Confusion over nominations for St Albans district Food and Drink Awards

PUBLISHED: 15:01 06 September 2013

St Albans Food and Drink Awards 2012

St Albans Food and Drink Awards 2012

Archant

ST Albans’ annual Food and Drink Awards have come under fire from restaurateurs and residents amidst claims they have made a mockery of the district’s finest.

Poor definitions, businesses in the wrong categories, and a lack of local gems are just a few of the issues cited with the awards this year.

Charlie Powell, founder of Soko Coffee, recently decided to bow out of the event as she claims its letting the city’s businesses down: “I am in full support of the local Food and Drink Awards but I don’t believe that they reflect the true picture of the food and drinks industry in St Albans.”

The awards form the climax of the St Albans Food and Drink Festival, which runs from September 25 to October 6 and is now in its fifth year.

Various residents have echoed Charlie’s concern over the awards in the past week, with one Twitter user describing the categories as “head-scratchers” and a Facebook member posting: “The categories also don’t make sense. They need to raise their game.”

Both Hatch and Singhli have been listed in the street food category even though they operate out of a fixed building most of the year, and a number of local gems are noticeably absent from the full shortlist, as Johnny Shepherd from the Pudding Stop explained: “They’ve excluded some of the best and top class food producers from the awards such as Hedges Farm, Hawkswick Fruit Farm, Childwickbury goats, The Bakehouse, Godfrey’s, The 3 Brewers.

“There’s also a national chain in the bar category! And they’ve classed bars as places that serve Peroni and San Miguel – what about places serving British beer!?

“The food awards should be run by people that know, love, and are passionate about food.”

Charlie said: “I couldn’t be part of something that is so unfair and has lost its integrity. It just makes it a bit embarrassing. You need to understand the industry in order to make awards for it. These people work really hard, it’s a hard industry to work in.”

This is not the first time the entrepreneur has voiced her opinions about the awards: “Every year they [the council] send us a feedback form, so I fill it in purely for us to progress, but they don’t respond. It’s just a paper exercise to the council.”

But she has not always found issues with the annual event: “The first year that it started in 2009 I won Best Coffee Bar of the Year and I was really chuffed with that.

“I had high hopes for the awards but then it became this. I just want them to get with the programme.”

Becky Alexander, the Herts Advertiser’s food writer and a former member of the awards’ now-redundant steering group, said: “I think it’s all been done in a bit of rush. I don’t think people knew about the nominations.

“What they’ve done is pretty inadequate. They’re not building on last year’s success and are doing the bare minimum. Obviously I want the awards to be a success, but they’re not reflecting the best of the area.

“They are missing the vetting of the steering group this year. For something of this scale it should have a small team of people working on it.”

In response, a council spokesperson stressed the awards do recognise local businesses: “Of the businesses that were nominated, the majority are purely ‘local’. The remaining businesses have national or regional activities. All however, operate locally.

“Singhli and Hatch are justified to be in the street food category as Hatch occasionally operates on the street and Singhli specialises in “Indian ‘street food’”.

They added: “This year it was decided that all nominated businesses go to public vote. As a result there was no need for a panel to shortlist nominations. This change helps with inclusivity and addresses feedback from previous years.”

Votes can be registered at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VTL9CBF until Sunday, September 22.

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