The Acorn Awards are among the most prestigious accolades for young workers in hospitality, and
will celebrate their 21st birthday next year. As Caterer starts the search for 2007 nominations,
Tom Vaughan talks to some past winners
Now officially in adulthood, the awards scheme that has identified such figures as Marco Pierre White, Gary Rhodes and Michael Caines as future stars, is celebrating its 21st birthday. Launched in 1986, the Acorn Awards have honoured the brightest stars in hospitality for the past 20 years and the search is on for nominations for its 2007 awards.
The total number of entrants in last year's awards was in the hundreds. They came from all industry sectors, including independent restaurants, chain restaurants, hotels, contract caterers, pubs and training companies. This year the judges will again narrow down the entrants to 30 industry professionals under the age of 30, identifying those they consider to be the stars of today and the leaders of tomorrow.
The deadline for entries is 2 February, and judging will begin on 2 March by a panel of industry professionals. The 2007 awards ceremony will be held on 29 and 30 April at Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa in Bagshot,
Surrey, for the 30 young professionals who most impress the judges. A series of challenges will be set for the event before the winners pick up their coveted awards.
So help us to recognise the future stars of hospitality by nominating employees under the age of 30 whose dedication and hard work deserves to be shouted about.
From Simon Marshall, managing director, Unilever Foodsolutions, the food service business of Unilever UK Foods:
"Unilever Foodsolutions is delighted to be sponsoring the Acorn Awards in their 21st year. The awards are a great way of recognising the outstanding achievements and dedication of 30 young individuals each year.
"2007 is a memorial occasion as it marks the 21st anniversary of the Acorn Awards. The ceremony has grown in stature over the years to become one of the industry's most prestigious events, and we at Unilever Foodsolutions are proud of our continued association.
"Unilever Foodsolutions' involvement in food service over the last 40 years has enabled us to work closely with a diverse range of customers in every sector of the UK hospitality industry. We can see on a daily basis the fantastic contribution people are making to this dynamic and ever-changing industry, and we are pleased to be a part of it. Our commitment to the Acorns is as strong as ever, and we anticipate, once again, that entrants will be of a high calibre. We look forward to congratulating this year's outstanding achievers and celebrating 21 years of the awards."
Past acorn winners
1988: Caroline Mortimer
Nominated when she was operations director at Sutcliffe Catering, she is now director of strategy and development, Compass UK, Ireland & Europe
"The award affected my career directly as it meant I got promoted and became, at the time, the youngest ever operations director in contract catering. I still use it on my CV. It's an excellent stepping stone and one of the few ways to recognize young people and show that we really care about their development."
1992: Sean Wheeler
Nominated as general manager of TGI Friday's in Reading, Berkshire, he's now director of people at hotel groups Malmaison and Hotel du Vin.
"My Acorn Award was the first thing I ever won and it was great that my efforts were recognised. The awards were the first time I'd been exposed to like-minded people and I'm still in contact with a lot of the winners from my year. It opened my eyes to parts of the industry I'd never seen before. It helped me to network and opened a lot of doors for me later on in my career."
1995: Richard Morris
Nominated as general manager of TGI Friday's in London's Covent Garden, he's now managing director of Loch Fyne Restaurants.
"Acorns hold a lot of kudos. A company nominating an employee shows that they want that person celebrated within the industry as a whole. I hold no concerns about nominating people, unlike some who are scared about putting a star employee in the limelight for fear of them being poached. If people are happy in their
job then they will stay."
1996: Michael Caines
Nominated as head chef at the one-Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon, he has now gained the restaurant a subsequent second star and co-owns Abode Hotels group.
"The Acorns have two advantages. First, they look to the next generation, so are vital for the industry; these are the people we're pinning our hopes on for the future. Second, it's great for an employee to be rewarded within the industry structure. An Acorn rewards people who go above and beyond the call of duty. There's nothing more fantastic for someone than to
be rewarded for excellence."
Nominated when manager of Blooms Town House hotel in Bloomsbury, now food and beverage manager, London Hilton on Park Lane.
"My advice to people aspiring to an Acorn would be to work hard when you're young enough to. Try as many areas as possible - work overtime with the waiters, work on the events side - because only then will you know what you enjoy. When you leave school you have so much energy, so use it to narrow down what you enjoy. To be a general manager you need to have worked in as many areas as possible. You may question why you're doing all this running around, then someone presents you with an Acorn and it all becomes worthwhile. There are people on more money than me but do they enjoy their jobs as much as me?
I doubt it."
1996: Charlotte Vickers
Nominated when deputy banqueting manager at the Dorcester hotel, now operations manager for Restaurant Associates.
"The strongest aspect of the Acorns is the amount of people you meet and the chances you get to bounce ideas off each other. Acorn winners represent a huge spectrum of people, many of whom I would never have met if I hadn't won the award. Before, I had only met people in the hotel industry, but now I've ended up working closely with people from lots of different sectors, all of whom I met through the Acorns. It improved my loyalty to the Dorchester and made me want to repay the dedication they'd shown to me."
2004: Nicola Monks
Nominated when private dining manager for Gordon Ramsay Holdings, now also heads up the company's website.
"The awards are an incentive for staff to feel more dedicated to their company. When you're singled out for attention like that it makes you feel so appreciated, and as a result, more devoted. It makes you feel noticed above and beyond the norm and reinforces the notion that you're not just working because it's a job but that you're trying to improve the company."
2006: Craig James
Nominated when head chef of Butlers Wharf Chop House in London, now head chef at Quaglino's restaurant.
"It can be hard as a young person fighting against your age, but awards like this remind you that not only are you not alone in that fight but you're winning it as well. Even to be nominated is evidence that the people you work for are delighted with you."
Gillian Thomson, operations manager, Gordon Ramsay Holdings
First nominated a staff member in 2004 and has nominated employees ever since.
"The Acorns are a chance to say ‘we appreciate you so much we want the whole industry to know'," she says. "As a result we feel very passionate about the awards and think long and hard about who we're going to nominate out of our young staff. The people we consider are the ones we deem hugely important to our company, and we only nominate one person a year, so for us it's a huge accolade that we take very seriously. Gordon Ramsay visits the winner personally when the announcement has been made."
John Stauss, general manager at the Four Seasons hotel in Park Lane, London
Has nominated employees frequently over the last 12 years.
"In the service industry recognition is the greatest motivator," he says. "The Acorns are a very prestigious type of recognition that's motivational to both the winner and their colleagues, who will aspire to the award themselves. Having a winner in the team shows what can be achieved if you're dedicated to the industry."
Jane Sunley managing director at talent retention specialist Learnpurple
Nominated an employee for the first time last year.
"I'm a huge fan of recognition awards, but only nominate if I think I've got an employee who goes above and beyond the call of duty," she says. "Nurturing talent is all about giving employees the space to grow wings and the Acorns are about watching them fly."