Meet the winners of the Acorn Awards 2010

25 June 2010
Meet the winners of the Acorn Awards 2010

The 24th set of Acorn Award winners were once again drawn from all areas of hospitality. From account director to restaurant manager, the cream of the crop came to Chester for team building, networking, awards and cardboard chariot racing.

For the 24th year running, a group of 30 young hospitality talents gathered to be honoured as members of the elite band of Acorn Award winners. Known as the industry's top 30 under 30, the winners came from all areas of hospitality, with disciplines ranging from financial controller to pastry chef. Selected as rising stars of the industry, we think they're the future of the industry and in the coming pages we describe exactly why.

Since 1986 we have recognised individuals who are already excelling in their chosen fields. Every year these young talents gather for an awards weekend of networking, celebration and fun. This year, alongside our sponsor Unilever, we assembled at ABode Chester, where after a spot of lunch the Acorns got stuck into the business of getting to know each other.

As any former Acorn will tell you, this involves creativity, teamwork and not a little confidence. In recognition of Chester's Roman heritage, this year's crop were tasked with making chariots from cardboard. All in the name of breaking the ice and forging friendships, the teams set about working out how to make a chariot from a few sheets of cardboard that would convey one member around a course in front of the hotel.

After the afternoon's chariot racing beside Chester racecourse, the Acorns attended a drinks reception, followed by a dinner in the Michael Caines Restaurant, which forms the centrepiece of the hotel. The modern restaurant complements Caines' modern European cuisine, making use of the finest produce from the North West.

After a late night for some, the next day the Acorn Award winners were accompanied by their nominators for the formal event where they officially joined a set of alumni that includes Michael Caines, Marco Pierre White and Gary Rhodes. Having received their awards and the warm applause of their peers, the Acorns concluded their weekend with a three-course lunch prepared at Chester Racecourse by its conference and events team, and an entertaining and inspiring speech from Nigel Haworth, chef-patron of Northcote and managing director of Ribble Valley Inns.

Video: Winners of 2010 Acorn Awards announced >>

Ankit Airon

Position Assistant financial controller, Park Lane hotel
Nominated by Colin Bennett, area general manager, Starwood Central London
Proudest career moment The journey. I've spent nine years in hospitality, from being a commis to chef de partie to assistant financial controller. I'm loving my job.
Greatest inspiration Patrick Divall, my boss, is the best mentor. I take inspiration from Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, who has revolutionised the lives of millions.
Ambition The dream is not "to get", but "to give". I'm now working to be worthy of it.

After completing a graduate diploma in hotel management from the Institute of Hotel Management in Goa, Ankit Airon undertook a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Delhi University, India, in 2004.

In his early career he worked as a commis chief for Udaivilas, an Oberoi resort in Rajasthan, and as a chef de partie for Carnival Cruise Lines, USA.

In 2006, Ankit joined Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh as a finance clerk. He was then promoted to assistant financial controller for Sheraton Belgravia in London.

Ankit joined the central London finance team in 2008, helping the Sheraton Belgravia win the Silver Award for Green Tourism for London in 2009.

Naime Azmi

Age 29
Position Director of conferences and events, The Aspiration Group
Nominated by Simon Wordsworth, CEO, The Aspiration Group
Proudest career moment Winning the Acorn Scholarship in 2005
Greatest inspiration Sir Alan Sugar - he knows what he wants from a business and does his best to get it
Ambition To be seen by many more blue chip clients as being a driving force within the events they carry out, both on an event consultancy and event management basis

As director of conferences and events at The Aspiration Group, a golf and conference event management organisation, Naime Azmi plans and oversees events in the UK and abroad.

Naime began her career in 1998 on the guest services desk at golf and leisure resort the Belfry in the West Midlands, before transferring to the events department.

In 2005 Naime won the Acorn Scholarship. In the same year, she was headhunted to become one of the founding directors of The Aspiration Group.

Naime is an ambassador for the hospitality industry, promoting the sector to young people by giving talks to local schools and colleges.

Christopher Ball

Age 30
Nominated by Richard Bantock, head of leisure sales, Guoman Hotel Management
Proudest career moment Going for my current role was a risk - it proves that if you are passionate and driven, you will succeed
Greatest inspiration Jerry Keyes, my general manager when I worked in Chicago. He showed me that whatever happens, the guest comes first. And my current manager, Richard Bantock. It's a joy to work with someone so driven and passionate, and follow in his footsteps.
Ambition Simply to keep on going and be successful through my career. I have no end goal - you have to keep progressing and challenging yourself. I want to be known as someone who tries to make life easier for people, whether they are colleagues or clients. I always try and get the best result for all involved.

