Guild of Fine Food Awards

Judging at the Great Taste Food Awards

I often work at weekends, as my time is fairly flexible. So when my work email pinged on a Sunday afternoon I had to take a quick peek. It was from Jennie Cooper of Taste Buds Magazine (which I write for) after a favour. She was supposed to judge at the Great Taste Food Awards on the following Tuesday but had been taken ill and didn’t think she would recover in time. Could I possibly take her place?

Tuesday for me was a ‘bit of a day’, but I have never acted as a judge before, and the idea appealed. It was hotfoot off to Gillingham in Dorset (not Kent, thank goodness) for a morning of tasting and judging.

Arriving at the Guild of Fine Food HQ, the wonderful Jilly Sitch made me very comfortable and introduced me to a friendly bunch, including Mrs Simkins, cook, recipe researcher and writer, who I now tweet with. After a coffee, I was directed to my table where I met our fellow judges; co-ordinator Susan, Jeremy and fellow virgin judge Matthew, head of product development at Winterbotham Darby.

We eyed up our table of goodies, which ranged from chocolates to honey, chutney, snacks and oil. During the course of the morning, hot food, ice cream, meat and fish were brought to the table, along with soft drinks. Luckily this wasn’t a cider judging day, or I would never have made my afternoon meeting.

Food Award JudgeJudging food (and drink) on its own can be a difficult task. Sometimes a chutney cries out for cheese! However, in general, the four judges at my table were of one accord, most of the time. If one person disagreed, the food was sent to an arbitrator. We did debate, but our debates weren’t heated.

There are potentially three stars that can be awarded – although you can also award no stars. Three stars is an amazing achievement, and I was told that a hush would descend on the room if such a thing occurred. My panel, in fact, did award a three star, but we weren’t sure if this was agreed with by other panels – a minimum of 20 judges must agree to make it so. I’m sure I shall find out when the results are published. We also were given a three star dish, but we didn’t agree and only awarded two. Tough love!

  • One star: Simply Delicious
  • Two stars: Outstanding
  • Three stars: Exquisite! Wow! Taste that!

I only attended a morning session but it was extremely good fun and opened my eyes to the range of food producers. A big thank you to the Guild for welcoming me. Now I’m hooked on judging – in fact, I’m about to judge for our local awards, Taste of the West. So watch this space!

Great Taste Food Awards judging

Agata Domarecka food & drink PR

A big cheer for Agy at Rusty Pig

Hurrah for the Rusty Pig

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Robin Rea for several years now as one of my food & drink PR clients. Robin owns Rusty Pig in Ottery St Mary, a restaurant, butchers shop, specialist charcuterie wholesaler and wedding caterer (if you want a wedding feast, he’s the man to talk to). PR has been good; awards shortlistings, contributing to Devon Life’s Christmas Hamper (three years in a row), brokering reviews plus a whole lot of press releases and feature articles.

Robin, it has to be said, has a unique personality. He goes his own way, not compromising on his beliefs and way of life to make greater profits or jump up a notch or two in the chef stakes. Robin is his own man.

Rusty Pig has been a fixture in Ottery since 2011 but over the past year there have been some really positive changes. The superb Mark Russell joined as resident chef, allowing Robin to develop other aspects of the business. And then, early in 2017, a small explosion occurred when new restaurant manager Agata Domarecka was appointed.

I’ve come across Agy a few times, notably when Devon Life Ed Andy Cooper sent me an email from her suggesting a feature on her partner, leathermaker Matthew Bailey (writing it at the moment, watch this space). I bumped into her at The Source trade show at Westpoint Exeter where we had both gone to support Robin who was exhibiting his charcuterie with business partner Paul Young.

Food & drink PR

Next up, I interviewed Agy for a press release about her appointment. She’s an amazing lady, full of energy, full of ideas. Originally from Poland, Agy has been working in the UK for 10 years, starting as a waitress then being promoted to restaurant manager at Combe House before it became a Pig (not a rusty one).

I distributed the press release last week and had some nice feedback, especially from Devon Life who had popped in for brekkie on her first day and saw exactly what I was talking about!

It’s always been a privilige to work with the Rusty Pig team – they are as friendly as anything and okay, sometimes a bit cheeky (you know who you are). I suspect Agy’s appointment will herald a new chapter in the fortunes of the business – she is taking a firm grip and shaking a few things up a bit. She’ll soon have customers eating out of her hand.

A good time to book dinner – and meet the whirlwind that is Agy!

Otter Nurseries award winning jam


Otter Nurseries – not just plant experts

When I first moved to Devon nearly 20 years’ ago, I fell in love with Otter Nurseries garden centre in Ottery St Mary. My garden became crammed with flowers purchased there; some even featured in my homemade wedding bouquet.

Now one of my PR and social media clients, Otter Nurseries is a fascinating company to work for – there are many facets of the business (which has five branches) to learn about, such as environmental ethos (no chemicals are used in the growing nurseries), ongoing and generous support for many community initiatives and charities, free gardening advice and design… and jam.

Otter Nurseries jam is made in the kitchens of the garden centre restaurant, mainly by talented cook Liz Lee. I’ve bought several varieties over the years, including a scrumptious cranberry and orange at Christmas. It’s really so very good that this year two varieties of jam were entered into the Taste of the West Awards.

Fast forward several months, and I spotted on social media that the awards judging was taking place at Westpoint. I asked the Otter Nurseries marketing department how it was going. They were taken aback as they knew nothing of the judging and hadn’t sent any produce. After a few calls and emails it transpired that the entry had fallen through the net.

But all was not lost. The Taste of the West team exhorted me to take some jams to Westpoint – if I was in time they could still be judged. Cue mad dash to Otter Nurseries to collect some jars, cue equally mad dash to Westpoint to drop them off. I’d have asked for a police escort if I’d known.* Arriving at Westpoint I couldn’t see where to go – the front doors were locked and the back seemed shut up. I pounced on a man waiting in a car. He was, it transpired, a judge and pointed out the way in.

I was slightly breathless when I handed the jams over, but encouraged when the lady who took them said how nice it was to see some traditional jams being entered. No fancy ingredients in Otter Nurseries jam; no yak’s milk or pig’s blood… (makes a change).

Two weeks’ ago, an email arrived in the inbox from Taste of the West, and it was good news. The strawberry jam had received a Highly Commended but the fabulous raspberry jam attained a coveted Gold Award.

What else was there for it, but yet another mad dash to Otter Nurseries, this time to take a photograph of the talented Liz Lee and her (now) award winning jams so I could spread the word (no pun intended) to the papers and via social media. You can read about it here and I’m looking forward to seeing more coverage, in our local magazines and regional press. Jammy, or what?

TOTWAwards_2016_Gold*Please note, no speed limits were broken in the making of this dramatic scene.