Acorn Awards 2016: Celebrating 30 years of 30 under 30

05 February 2016 by
Acorn Awards 2016: Celebrating 30 years of 30 under 30

The Caterer is inviting nominations for the 2016 Acorn Awards, which this year is celebrating its 30th birthday. Janet Harmer looks at how the accolade has become one of hospitality's most significant benchmarks for the industry's most inspiring young stars

This year marks a significant landmark in the history of the Acorn Awards, as it will be the 30th year in which 30 young hospitality professionals have been identified and honoured as the most promising operators within the industry.

On announcing the first Acorn Awards in April 1987, The Caterer (then known as Caterer & Hotelkeeper) said it aimed "to turn the spotlight on men and women who had the best chance of becoming the greats of the next generation".

This, indeed, has turned out to be the case. Among the first group of winners were a youthful-looking Craig Bancroft, Stephen Doherty and Marco Pierre White.

A total of 870 Acorn Awards have been presented to individuals, and a plethora of future stars have been honoured. Proud recipients include Jason Atherton, Marcus Wareing, John Campbell, Zoe Jenkins, Sean Wheeler, Stuart Procter, Chris Penn and 2015 Hotelier of the Year Nick Jones.

Many others have gone on to carve out rewarding careers; improving standards, inspiring colleagues and promoting the industry.

The first Acorn Awards was celebrated with a lunch attended by the late Lord Forte, who applauded the initiative. "This is an industry to be proud of," he said.

Today, the presentation of the Acorn Awards today has been extended to a weekend of celebrations, with this year's event at Chewton Glen promising to be equally momentous an affair as the inaugural occasion in 1987.

16 April 1987, the first Acorn Awards

Winners past and present

Patrick McDonald
Acorn winner in 1990
Age now
Position then Chef/owner, Epicurean restaurant and Epicurean bistro, Stow-on-the-Wold
Position now Managing director, Ford McDonald Consultancy; managing director/partner, Fine Food & Beverage Solutions; and food and beverage director, Whitbourne Estate

"It was a true honour as a young 28-year-old to be recognised for the enormous time and effort that I was putting into the trade. I remember feeling very special, along with the other 29 winners, who were also pushing the boundaries in their particular sectors. Winning an Acorn definitely set the tone for my future. It provided an excellent platform to work from and something to live up to.

Simon Titchener
Acorn winner in 1993
Age now
Position then Senior operations manager, Compass Group
Position now Chief operating officer for global operations, ISS Group

"It was a real highlight early in my career to win such a prestigious award as an Acorn, which is so highly recognised and sought after. I believe having the award on my CV helped me attain a couple of key roles in my career, which has enabled me to achieve the great success I have today in what is a very dynamic and complex role.

"In my current position I manage global clients across 60 countries, with a team of 20,000 employees, providing a full range of facilities and hospitality services. Current turnover of the ISS Group is in excess of £500m."

Bill Walshe
Acorn winner in 1997
Age now
Position then Regional director of sales and marketing, Kempinski Hotels
Position now Chief executive officer, Viceroy Hotel Group, LA, USA

"Nearly 20 years later, I remain very proud of my Acorn Award. The experience made me believe that I had the potential to be one of the next generation of leaders in the hospitality industry, and I am proud to now be in a position whereby I am identifying and nurturing young talent to be future leaders. The award provided me with a platform of self-belief and confidence from which my career took off.

"In my role as chief executive, I am based in Los Angeles and have full responsibility for Viceroy, the modern luxury hotel group, operating 15 hotels in the USA, Caribbean, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. We have a further eight projects under development."

Greg Hegarty
Acorn winner in 2004
Age now
Position then Hotel manager, Thistle hotel, Brighton
Position now Regional general manager, UK, PPHE Hotel Group

"To be held in such high regard among key industry peers through winning an Acorn gave me a huge sense of pride. It presented me with a fantastic network of friends and colleagues and enabled me to immediately progress in my career within the London marketplace.

"Within two months I was transferred from the 208-bedroom Thistle Brighton to the 300-room Thistle Selfridge in London, where I remained for two years as general manager. I then went on to join what is now the PPHE Hotel Group in various general manager roles before leaving for two years to join BDL as group operations manger, before returning to PPHE.

"In my current role I look after the management of eight hotels, including the 1,019-bedroom Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London. An additional two hotels will soon join the group with the opening of the Park Plaza London Park Royal and Park Plaza London Waterloo."

Nick Venables
Acorn winner in 2004
Age now
Position then Assistant conference and banqueting manager, Grosvenor House hotel, London
Position now Account director, Rio 2016 at Sportsworld Group

"Winning the award continues to feel like an amazing achievement. It not only recognised the hard work and commitment I put into the industry at a young age, but it also acknowledged those who I worked with in my early career at Celtic Manor and Grosvenor House. Being an Acorn winner has enabled me to be part of a fantastic network which has enabled me to see and experience many parts of the world.