Does hospitality do enough to attract young people into the industry? No - because unfortunately some people are afraid of hard work. We are still portrayed as a low-paying industry where you have to work hard for little gain. It shouldn't be all about the money - the majority of people working in our industry love it. The current spate of TV shows does help, but people do need to be aware that to get to that stage it will take a lot of work and dedication - you need to be in hospitality for the long haul, and you need to love what you do. We need to show people that working in the industry isn't just a job, it is a career.

As part of his hospitality management with tourism degree at Lancaster University, Christopher Ball spent a year as revenue manager at the Hilton Garden Inn in Chicago.

After returning to the UK in 2003, Christopher was room sales manager at Jarvis Piccadilly hotel in Manchester.

Last year, he joined Guoman Hotel Management as national account director responsible for eâ€'commerce and leisure sales.

Chris has changed the way Guoman's hotels work with the short-break market and introduced a forward planning system for the online travel market.

Emma Benney

Age 29
Position Group marketing manager, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin
Nominated by Robert Cook, CEO, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin
Proudest career moment Passing my professional diploma in marketing and winning the CEO Choice award at our Corkers awards
Greatest inspiration Helen Chatterjee, my first boss, who is a real sales and marketing wizard and my first professional inspiration; as well as Robert Cook, our CEO; Gary Garnczarczyk and our marketing team who have been an amazing inspiration and support. All have offered tremendous encouragement.
Ambition To become a director of marketing, along the way gaining international marketing experience

Emma Benney joined Malmaison and Hotel du Vin in 2005, running sales training and overseeing contract negotiations.

In 2007, Emma took on marketing for Malmaison. A year later she was promoted to group marketing manager for Malmaison and Hotel du Vin.

Emma, an equestrian rider to county level, has developed an integrated marketing communications plan for 26 hotels. She has also run a campaign to boost the hotels' presence on Google search engine returns, achieving a return on investment of £21 for every £1 spent.

Daniel Birk

Age 26
Position Head chef, Devonshire Fell hotel
Nominated by Iain Shelton, managing director, Devonshire Hotels
Proudest career moment Runner-up in the Gordon Ramsay Scholarship 2008
Greatest inspiration Robert Thompson. He is a great chef and mentor and a pleasure to work for. He's full of inspiration and a big star for the future.
Ambition To work towards gaining high accolades to establish a name for myself within the industry

Daniel Birk's career in the catering industry got off to an impressive start when, aged just 21, he won York Young Chef of the Year. The award resulted in a two-week internship under Germain Schwab at Winteringham Fields in Lincolnshire. He was immediately offered a job and trained for three years, rising to sous chef. Daniel achieved second place in Gordon Ramsay's Scholarship programme in 2008 and now heads up a four-star kitchen and team of five at the Devonshire Fell hotel in North Yorkshire.

View Daniel's recipe for rabbit ballotine, caramelised cauliflower and vegetables Á la Grecque >>

Mark Brennan

Age 29
Position General manager, Manchester (Wilmslow) Premier Inn
Nominated by Tim O'Sullivan
Proudest career moment Winning my Acorn, without question; it's a honour to be part of such a prestigious award
Greatest inspiration My dad and grandad - they both reached the top of their professions and have made me who I am today
Ambition To emulate the career of my area manager, Tim O'Sullivan; he is a real leader and an expert hotelier

Mark Brennan's first job in hospitality was as a cellar boy and waiter 12 years ago. Since then his jobs have included a bar and restaurant supervisor with the Peel Hotel Group and general manager at Inventive Leisure (Revolution Bars).

In 2008 Mark joined Premier Inn Chester as general manager. The following year he joined the Manchester (Wilmslow) Premier Inn as general manager, helping to guide the site through the recession and opening a new airport hotel.

