The 28th Acorn Awards were marked with a weekend of networking and celebrations at the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire. Janet Harmer reports on the event, which applauded the achievements of 30 rising young stars of hospitality
It was always going to be a competitive afternoon. With 30 of the hospitality industry's brightest young stars gathered together, divided into teams to pit their skills in a series of mental and physical challenges, the battle to take the winner's medal was full-on.
While some may have initially felt awkward about laying their abilities bare in front of strangers, all inhibitions were swiftly blown away as they struggled to undertake
Krypton Factor-style challenges that included puzzle-making while blindfolded, dodging a mine-field using planks and negotiating a route through a spider's web.
After three hours of spirited competition, hard-fought in the sweltering heat, the blue team was declared the winner. Only then was there the opportunity to relax for the first time, with the majority of the winners choosing to head for the Four Seasons' extensive spa complex with its indoor and outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs.
The afternoon had been a fabulous way for the brightest young stars of the hospitality industry, representing hotels (budget to five-star properties), restaurants, bars, food service companies and training organisations, to relax, have fun and share in their success with fellow winners. And, along the way, bonds were made between the winners which are likely to be long-lasting and help them forge ahead as they rise up the career ladder.
By the evening, when a barbecue was enjoyed in the hotel's walled garden followed by drinks in the bar, the goal of breaking the ice and cementing new friendships between all the participants had been well and truly achieved.
There may have been one or two sore heads the following morning when the formal proceedings got under way, but there was no denying the pride of the winners as they were joined by their nominators for the Acorn Awards presentations, when they became members of the elite group of 840 young people who have received the accolade over 28 years.
A celebratory lunch overseen by executive chef Cyrille Pannier was then served. It included Portland crab and avocado roulade, Granny Smith salad, basil and bisque coulis; roasted guinea fowl supreme, new season asparagus and morel mushrooms; and brÁ»lée of Gariguette strawberry, estate honey, mint and yogurt sorbet.
Throughout the day, the 30 young achievers were frequently reminded of their success, from the welcome by group editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper Mark Lewis to the congratulations provided by Robert Beaugié, founder and owner of sponsors ACT Clean.
The Acorn Awards are all about "outstanding performers, able to display the energy, dedication and innovation needed to guarantee excellent service and customer care," said Lewis.
For Beaugié, who encouraged the winners to take time to consider and appreciate their success, the awards "epitomise what is great about our industry and recognise the brilliant talent of today and the leaders of tomorrow.
"We all know that our people are our greatest asset and that reward and recognition is important. Our whole business is reliant on the success of our people, so the Acorn Awards are perfectly in line with our own beliefs and practices," he said.
The event concluded with an inspiring speech from Chris Penn, managing director of Ace hotel, London. As a former winner himself - in 2009 when he was deputy general manager at the capital's Cavendish hotel - Penn knows only too well the huge honour and long-term benefits of being named an Acorn winner.
Achieving the accolade, he told the audience, had given him the confidence to step out of his comfort zone in his previous job as general manager at London's Flemings hotel to take on what has been the biggest challenge of his career to date - the launch of the first Ace hotel for the USA-based brand in Europe.
At ACT Clean, we know our business and its success begins and ends with the quality, commitment and aspirations of our team and the job they do.
Creating great experiences and partnerships, demonstrating excellence and making a difference is all about people.
The Acorn Awards have long recognised, rewarded and celebrated these attributes and the exceptional talent in our industry that enhances its reputation.
That's why at ACT Clean we're proud to again be supporting the awards. We see our support as playing a very small role in an industry we can all be proud to belong to, recognising its future leaders and giving them a platform from which to shine still further. It's our pleasure and privilege to do so.
ACT Clean - the vital, yet unseen partner in creating the luxury hospitality experience.
Our host venue: The Four Seasons hotel Hampshire
Set within 500 acres of parkland in the heart of the Hampshire countryside, and yet only an hour from central London, the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire provided a glorious setting for the 2014 Acorn Awards weekend, held on 1-2 June.
All 30 winners of this year's awards gathered at the five-red-AA-star, 133-bedroom hotel for a host of team-bonding activities, an informal barbecue in the walled garden and a celebratory lunch the next day.
They were welcomed by general manger Charlie Parker and director of food and beverage David Monson, himself an Acorn Award winner in 2001 when he was director of catering at the Four Seasons hotel in London.
Opened in 2005, the hotel has an extensive range of food and beverage options, including the Library for afternoon tea, the 80-seat Seasons restaurant, 32-seat Bistro, 24-seat Café Sante in the Spa and Bar 1086.
There are also leisure facilities to be enjoyed, including the Spa with its 15 treatment rooms in an 18th-century stable block, a 20m swimming pool and outdoor vitality pool, horse riding, fly fishing, croquet and cycling.
A big thank you
Our thanks go to event management company Team Spirit, organiser of the team-bonding challenge, which saw all the Acorn Award winners enthusiastically throw themselves into a series of bootcamp challenges. By the end of a series of fun and demanding activities, the participants had established a network of new friends, who they potentially will remain in contact with for life.