwer who is also a UK barista championship judge.

Third place was awarded to Sean Linden from Dundrum store.

Runner up was awarded to Amy Jackson from Cheshunt store.

The title of M&S Barista of the year 2011 went to Luke Evans from Worthing store.

Luke was presented with the David Williamson trophy which he can keep for one year and, £250 of M&S vouchers. All finalists received a signed book by chef Tom Aitkens, a certificate and a bottle of Champagne. In addition to his winner’s prize, Luke will travel to the Matthew Algie roastery in Glasgow to roast his own coffee. The presentation of awards was carried out by Jason Danciger, Head of hospitality and in store food production at M&S

The M&S Chef of the Year Challenge

The M&S Chef of the Year Challenge final took place last week, with colleagues from across the business battling it out for the prestigious title.

Following last year’s successful M&S competition we ran two events; the amateur division was open to anyone from our offices or stores and our professional division was opened to trained chefs.

The finalists were all present on merit, following several stages of selection and had beaten their way through hundreds of entries from across the UK & Ireland. The chefs were tasked to produce a three course meal for two people using M&S ingredients consisting of a vegetarian starter, a sustainable fish main course and finally a dessert of seasonal strawberries, in just 90 minutes.

The standards incredibly high making it difficult to pick out an outstanding individual, but eventually the winners were announced.

Roz Graham from Camberley store, who works as a staff coordinator, was crowned the amateur chef of the year 2011

Melvyn Redding from Hedge End store – who works as the head chef in one of the busiest M&S restaurants – was announced as the Professional chef of the year 2011

Well done to Roz and Melvyn, but also congratulations to all of the finalists who showed great skill and made the final a truly high-quality event; fiercely competed but in tremendous spirit.

Our Amateur finalists
Mya Aronica – Aberdeen
Judith Battimelli – Maidenhead
Roz Graham – Camberley
Stephanie Keating – Navan

Our Professional finalists
Marc Herron – Lisburn
John Law – Culverhouse cross
Robert Parish Smith – London Colney
Melvyn Redding – Hedge End

The event was supported by The Craft guild of Chefs; the country’s leading chef organisation and our trophies were generously sponsored by Bakkavor and Manitowoc food service solutions.

Head of hospitality for M&S Jason Danciger, also a member of the craft guild of chefs, chaired the judges for both of our chef challenges along with Lead chefs from the M&S development teams and representatives of our sponsors.

“The food was outstanding and some of the amateur dishes could grace the table of many top restaurants in the country,” said Jason. “The professional level was up to the standard of national competitions that I have judged – in both cases this just shows the incredible talent in our M&S people. Congratulations to all our finalists, and especially Roz and Melvyn”.


Food Development Assoc – Biography 26

I chaired this organisation for a few years until it was sensibly merged with the craft guild of chefs giving them a food development arm. We were (still are) looking after the specialist development chefs in both suppliers and many restaurant & catering groups.

I am currently trying to launch a course to help skilled chefs take the step from cooking at the helm to food development which encompasses working with suppliers/manufacturers, technologists, marketing, design and logistics to get the skill to create a product in a pack that is as good or as close to one you create yourself on a stove.

We ran a series of really fun combined workshops and conference that had 300 + attendees of top chefs and product developers across the country. These were based on themes of science (molecular gastronomy a la Heston Blummenthal a foodie & black belt in karate like me but then similarities stop!) on food provenance (how could I resist) and future trends.

As well as promoting Freedom Food & MSC we also supported organic soil association taking the three perfect partners of fish, meat and fruit & veg!

We would run several tours visiting new restaurants exploring trends and engrossing ourselves in this vibrant, exciting and ever changing industry.

Marine Stewardship Council – Biography 25

Another great association I have been honoured to work with again bringing the first certified product to a restaurant group in the UK.

There were many other supporters such as many retailers and restaurant groups. Tony of Fish was the second group who certified his products and we used to joke that he was upset that I went first & that my IQ was 1% higher than his! But hats off to Tony for taking the step that so many others follow.

One of my favourite projects was to launch a wine that went exceptionally well with fish, yes it was that obvious but we took it a step further with my great old friend Michael Saunders of Bibendum. We chose a white wine from Chile and blended it specifically to fit the bill. Now one of my favourite moments when I visited the vineyard was to go horse riding with the wine maker and we galloped through his vines – just awesome. Anyway wine chosen and partner chosen as Sainsbury’s then with another great friend Alan Cheeseman who sits with me on the wine fair board and who was their wine director at the time agreed to support us. The idea was that we would display the wine just by the fish counter and that 15p went from each bottle to the MSC who used the money to promote awareness. It was a huge hit and a great campaign also helped by Rick Stein who wrote some recipes we added to the bottle.
We had a “face to face” meeting with HRH Prince Charles who again thrilled me with his passion, drive and understanding of the fishery industry. He was an ‘interested party’ who strongly cared about Albatross caught by irresponsible fishing and of course sustainable fishing that we were trying to promote. Just four of us and his body guard and we talked about how to get the message to more people. Prince Charles actually liked the wine project & said thanks!!