Dafydd Bretherton

Age 25
Position General manager, the Black Horse, Peach Pubs
Nominated by Andrew Coath
Proudest career moment Apart from winning this award, it would have to be running one of the most successful pubs in our group
Greatest inspiration My father, Colin Bretherton - he has been an inspiration and I've always wanted to do as well as he did in the hospitality industry
Ambition To have a small group of thriving pubs or small hotels

A passion for good food runs in the Bretherton family - Dafydd's dad is a chef. After training as a chef and gaining a degree in hospitality and licensed retail management with business development at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dafydd worked as a food and beverage supervisor at Malmaison hotel in Manchester, before being promoted to assistant bar and brasserie manager. Dafydd then set up his own serviced accommodation business in Milton Keynes.

In 2008, Dafydd joined Peach Pubs as deputy manager of the Swan at Salford, before being promoted to general manager at the Black Horse a year later. Dafydd has increased the Black Horse's weekly turnover by £3,000 and manages a team of 20.

Matthew Burns

Age 29
Position Executive chef, Hilton Liverpool
Nominated by Marcus Magee, general manager, Hilton Liverpool
Proudest career moment Winning Highest Accredited Restaurant and a TASTE Liverpool award
Greatest inspiration Steve Pitt - he encouraged me to push myself and taught me the art of kitchen management
Ambition To succeed in everything I do and get my own business one day

After getting NVQs in health and hygiene and kitchen management, Matthew Burns worked as commis chef, and chef de partie for the five-star Celtic Manor restaurant in Newport before working in Paris at the Ritz. Then, aged just 24, Matthew was made head chef at the Polurrian hotel in Cornwall.

After a stint as head chef at Aston Business School, Matthew became executive chef of TATE catering in Liverpool, running seven kitchens.

Now, as executive chef at the Hilton Liverpool, Matthew is reinventing classic North West dishes.

Jane Cook

Age 28
Position General manager, Compass Group, Cardiff City Stadium
Nominated by Nils Braude
Proudest career moment The opening of the new Cardiff City Stadium and being involved in the mobilisation from project stage, through the build to completion
Greatest inspiration There have been so many wonderful people in my career it would be hard to single one out but Nils Braude has been a great mentor
Ambition To do my job to the best of my ability - who know what the future holds but I am sure it will involve sports stadia

Jane Cook first worked for Compass Group UK & Ireland in 2001 while studying International Hospitality Management at Bournemouth University. After completing a one-year graduate training programme with Compass focused on contract catering at stadia, Jane was appointed retail manager at Reading Madejski Stadium in 2004, where she was responsible for a match day turnover of about £1m and a team of up to 150.

In 2009 Jane was made general manager of the new Cardiff City Stadium, managing a £48m contract.

Alicia Denning

Age 29
Position Front office manager, Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa Edinburgh
Nominated by JP Kavanagh, general manager, Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa Edinburgh
Proudest career moment Reaching one of my goals of becoming a front office manager within a global company, which has given me a great opportunity to develop my management skills and travel the globe
Greatest inspiration My parents Jennifer and Daryl and my sisters Jane and Sarah are amazing - their continued support and guidance has enabled me to be who I am today
Ambition To become the proud owner of my very own boutique hotel, which prides itself on luxury and creates long-lasting memories and experiences for its guests

Alicia Denning began her career in the hotel industry as a food and beverage attendant at the Sheraton Mirage in her native Australia.

In 1999, Alicia moved to the Hayman Island Resort in the Great Barrier Reef, where she was promoted to senior concierge.

After working for two more high-end hotels in Australia, Alicia moved to the UK in 2007, becoming guest relations manager at Edinburgh's Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa. Alicia is currently front office manager, where she has boosted revenues and cut payroll costs.

Alasdair Elwick

Age 24
Position Restaurant and events manager, Seaham Hall and the Serenity Spa
Nominated by Bernard Bloodworth
Proudest career moment Achieving this great accolade
Greatest inspiration My friend and previous head chef Steve Smith, as his passion, understanding and knowledge of the industry is tremendous
Ambition To successfully own and run my own business

Aged just 16, Alasdair Elwick joined Seaham Hall and the Serenity Spa in County Durham as a part-time commis waiter in the hotel's restaurant, the White Room. Alasdair's drive and commitment impressed the hotel's managers and he was soon promoted, becoming chef de rang at 18, and head waiter at 20.

In 2007, Alasdair was promoted to restaurant manager for the White Room, helping it win its first Michelin star.

In 2009, he was promoted to restaurants and events manager, overseeing 50 employees and revenues of £2m.

