Recognised as being among the most prestigious accolades for young members of the hospitality industry, the Acorn Awards celebrate their 22nd birthday next year. Tom Vaughan reports on the opportunity to honour your top young employees
DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES IS NOW CLOSED Judging by a panel of industry professionals will take place on Friday 11 April.
The list of past winners of an Acorn Award reads like a who's who of hospitality: Marco Pierre White, John Burton Race, Jason Atherton, Gary Rhodes, Michael Caines, Marcus Wareing the list goes on. The awards are now in their 22nd year, and employers once again have the opportunity to nominate staff for recognition as one of 30 stars of tomorrow.
Last year's competition entrants totalled in the hundreds and came from all industry sectors, including independent restaurants, chain restaurants, hotels, contract caterers, pubs and training companies. This year the awards will again narrow down entrants to 30 industry professionals under the age of 30 who exemplify the best characteristics of hospitality.
The deadline for entries is Monday 10 March, and judging by a panel of industry professionals will take place on Friday 11 April. The awards ceremony will be held over the weekend of 15-16 June at Malmaison Oxford for the 30 young professionals who most impress the judges. A series of interesting challenges will be set for the event before the winners pick up their coveted awards.
So help us recognise the future stars of hospitality by nominating those employees under the age of 30 whose dedication and hard work deserves to be shouted about.
Some previous Acorn winners
James Horler was nominated in 1994 as general manager of Granada Motorway Service Areas in Birmingham, he went on to win the Group Restaurateur of the Year Catey in 2004 as chief executive of La Tasca and is now chairman of healthy fast-food chain Leon. He has been a judge for the Acorns over the past few years.
"It's great in an industry such as ours to recognise young talent in whatever form it takes," he says. "When I received my Acorn award I was thrilled. I was in the magazine and got the PR and the kudos that goes with it and it was a real buzz. From there on it became a great chance to network and be involved with [past winners' club] Oak, and to get the chance to introduce myself towinners in other sectors and establish peer group relationships across the industry. I've judged three times and the standard just keeps getting better and better. There's so many enthusiastic young people out there across more and more diverse jobs. There's no other vehicle I know of to reward people under the age of 30 who will go on to be big players in the industry."
James Durrant, head chef at Maze, was nominated and rewarded last year. "It was amazing at the time and great to be recognised and nominated by the people I work around," he recalls. "It gives you motivation to carry on and lets you know you're pointing in the right direction. And I've had some good fun with it as well. I've met quite a few people through the awards and work is a restraint that means I don't get to as many of the networking dos as I would like, but they're there if I want to. It's let me know that if I carry on what I'm doing, hopefully I'll go on to bigger and better things."
Jon Reed was nominated last year as training co-ordinator of Learnpurple, a position he still holds. "It gave me a huge sense of recognition and pride because for someone of my age at this stage in my career it's the highest accolade you can aim to achieve," he says. "It's been tremendous for my own profile so I'm very grateful for that. It's increased my network and is still something people talk to me about 18 months on. The networking aspects provide the opportunity to meet more and more people in the industry, to build your contacts, and means you're right at the heart of a very fantastically incestuous industry."
John Campbell, executive chef at the Vineyard at Stockcross, a former winner himself, has nominated in the past, his most recent winner being his head chef Peter Eaton last year. "The majority of this industry is through networking and pooling resources," says Campbell. "Other big industries converse and work together to make their industry better. For me, the Acorn Awards help to do this in hospitality by giving young members the chance to network and also by rewarding their hard work.
"It's a nice litmus test for them to let them know they're on the right track with their career, and it's a very important milestone for anyone who wants to be successful. Look back at all the former Acorn winners and they've all gone on to do very, very well. The awards are a trampoline for winners to go on to greater things."
Nicola Monks was nominated in 2004 when private dining manager at Gordon Ramsay Holdings, Monks has since taken the step up to private dining and website director. "The award was a huge boost to my confidence and it made me feel really valued because they had put me forward for the award," she says. "When I won, it opened my eyes to the industry as a whole because it can be so easy to focus on your job and not see the wider picture. It made me aware that there were other people out there doing the same thing as you. It not only motivates you but also your colleagues as they see what can be achieved and gives them something to work towards."
William Baxter, deputy chief executive of contract caterer BaxterStorey, is a keen admirer of the awards.
"It's a great chance to give someone recognition in their career and give them some motivation to go even higher with what they can achieve," he says. "To be recognised as one of the 30 under 30 is quite something. I was recently talking to a guy who we nominated over 10 years ago and speaking about career milestones, and it was great to see how much he treasured his Acorn Award as an achievement. Historically the people who've won Acorns go on to achieve great things. From the moment they're nominated it motivates them to push themselves further and carry on climbing the hospitality industry ladder."
A winner himself in 1992, Sean Wheeler, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin director of people, has nominated staff over the past few years. His most recent winner was food and beverage manager Paul Boyce in 2005. "It's important that we recognise the outstanding young individuals in the industry and it's great for them to have an award that's held in such high regard," he says.
"We find nominees become very loyal because they're so pleased to have been recognised and we make a big deal about it. It does a great deal to drive their motivation. It's great for us as a company to showcase that we have some excellent staff working for us and by highlighting staff worthy of the award it helps us to keep an eye on them as they go on to achieve great things, which nine times out of 10 they do."
2008 Acorn Awards Sponsor Message
From Simon Marshall, managing director, Unilever Foodsolutions:
"We always look forward to this time of year when we have the opportunity to reward some of the greatest young talent within our industry. It's no coincidence that we have sponsored the Acorn Awards for over two decades, as we truly believe in their ethos for recognising and celebrating the individuals who make this industry great.
"This industry is exciting and dynamic, but we all know how tough it can be at times. That's why it's important for us to support and encourage these high achievers who will drive our industry forward and help it to become a sector that other young professionals aspire to be part of.
"The annual Acorn Awards celebrates the excellence of 30 industry professionals whose achievements make them stand out from their peers. Each year during the judging process we see a wide selection of promising and determined individuals all striving to become the best in their field, whether it be in human resources, contract catering, sales and marketing, finance or managerial roles. The awards are recognised as the industry's most prestigious accolade as they allow the young stars of the hospitality sector to shine.
"At Unilever Foodsolutions we meet the changing needs of the marketplace by providing innovative solutions that are backed by a wealth of culinary expertise and consumer insight. We aim to grow our customers' businesses by providing them with creative concepts, products and support that help to increase their profit opportunities.
"We wish this year's entries the very best of luck and look forward to meeting the winners at the awards weekend."
2008 acorn nominations
To make the entry procedure as fair as possible, this year we're asking all entrants to submit their nominations online.
If you have any queries relating to the entry form please contact Lisa Goold on 020 8652 3656 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2008 Acorn Awards ceremony will take place on the weekend of 15-16 June at Malmaison Oxford.
The 94-bedroom hotel opened two years ago and is housed in a former prison, part of Oxford Castle, which is steeped in centuries of history dating back to the Norman Conquest.
The designers kept as many of the original prison features as possible. Each bedroom and en suite bathroom has been formed out of three former prison cells and the gangways, prison doors and vaulted ceilings are all original.
The hotel won a Catey earlier this year in the Hotel of the Year - Group category.