I have talked about MSC at various industry conferences (Publican, Harpers Debate, Food Development Conferences & work shops) and if I see a product with its label it goes in the basket and if it doesn’t have one where appropriate I’ll be leaving it on the shelf!

Freedom Food – Biography 24

RSPCA started Freedom Food an organisation dedicated to animal welfare. Albert Roux always used to say to me 20 years ago that a happy animal makes a happy meal and he was absolutely right.

I worked with Freedom food to get first certified products (Chicken & eggs first and subsequently pork) onto the first menus.

When I was the director of food at Spirit that had over a 1,000 pubs and eateries including over a hundred gastro pubs we only bought Freedom Food audited eggs. That meant the animals were fed well (& naturally), had room to roam but also understanding the animal also had room to hide and shelter when it wanted.

I remember when I first visited the farms – I felt like Bob Geldoff in Africa as the chickens swarmed towards me! I saw first hand that they were well treated and in a natural (fox free) environment.

I have seen battery eggs & chickens and there were tears in my eyes and I pledged to wherever I could I would only buy happy animals for myself, the company I was working in and try & talk about in wherever I could either on my website or in talks & conferences,

Frankly there should not be a choice even if it raises the price of meat there should be a minimum standard for rearing all animals set by government.

But for now Freedom Food does the trick!

Craft Guild of Chefs – Biography 23

I have been a member of the craft guild of chefs for 20+ years getting involved when it was part of the Cookery & Food Association (the Queen mum was its patron then) and I am still a keen supporter.

The craft guild run truly industry class culinary competitions, chef teams entering competitions, awards and support the wider industry a must for any chef working in the UK.

Early in my career I was London’s chairman of the Cookery & Food Association running our own salon, setting out cookery demonstrations, wine tastings and other events.

For years for both CFA and craft guild I helped take minutes, organise events, judge competitions, promoted membership at stands and the usual committee activities that go with any organisation.

My philosophy is simple; this industry has looked after me well for over 30 years and so I have a moral obligation to look after it!

CFA launched the Restaurant Services Guild. Again I helped its launch and we started front of house demonstrations and events trying ‘ahead of its time’ to promote good service and promote the trade as a true career choice. George Goring of the Goring hotel by Buckingham Palace was a great ally helping me to launch many of those activities. George had this folding silver whisk in his top pocket that he used to take the fizz out of champagne, a shame after all of the effort that the winemakers put in but the bubbles disagreed with him! George was a great ambassador for the industry, truly cared and was just brilliant with his teams. We would have many conversations around the front of house project as he had his breakfast (muesli) around 11pm most nights.

Michel Bourdin was another great supporter and always helped out although his attention span could be broken by any pretty girl who entered the room; ah typically French!

CFA and RSG eventually dissolved but left the Craft Guild strong and still admirably serving its members & when I get any spare time I will still try and support them, join management meetings or sponsor events as I am as passionate about great food & our industry as they are.

London International Wine Spirit Trade Fair – Biography 22

The scary fact is that I have been to the wine fair every year since its inception 25 years ago!

I loved the buzz, the romance of finding new products and catching up with so many friends from the restaurant world and of course the wine world.

It was an obvious destiny that I would end up on the advisory board for the shows organisers; Brintex. I had the opportunity then to input into the show that I loved and used so much.

London International Wine Fair & Distil are an award winning trade shows that are simply indispensible for anyone in the leisure industry and the fair has just got better and better every year.

The bravest change was to move the fair from Olympia to Excel. Olympia had ‘soul’ and history but was cramped, too hot and just not suitable for tasting wine. Year one we never lost anyone but it was a tad stark, that improved in second year and in year three we had managed to put the ‘soul’ back and make it a real experience noting that this fair was about doing business!

Then the good news….

The London International Wine Fair won the exhibition industry’s highest accolade at the AEO (Association of Event Organisers) annual awards. Around 900 event industry professionals packed into the Park Lane Hilton for the occasion culminating in the announcement of the winner of The Best Trade Show category.

Beating strong international competition, the London International Wine Fair united the judges in their final decision. They commented on the Fair: “An intelligent show implemented with smart marketing, joined-up thinking and a great team who pulled everything together by being ahead of the curve”.

Of course the bling is one thing but we listen to our audience and footfall and business grow each year and we introduced so many good initiatives that give the fair credibility such as circle of wine writers tasting (first one we organized was from Temate, or Petrus of New Zealand as I call them, doing a reverse [youngest first] tasting of their powerhouse coleraine wines. The top 100 tastings get to the point and the Harpers awards & Quality Drink Awards presentations all add to the buzz.

Our board meetings meets a few times a year but there is an annual dinner where wines are normally sublime. We started with blind tastings but was boring when I used to win all of the time….I jest as we equally had a lot of great buyers and industry experts on the panel; mostly great characters as you can imagine.

The fair and our constant debates and challenges continues and just wait till next year…

Thoughts and comments from Jason Danciger