Paul Fairhead

Position Operations manager, ISS Facility Services - Food & Hospitality
Nominated by Andrew Chappell, ISS Facility Services - Food & Hospitality
Proudest career moment Working as location manager at the athletics stadium at the 2004 Athens Olympics
Greatest inspiration Head chef Paul Oxnard who I met earlier in my career. I never met someone so passionate, driven and determined to be the best, and he has been a great friend ever since.
Ambition To manage a catering company that does the right thing the right way for the right reasons and at the right time

Paul Fairhead has packed a lot into his career so far. He has been chef manager for a global insurer, run the catering for a US broadcaster during the 2004 Olympic Games, and worked as a chef de partie at the Conran restaurant in London's Kings Road.

Paul studied food production at Crawley College, financing his way through his studies by working as a sous chef at a Brighton restaurant. Currently, operations manager for contract caterer ISS Facility Services - Food & Hospitality, Paul manages a contract with a turnover of around £8m.

Matthew Flood

Position Purchasing liaison and pricing controller, Aramark
Nominated by Clive Cooper, VP European Supply Chain, Aramark
Proudest career moment Gaining promotion to my current role. This came at a challenging time and gave me great career and personal recognition.
Greatest inspiration My first manager, Stephen Clarke, who gave me opportunity, support and great guidance in the first stage of my career
Ambition Succeeding in my chosen career, extending my experience into the international arena and eventually becoming a leader in food service

As purchasing liaison and pricing controller for food service company Aramark, Matthew Flood leads a number of teams, including pricing, eâ€'procurement and helpdesk functions.

Achievements in his current role include consolidating £50m of spending through one supply partner.

Before Aramark, Matthew was customer relationship manager for Makro Self Service Wholesale, where he was responsible for sales and management for hotels, restaurants and caterers.

Matthew's first job in catering was as a new business clerk for 3663 First For Foodservice.

Eric Foret

Age 29
Position Head pastry chef, Whatley Manor
Nominated by Martin Burge, head chef, Whatley Manor
Proudest career moment Michelin awarding the second star at Whatley Manor. Positive national press coverage. Obtaining the Brevet de Maitrise - a specialised pastry course - was another major stepping stone.
Greatest inspiration It's a collective of chefs when training. Also Martin Burge, who inspired me by giving me the opportunity to develop my skills to achieve and maintain the high standards required at this level.
Ambition To have my own patisserie business producing very high quality and innovative pastries, chocolate and desserts

Eric Foret runs the busy pastry section of the Michelin-starred Whatley Manor in Wiltshire. Eric, a French national, began his career in 1998 as a chef de partie in Patisserie Hurel, Macon. He then worked as chef de partie for E Leclerc supermarket before becoming sous chef at Patisserie Lafay, in Lyon.

In 2004, Eric moved to the UK to become chef de partie at the five-star Bentley hotel in London. Eric joined Whatley Manor in 2006 as head pastry chef and was voted employee of the year two years later.

View Eric's recipe for strawberry and kalamanzi soufflé >>

Katherine Fry

Age 28
Position Assistant health and safety manager, London Hilton on Park Lane
Nominated by Michael Shepherd, general manager, London Hilton on Park Lane
Proudest career moment Achieving an above target annual audit score for health and safety, food safety and security across all departments of the hotel
Greatest inspiration The director of operations at the London Hilton on Park Lane who has kept me motivated through managing the teams at the hotel with confidence, determination and dedication
Ambition Managing health and safety in hospitality for a chain of hotels across the UK and Europe

After completing an MSc in environmental health in 2008, Katherine Fry was appointed assistant health and safety manager for the London Hilton on Park Lane.

The role has seen Katherine support staff through incidents including an attempted armed robbery, a gas leak and power failure.

Katherine has helped improve the hotel's annual health and safety audit score from 73.5% in 2008 to 86% in 2009. Previously, Katherine worked teaching English abroad, including a year in Martinique.

Matt Gillan

Age 29
Position Head chef, the Pass restaurant, South Lodge hotel
Nominated by Danny Pecorelli, managing director, Exclusive Hotels
Proudest career moment Achieving three AA rosettes at the Pass after being open for only three months
Greatest inspiration Daniel Clifford for seeing potential in me and developing it, and John Campbell for his influence on my management style
Ambition To make the Pass a destination restaurant and achieve a Michelin star

Matt Gillan began as a pot washer at Hampshire pub the Hen and Chicken. In 1999, he joined the Midsummer House, the Michelin-starred Cambridge restaurant, where he was promoted to chef de partie.

