On 1st August this year my business received the highest accolade regarded in the food and drink world. I won three-stars in the Great Taste Awards for my Spicy Pineapple Chutney. To put this into context, only 208 were awarded a three-star. This was out of 12,772 entries, from over 100 countries and 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. These being 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. The products are blind tasted by teams of three to four judges and any products deemed to be worthy of Great Taste stars are judged by further. For a Great Taste three-star award, the vast majority of judges in the room must agree that the product or food delivers the indescribable ‘wow’ factor. Up to 40 judges have to agree upon a three star award!
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 30th January, sell one product to my wife on the 31st and enter 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. The date came 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.
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’d long forgotten about the awards. Summer market season started and I was gearing up for many a weekend selling my products. Then out of the blue I received a phone call from the Great Taste team telling me I was a three-star winner! BUT, I was not to tell anyone (except close family) because 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. These judges were from the likes of Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and Partridges to name a few, which was extremely daunting. They were the ones 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. The next day I received a call asking me if Great Taste could use my chutney in the three-star dinner. The dinner was provided for all the judges on the final day of judging. This again left me speechless.
The last month was pure torture. Not being able to tell my friends and wider family of my achievement was a constant worry. I completely understand the embargo. This was to stop the second round judges being influenced by external sources. The penalty would have been disqualification from the Golden Fork Awards, which would have been devastating.
Finally the 1st August came and a massive weight off my shoulders. Brilliant, I can now revel in my success and that would be the end of it. I could now put my three-stars to good use and get my product recognised.
Things are never as straight forward as this though. Shortly after midday, I received an email that simply blew my mind. My Spicy Pineapple Chutney had been nominated for a Golden Fork Award!
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 nominated for one was incredible, but 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 was literally astounding for a small seven-month-old business, like mine.
But I can dream!