On 1st August this year my business received the highest accolade regarded in the food and drink world for my Spicy Pineapple Chutney; three-stars in the Great Taste Awards. To put this into context, there were 12,772 entries, sent in from over 100 different countries and only 208 were awarded a three-star. My artisan chutney was in the top 1.6%.
So, what are the Great Taste Awards? Not everyone has heard of them (although many will recognise the logo) but they are considered, by many, the pinnacle of food and drink production. As the Independent newspaper described them, ‘the Oscars of the food and drink world’. Products are judged by a panel of specialists: top chefs, food writers, influencers, food critics, restaurateurs and fine food retailers.
Established in 1994, Great Taste has grown into the largest and most trusted accreditation for fine food and drink, ‘giving artisan producers a unique benchmark and product evaluation leading to accreditation that enables small food and drink businesses to compete against premium own brand labels’.
Products are judged on their quality of ingredients, how well the maker has put the product together, but above all they are looking for great taste. Each product is then blind tasted by teams of three to four judges and any products deemed to be worthy of Great Taste stars are judged by further small teams. For a Great Taste three-star award, the vast majority of judges in the room, which can be as many as 30 to 40 experts, must agree that the product or food delivers the indescribable ‘wow’ factor.
I got the last paragraph directly from the Great Taste Awards press release and reading it got me thinking about the process I went through to gain the award.
To enter the awards this year, I had to do two things. Firstly, be registered as a business before the 1st February, and have sold one product. Pretty simple until you get down to the nitty gritty and everything turned into a rush job to get my business in motion. I managed to register my business on 31st January, sell one product to my partner (now wife) and enter the Spicy Pineapple Chutney into the awards on the 1st.
Once that was out of the way, all I had to do was wait until my chutney was summoned to the judging tables (being Dorset), which came and went and then it was business as usual until the announcements were made in August. I make it sound so easy, but there is a constant ‘I wonder if…’ in the back of anyone’s mind when entering competitions. Luckily, I had the rest of a business to set up and products to make, even fitting in my wedding and honeymoon, to try and take my mind off of the potential success or even failure. Not everyone who enters gets stars, some products are given none but everything comes back with the judges’ feedback. The idea that someone is grading your work to a high standard but then giving you feedback is a most daunting prospect. A product that you believe is the best thing since sliced bread, might be to others a lot of sour old grapes.
Come early July and I had long forgotten about the awards, coming into summer market season and gearing up for many a weekend standing, selling my products and encouraging those who tried to buy. Then out of the blue I received a phone call from the Great Taste team telling me I was a three-star winner, not to tell anyone (except close family) and my chutney was being put into another round of judging.
All the three-star winners were to be judged again by another set of specialists and food buyers from the likes of Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and Partridges to name a few, who would finally agree on the Golden Fork winners and the Great Taste Supreme Champion 2019.
To say I was speechless was an understatement. I had to be told more than once on the phone before it actually sank in. It still feels incredible now and before I had a chance to think about it, I received a call the next day asking me if Great Taste could use my Spicy Pineapple Chutney in the three-star dinner, which was to be provided for all the judges on the final day of judging. This again left me speechless.
The last month has been pure torture, not being able to tell my friends and wider family of my achievement and constantly worrying if I would let it slip. I completely understand the embargo though, it was put in place to ensure those who were doing the second round of judging were not influenced by any external sources. The penalty would have been disqualification from the Golden Fork Awards, which would have been devastating.
Well, 1st August finally came around and with it the right to finally tell everyone, which was a massive weight off my shoulders. I honestly thought, brilliant, I can revel in my success and that would be the end of it. Now to put my three-stars to good use and get my product recognised, into local shops and maybe further afield.
Things are never as straight forward as this though. I received an email from the Great Taste team shortly after midday stating that my Spicy Pineapple Chutney had been nominated for a Golden Fork Award and I was invited as a guest to attend the award ceremony in London. Shocked, astounded, overwhelmed, are the words that best described my situation. Then the second email came through. Two, yes two nominations!! One for my chutney, the other for my business. I am in a dream world. To be even nominated for one was incredible, but to be nominated for two, my head has been in a spin ever since. I now have to wait until the ceremony on 1st September to find out the results.
Do I expect to win, no. In life, those who expect things are generally the ones to become disappointed with failure. I expect nothing but an interesting evening with my wife networking with the elite of the food and drink industry. To get two nominations for the Great Taste Awards is literally out of this world for a small seven-month-old business, like mine.
But I can dream!