Matt then worked at various prestigious restaurants, including Restaurant Gordon Ramsay as commis chef, and John Campbell's the Vineyard at Stockcross, as senior chef de partie.

In 2008, Matt was appointed head chef at South Lodge hotel's new restaurant, the Pass. Just three months after opening, the restaurant received three AA rosettes.

Christophe Hesbert

Age 27
Position Operations manager, ABode Chester
Nominated by Ros Young, group HR manager, ABode
Proudest career moment Opening ABode Chester, which went from a building site to a fully operational business. Working with the team to achieve our company standards.
Greatest inspiration Michael Caines- his business acumen and strive for perfection makes all of us want to do the best for our guests
Ambition To become a general manager of one of the top five hotels for their reputation and quality of service

Christophe Hesbert began his career at Le Poussin at Parkhill in the New Forest as chef de rang. After one year he transferred to Goodwood Park where he was promoted to food service manager.

Christophe joined the ABode Exeter hotel in 2006 as restaurant manager, later becoming operations manager of ABode Chester. Christophe was named ABode's 2009 manager of the year.

Christophe has a degree in hospitality management at the Catering School of Paris (EHP Jean Drouant).

Tom Gibson

Age 28
Position Director of operations, Radisson BLU Hotel Stansted Airport
Nominated by Jens Hallman, general manager, Radisson BLU Hotel Stansted Airport
Proudest career moment I'm quite chuffed I survived the cutbacks of recent times, and enduring my time in Russia was no mean feat!
Greatest inspiration I don't aspire to be like anyone specific, but I got my work ethics from my father
Ambition I do not put a limit on what I want to achieve; at the moment my focus is on getting to general manager

Tom Gibson began working at the Radisson BLU (then SAS) hotel in Glasgow while studying hotel and hospitality management at the University of Strathclyde. After graduating, he became the hotel's restaurant supervisor.

In 2006 Tom moved to the 147-bedroom Radisson BLU (then SAS) hotel as food and beverage manager, where he increased profits and boosted employee satisfaction.

Tom then helped open the Radisson BLU in Cardiff in 2009 as operations manager.

In his current role of director of operations at the Radisson BLU Stansted Airport, Tom oversees three restaurants, 26 meeting rooms, the kitchen and bar.

Rohit Kapoor

Age 29
Position Director of finance, Hilton Manchester Deansgate
Nominated by Bernadette Gilligan, general manager, Hilton Manchester Deansgate
Proudest career moment Achieving the 2010 Acorn award and becoming the finance director at Hilton Manchester Deansgate
Greatest inspiration I have been extremely privileged to learn and grow from the able guidance of some fantastic managers I have worked with and each one of them has been very supportive and inspiring
Ambition To successfully lead a group of hotels as head of finance in the next 8-10 years.

After gaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree in his native India, Rohit Kapoor moved to London. In 2003 Rohit joined the Hilton Gatwick Airport as a receptionist, before becoming an account receivables clerk in the hotel finance department.

Rohit's leadership potential was soon spotted and by the age of 26 he was made finance manager at Hilton Metropole - one of Hilton's largest European hotels, with an estimated annual turnover of over £55m.

In 2009, Rohit was appointed director of finance at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate. Rohit has already made his mark by cutting payroll and food costs.

Scott McKenzie

Age 30
Position Financial controller, Riverbank Park Plaza and the Plaza on the River
Nominated by Greg Hegarty
Proudest career moment Aside from wining an Acorn, becoming financial controller of two hotels at 26, with a combined turnover of £23m
Greatest inspiration Larry Page and Sergey Brin from Google. Their development of the search engine and brand is inspirational. Their work practices adopted to generate new ideas are creative and different.
Ambition To become group controller of a small chain of hotels, and help grow the company over time

Scott McKenzie began his career in hotels as accounts assistant at the five-star Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel in London, before moving to Park Plaza as assistant financial controller, aged just 24. After six months Scott was promoted to assistant financial controller for Victoria and Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes hotels.

In 2006 he was promoted to financial controller for Park Plaza Victoria London & Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes Hotel.

