To mark the 30th Acorn Awards, the winners enjoyed a weekend of celebration and fun at Chewton Glen hotel and spa in Hampshire. Neil Gerrard reports on the new friendships forged
Here's a list of things you wouldn't normally find in the grounds of Chewton Glen: a group of people wearing jugs of water on their heads trying to negotiate a slalom while on a pair of the world's most useless skis, a minefield, toxic waste and egg catapults.
There's a good reason for that, of course. Chewton Glen is a luxury country house hotel and spa set in 130 acres of Hampshire countryside on the edge of the New Forest National Park. Any one of those things mentioned above probably wouldn't be good for business.
And yet Chewton Glen agreed to subject itself to all four on just one weekend when it hosted the 30th Acorn Awards, sponsored by ACT Clean, which involved 30 of the industry's best and brightest young minds under the age of 30 descending on the hotel last month.
You may have guessed that none of the hazards mentioned earlier were real, but instead team-building exercises organised by event management company TeamSpirit.
Having arrived at the hotel just hours earlier, most of them having never met each other, the Acorns found the activities an excellent ice breaker. Those outdoor tasks were preceded by an indoor quiz, which saw four teams complete a series of mind-bending logic and practical puzzles in competition for paper money that would help determine the ultimate winner.
As well as giving the winners a chance to network, the event also saw Amanda Afiya, the editor of The Caterer, welcome the winners and emphasise to them the scale of their achievement. They are part of a select group of just 900 people to have won the award in an industry that employs three million. They were given a hearty congratulation by John Stevenson, co-founder of sponsor ACT Clean, who also led them in several rousing renditions of "Will Grigg's on Fire" throughout the weekend (don't ask - you had to be there).
After a few hours of spare time on the Sunday, the Acorns were treated to an excellent barbecue on the terrace and were welcomed by the spectacle of some traditional British summer weather (it rained, hard). Luckily the team at Chewton Glen - all consummate professionals, led by former Acorn and general manager Mark Bevan and managing director Andrew Stembridge - was well prepared and the downpour did nothing to dampen spirits.
Following the meal, everyone retired to the bar for a nightcap. At this point, we should thank Chewton Glen for its generosity in providing little touches to make the Acorn winners' stay truly special, including a miniature bottle of Pothecary gin complete with Fever Tree tonic water on arrival; a pot of Chewton Glen honey that appeared just before bedtime; and a Thirst Aid recovery kit for the morning after the night before, containing, among other things, an energy drink and a Berocca (not that anyone needed to rehydrate).
Fresh as daisies, the Acorns posed for their photos before the official part of the weekend: a three-course lunch, featuring local produce including Pothecary gin-cured Chalk Stream trout, Hampshire lamb and Beaulieu strawberry pavlova.
Once Afiya and Stevenson had handed out the trophies to each Acorn, we heard from another former winner, Chantelle Nicholson. She gave the winners an engaging talk charting the course she took from a New Zealand law graduate to a highly successful career as a chef and then group operations director at Marcus Wareing Restaurants.
As if to hammer home the point Nicholson made about the fantastic opportunities on offer in the hospitality sector, her talk came on the day that it was announced she had become chef-patron of Tredwell's in London's Covent Garden.
And then, with lunch finished and plenty of new friendships formed, it was time to leave Chewton Glen. And don't worry - the toxic waste was successfully disposed of, and we cleared all of the mines too.
The sponsor - ACT Clean
John Stevenson of ACT Clean says: "At ACT Clean we know that 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 and demonstrating excellence 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 support the awards. Our support plays a small role in a vital scheme in an industry we can all be proud of, recognising future leaders and helping them to shine further. It's our pleasure and privilege to do so."
Thank you TeamSpirit
We would like to thank event management company TeamSpirit for its faultless and enthusiastic approach to organising the Acorn team-building tasks for another year.
With tasks and riddles guaranteed to keep the teams guessing, plunging them into a series of activities that broke down barriers within minutes, TeamSpirit provided the perfect introduction to the weekend, making use of Chewton Glen's beautiful backdrop.
It also ensured that a group that had started the day as strangers ended it as teammates - and, crucially, as potential long-term industry contacts.
Our host venue - Chewton Glen hotel and spa, New Milton, New Forest, Hampshire
Chewton Glen, one of the finest luxury hotels in the UK, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, in the same year that The Caterer marks 30 years of the Acorn Awards.
The five-AA-red-star property on the edge of the New Forest National Park is owned by Martin and Brigitte Skan, and it was a very fitting venue to host the latest set of Acorn winners. The hotel is overseen by general manager Mark Bevan - himself the winner of an Acorn in 2015 - and its operations manager Edward Fitzpatrick was one of this year's Acorn winners.
And, of course, Chewton Glen did not disappoint. The Acorns were wowed not just by the quality of this quintessentially English country house hotel, but also by the standard of the seemingly effortless hospitality on show. The kitchen team, overseen by executive chef Luke Matthews, produced some fantastic food throughout the weekend, including a sumptuous three-course lunch consisting of a starter of Pothecary gin-cured Chalk Stream trout, shaved fennel, Amalfi lemon, radish and Dorset wasabi, followed by loin of new season Hampshire lamb, crisp sweetbreads, broad beans, Sopley asparagus and black garlic jus, and a dessert of Beaulieu strawberry pavlova with basil sorbet.
Speaking about the hotel's part in this year's Acorn Awards, Chewton Glen managing director Andrew Stembridge said: "We would always have been honoured to host the Acorn Awards; however, to be hosting the 30th anniversary of the Acorns on Chewton Glen's 50th birthday has made it particularly special. It is great being part of anything that recognises young talent in our industry and to witness the 900th Acorn being presented really put the significance of the Acorn Awards into perspective.
"Over the years, Chewton Glen has certainly grown a healthy number of Acorn winners and it was brilliant that this year was no exception, with Acorn recognition for our own Ed Fitzpatrick. Our goal was to give the winners a weekend that acknowledged what they have just achieved in terms of industry status and I am confident that they will remember where they won their Acorn for many years to come.
"Ultimately, we love a challenge, but it was an easy theme to get creative with and I think we all had fun thinking of how we could surprise and delight the attendees, Chewton Glen-style."
And speaking about the winners themselves, Stembridge added: "This year's crop of Acorns were particularly impressive as a collective, and although it was their professionalism that landed them one of the 30 highly coveted places round the table on the Sunday night, I was pleased to see them all letting their hair down together in true hospitality style.
"Importantly, we as hosts enjoyed the whole event as much as the winners themselves, and this feeling ran through the entire building and all of the Chewton Glen staff who were looking after the event."
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