"I'm now working on a project basis with global brands to create, build and deliver hospitality experiences and activate corporate strategy and sponsorship at global sporting events such as the Olympics and FIFA World Cup. This involves co-ordinating many stakeholders, managing complex budgets and leading a team of colleagues and consultants. I'm required to balance strategic ambition with local culture and responsible operational viability, while supporting clients in ensuring that the project delivers genuine business value and unparalleled brand experience for their guests."

Chantelle Nicholson
Acorn winner in 2009
Age now
Position then Sous chef at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley
Position now Group director of operations, Marcus Wareing Restaurants

"It was a huge honour to be recognised with an Acorn Award - one of the most prestigious accolades in the hospitality industry. While I have remained with Marcus Wareing Restaurants since winning an Acorn, the award had a huge impact on how I was recognised by the industry - not only by the restaurant world, but also by the broader hospitality industry as a whole, and with this has come numerous networking opportunities which have been invaluable to me.

"I'm now responsible for overseeing the overriding operations of each of our three restaurants: Marcus, the Gilbert Scott and Tredwell's. This comprises both back- and front-of-houses activities and, as such, each of the restaurants' head chefs and restaurant managers report directly into me."

Emma Langford
Acorn winner in 2014
Age now
Position then People manager, Lexington Catering
Position now People manager, Lexington Catering

"It was an absolute honour to be recognised with such an iconic award within the hospitality industry. It has enabled me to network and connect with other people to share best practice, develop and drive continuous improvement.

"In my job I continue to be responsible for defining staff culture, developing future talent and setting people strategy. I oversee all people-related activity across the business including engagement initiatives, training and development and employee relations."

The venue - Chewton Glen

Like the Acorn Awards, Chewton Glen - the venue for the 2016 Acorn Award celebrations - is also marking a significant milestone this year.

The five-red-AA-star, 70-bedroom hotel, located on the edge of the New Forest and set within 130 acres of grounds, is 50 years old.

While the property's origins date back to the 1700s, Chewton Glen's journey towards becoming one of the leading country house hotels in the UK began in 1966 when it was bought by Martin Skan and his brother Trevor.

Over the past five decades, the hotel, which began life with eight bedrooms and one bathroom, has continually improved and innovated, as it has grown into what is now virtually a resort.

Developments over the years include the launch of what was one of the earliest hotel spas in 1990, something that many other properties have attempted to emulate since. Today, the hotel continues to be at the forefront of spa development, with spa director Kerry Hudson, who looks after 12 treatment rooms, a swimming pool, hydrotherapy pool, gymnasium and dance studio, carrying off the Spa Professional of the Year award at the 2014 Hotel Cateys.

Other activities guests can enjoy at the hotel include golf, indoor and outdoor tennis, croquet, cycling, or just walking - either into the New Forest or, via the valley of Chewton Bunney, to the coast overlooking the Solent and the Isle of Wight.

Once the preserve of guests expecting a formal hotel experience, Chewton Glen is now more inclusive than ever before, with families a key target market. To this end, the development in 2012 of 12 tree-house suites, just a short stroll from the main house and which can accommodate both families and romantic couples, has introduced a unique sleeping experience.

Chewton Glen is no stranger to the Acorn Awards, as the hotel's general manager, Mark Bevan, was a winner in 2011 when he was assistant food and beverage manager at the Chester Grosvenor hotel.

Andrew Stembridge says that the accolade has firmly established itself as being a significant means of singling out the future leaders of the industry. "Unlike any other awards, they cover all sectors of the industry," he explains. "They show that if you are prepared to work hard, you will progress and be recognised in your career."

The sponsor

"At ACT Clean, we know that our business and its success begins and ends with the quality, commitment and aspirations of our team. 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 within our dynamic industry that enhances its reputation. That's why at ACT Clean we're proud and delighted to be supporting the awards again.

"Our support plays a small role in a vital scheme in an industry we can all be proud to be part of, recognising future leaders and helping them to shine further. It's our pleasure and privilege to do so."

John Stevenson, ACT Clean

How to enter

Nominations for the 2016 Acorn Awards should be completed online by visiting

Entrants from all sections of hospitality - from pubs, bars and restaurants to hotels and foodservice operators - are welcome. All will be judged by a panel of industry experts in each sector.

The closing date for nominations is Friday 26 February 2016. For further information, contact Martha Allardyce at

Judging will take place in early April, after which the 30 winners will be notified and invited to the celebration weekend at Chewton Glen, New Milton, Hampshire, on 12 and 13 June 2016. After a series of team-building activities and an informal dinner on the Sunday, a formal presentation lunch will take place on the following day.

Are you looking for a new role? See all the current hospitality vacancies available with The Caterer Jobs >>

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