Currently, Scott is financial controller of the flagship hotel Riverbank Park Plaza and the five-star Plaza on the River, which generate £26m in revenue.

Steve Lowy

Age 29
Position Founder, umi hotels
Nominated by Rachel Dines
Proudest career moment Apart from the Acorns, achieving a place in The Sunday Telegraph Top 50 Budget Hotels in the World for umi London and winning the North and West London Business Person of the Year award in 2008
Greatest inspiration My parents, who both worked in hospitality, taught me that you don't get anywhere without hard work
Ambition I would love to open a hotel school in the UK and inspire young people to choose hospitality as a career

Steve Lowy is the founder, owner and managing director of umi hotels, a "luxury budget" hotel group.

Steve came up with the idea for the business while travelling after university, where he studied hospitality and tourism management at Salford University.

On returning to the UK Steve was general manager of a backpackers' hostel in London, before launching umi in 2007 in the former Westminster hotel.

In October 2008, umi London was included in The Sunday Telegraph's Top 50 Budget Hotels in the World.

Laura Morgan

Age 29
Position Cluster HR manager (north west), ABode Hotels and Michael Caines Restaurants
Nominated by Ros Young, group HR manager, ABode Hotels
Proudest career moment The launch of Chester ABode - it's a fabulous building and it's fantastic to see the brand evolve and the amazing staff we have there (and Manchester!)
Greatest inspiration My dad - he's always made sure that I pushed myself in whatever I did
Ambition To have my own HR consultancy firm

Laura Morgan is cluster HR manager (north-west) for ABode Hotels and Michael Caines Restaurants.

Laura's first job in HR was for BT where she was part of an innovative joint venture with Liverpool Council that involved the telecom operator sharing its HR expertise.

Laura then became an HR administrator at the Alias Hotel Rossetti before joining Manchester ABode in 2006. Her achievements at ABode include helping to introduce an apprentice scheme and working with JobCentre and a local college on a scheme to encourage people back into work.

James O'Donnell

Age 28
Position Food and beverage manager, Blythswood Square, the Town House Collection
Nominated by Hans Rissmann, managing director, the Town House Collection
Proudest career moment The opening day of Blythswood Square. After months of hard work in preperation, it was great to see the team come together.
Greatest inspiration My first boss, Gary Quinn. His passion for good food, good wine and good service still inspires me today.
Ambition To be general manager of a Scottish five-star hotel by the age of 35.

After a BA in Hotel Services Management at Napier University, James O'Donnell became chef de rang at Number One Restaurant at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh and then assistant manager through the hotel management programme.James was then appointed manager of the rooms, before becoming manager of Hadrian's Brasserie in the same hotel.

In 2009 James was appointed food and beverage manager at Blythswood Square, a new luxury hotel in Glasgow and part of the Town House Collection. He manages a team of 35 and oversees budgeted revenue of £3.4m.

Gary Pearce

Age 29
Position Sous chef, Le Champignon Sauvage
Nominated by David Everitt-Matthias
Proudest career moment Reaching the position of sous chef
Greatest inspiration David Everitt-Matthias for his exacting standards
Ambition I want to do stages at top restaurants around the world before opening my own

Gary Pearce is sous chef at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, which has two Michelin stars. Gary helps to train new members of staff and stagiaires and also has an input into the pricing of the menu.

Gary began his career as a commis chef at Forte Posthouse in Hayling Island. He then worked for a series of restaurants including the Newbury Manor hotel and 36 On The Quay, Emsworth, which has a Michelin star.

Gary joined Le Champignon Sauvage in 2006.

Mike Racz

Age 28
Position Franchisee
Nominated by Domino's Pizza
Proudest career moment Winning this award and opening my first store
Greatest inspiration Robert Kiyosaki for showing me that getting rich is simply a mindset
Ambition To insipre people to take a leap of faith and start a business

Hungarian national Mike Racz moved to the UK in 2004. He began working for the Domino's Pizza franchise in South Wales and within three months was promoted to store manager. His great potential was quickly recognised and six months later he was promoted to area manager for three stores.

At 23, Mike decided he wanted to own his own store and within a year he became franchisee of the Hartlepool Domino's store. Mike now owns six stores, employing 120 staff across a business that will have a turnover of £3m this year.

Josie Simcox

Age 26
Position Brasserie manager, Malmaison Aberdeen
Nominated by Andy Roger, general manager, Malmaison Aberdeen
Proudest career moment Managing the opening of Newcastle Hotel du Vin
Greatest inspiration Lorraine Jarvie, Andy Roger, Jacqui Griffiths and Robert Cook have all inspired me, but my greatest mentor has been Sean Wheeler (group people and development director). Since joining Malmaison, every one of my steps has been guided by him.
Ambition To become general manager and to lead a hotel that delivers excellence as a part of everyday life

After studying for a degree in international hospitality management at the University of Bournemouth, Josie Simcox joined Malmaison's graduate programme in 2006. She worked at the Birmingham Malmaison before moving to support the opening of the Reading Malmaison, where she was made assistant brasserie manager.

In 2008, Josie was appointed bistro manager for the opening of Hotel du Vin in Newcastle, and in 2009, she became brasserie manager at Malmaison Aberdeen. She manages a team of 35 and a budget of £2m.

Heather Stephen

Age 26
Position Senior sales manager, Renaissance London Chancery Court hotel
Nominated by Fiona Stilborn, Renaissance London Chancery Court hotel
Proudest career moment Winning Marriott's Chairman's Circle Award 2008
Greatest inspiration Our great team - they are the ones who truly motivate me every working day
Ambition To open my own small boutique hotel on the coast

It can take a long time to make it into a hospitality management role. Heather Stephen has risen to a senior management role at Renaissance London Chancery Court only three years after joining the hotel's graduate scheme.

Heather, who has a degree in management and leisure from the University of Manchester, joined the hotel as a sales executive in 2007, before becoming corporate sales manager in 2008 and senior sales manager earlier this year.

She is responsible for key accounts in legal, consulting, media and finance sectors, and also runs induction and training sessions.

Siobhan Walker

Age 30
Position London director of sales and marketing, the Doyle Collection
Nominated by Bill Walshe, CEO, the Doyle Collection
Proudest career moment Being awarded Manager of the Year at the London Hilton on Park Lane Annual Award Ceremony in 2007
Greatest inspiration I originally trained in ballet and danced with The English National Ballet until 1999. My mentor has always been my dance tutor, who taught me the importance of discipline, tenacity and dedication
Ambition My ambition is to see the Doyle Collection brand grow to one of the most recognised brands in the hotel arena

After Siobhan Walker's career as a professional ballet dancer was cut cruelly short when she was 19 due to an illness, she started her career in hospitality, becoming a management trainee at Galileo International. She then moved to Hilton where she managed the sales relaunch of the Hilton London Green Park Hotel. In 2006, Siobhan was promoted to director of sales at London Hilton on Park Lane.

She then joined the Doyle Collection as director of sales and marketing for the Marylebone Hotel in 2008. In 2009 she was promoted to London director of sales and marketing.

Tony Watson

Age 29
Position Head of non-matchday sales, Sodexo Prestige, Everton Football Club
Nominated by Andrew James
Proudest career moment Being elected chairman of stadium experience at 28 years old
Greatest inspiration My greatest inspiration has always been my family - they've shown that hard work will always result in success
Ambition I love working in sport - my aim is to become a commercial director of a football club by the time I'm 35

As head of non-matchday sales for Sodexo Prestige at Everton Football Club, Tony Watson leads product development of non-matchday fan-based activities, including away-game screenings, official quizzes and VIP tours. So far the programme has involved more than 10,000 fans.

Before Everton, Tony worked for Manchester United Football Club as seasonal sales manager where he was responsible for executive facilities ranging from sports bars and lounges to luxury executive boxes.

After university, Tony set up Whallop, a luxury online travel company, which he sold to an American rival in 2006.

Gemma Watts

Age 27
Position Assistant HR director, the Fairmont Dubai
Nominated by Lindsay Campbell, operations director, the National Skills Academy for Hospitality
Proudest career moment Opening the 398-bedroom Park Plaza County Hall as HR manager - it was a fantastic experience!
Greatest inspiration My parents have always been my inspiration - they have never stopped believing in me and I will go on surprising them
Ambition To have worked and experienced life on five continents during the course of my hospitality career

Gemma Watts has packed a lot into her career so far, including working as as a trainer for Disney World and HR manager for Park Plaza County Hall hotel in London.

In 2008, Gemma joined the National Skills Academy for Hospitality as a programme director. Working with Living Ventures Restaurant Group, Gemma has piloted a project to develop their in-house training programme into a nationally-recognised qualification. She has also created a web page containing interactive biographies and interviews of leading hospitality professionals, highlighting career routes and progression to young people.

does hospitality do enough to encourage young people to join the industry?

Perhaps due to the encouragement they have received so far in their careers, a slim majority of Acorn winners think that there is enough incentive for young people to choose hospitality over other industry sectors.

Some 55% think that hospitality already does enough to attract young people. Matthew Burns, executive chef at Hilton Liverpool, says interest in hospitality has been driven by celebrity chefs and a focus on good food at home. However, Christopher Ball, national account manager at Gouman Hotel Management, points out: "We are still portrayed as a low-paid industry, where you have to work hard for little gain."

Almost all of our Acorns would encourage their children into the industry. Christophe Hesbert, operations manager at ABode Chester, says apprentice programmes provide plenty of opportunities for young people. He adds: "The industry guarantees you a job for life and the opportunities are varied - whatever your strengths, you can find something to suit you."

Though most believe the Olympics will be a fantastic opportunity for hospitality (96%), fewer (83%) think that the industry will be ready to profit from it.

"Standards may not match those of Beijing or Sydney but having seen the work in Stratford it will be an iconic event and I hope the UK shows off its positive side," enthuses Steve Lowy, founder of umi hotels.

Meanwhile, James O'Donnell, food and beverage manager at Blythswood Square, points out there are other events for the country to get excited about. "It's certainly a big opportunity for London," he says. "Scotland is focused on the Open Championship 2010, the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup 2014. I am sure we can continue to attract big events such as this in the future."

Opinion is more divided on the industry's prospects under the new Government, with 65% optimistic that it will give greater support to hospitality. Josie Simcox, brasserie manager at Malmaison Aberdeen, says that alongside the Government there needs to be a push from within. "Regardless of who is in power, we still have tough times ahead so it's down to us as leaders within the industry to continue to be creative in what we offer," she adds. "We must continue to add value to our guests' experiences - ensuring that we are ‘wowing' people, and keeping them wanting to spend."

Sponsor's message

This was my first year attending the Acorn Awards and I was not only astounded by the achievements of such young individuals but also by their passion and enthusiasm for the industry. I was able to see and hear first hand how incredibly hard each of them works, and how they continue to drive and inspire those around them.

The weekend, and the Acorn Awards in its entirety, is a fantastic opportunity to reward and recognise young talent, which is why we have sponsored the initiative since its inception 24 years ago.

As a company encompassing some of the world's best performing brands - including Knorr, Hellmann's, Flora, Colman's and PG Tips - we pride ourselves on using our knowledge and consumer insight to invest in our customers at all stages of their careers, and what better way to demonstrate this than through our continual commitment to the Acorn Awards.

We recognise that investment in people is a core principle of many organisations and by rewarding and nurturing 30 individuals every year, we celebrate their hard work and achievements, and add value to this industry.

Our congratulations go to this year's winners and we wish them every success in their future careers - no doubt these are names we'll see again. I hope their stories will encourage employers and industry advocates to nominate other outstanding young people for the 2011 awards.

Tracey Rogers Managing director
Unilever Foodsolutions

Our host hotel: ABode Chester

The 2010 Acorn Awards weekend was played out against the contemporary backdrop of ABode Chester, the latest addition to the ABode hotel group launched in 2005 by Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines and greetings card entrepreneur Andrew Brownsword.

The hotel is located in the HQ Building, a circular new-build on the south-western edge of Chester's historic city centre, and yields stunning views of Chester Racecourse and the hills of North Wales.

As in all ABodes, Michael Caines' cuisine lies at the heart of the hotel. The ground floor boasts the AbarMC lounge bar and casual dining at the MC Café Bar & Grill; while the fifth-floor Michael Caines Restaurant offers a fine-dining experience inspired by Caines' acclaimed modern European cuisine at Gidleigh Park.

The Acorn Awards luncheon was held in the Long Room of the County Stand at Chester Racecourse, which forms the centrepiece of the course's food and beverage operations.


Our thanks go to Team Spirit, the organiser of the weekend's activity, which helped break the ice and create bonds through the chariot building and racing that was so enjoyed by the Acorns and members of the Caterer team.

Tel: 0870 855

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