In our industry we are often surrounded by good food and it can be easy to forget that many go without. Robin Hutson explains how and why he's supporting Action Against Hunger
One of the non-operational challenges as a hotelier and restaurateur in this day and age is how to deal with the many requests for charitable donations and prizes we all receive on a daily basis.
Each and every request seems to be for a great cause, from the smallest local garden fête to large international organisations. We absolutely want to do our bit to help, but clearly we cannot do everything. So, many years ago, we adopted a policy of helping a couple of larger national and international charities in a substantial fashion, and also trying to help as many of the smaller local charities as possible, with raffle prizes and the like. Finally, we support any of our team who are undertaking personal challenges.
One of the larger organisations we have always tried to support (even way back in the Hotel du Vin days) is the amazing work undertaken by Action Against Hunger. In the past this was by offering auction prizes, having been nudged by my good mate, food and wine writer Bill Knott, who has been an active ambassador for the charity for many years.
Given the fortunate food environment we find ourselves in by working in hospitality, Action Against Hunger always felt like a really appropriate charity for us to align ourselves with.
One day after selling Hotel du Vin in 2004, I was enjoying a pint with Bill in my favourite pub in Winchester – the Black Boy. Perhaps encouraged by a couple of beers, Bill and I came up with the idea of a new event, a dinner which included a wine auction to help Action Against Hunger. We thought we would encourage a few well-known chef friends to cook a course each for dinner and then blag some wine lots from merchants and restaurants alike, to see if we could raise some much-needed cash for this charity…and so the Fine Wine Auction & Dinner was born.
Our first event was held in 2005 (by then we had encouraged a few other industry notables to join the committee) at the then Bank restaurant in Aldwych, London. The chefs cooking that evening for about 100 guests were Christian Delteil, Henry Harris, Giorgio Locatelli and Tom Aikens, and we raised £67,000.
Buoyed by this success, the next year we moved the event to fellow committee member Soren Jessen's 1 Lombard Street, near Bank in London, which is where we hold it to this day. We have held the event every year bar one since the first; it has now become the single most lucrative event for Action Against Hunger in the UK, and since 2005 we have raised £3,052,471.
The format has remained broadly the same over the years, although we now auction foodie experiences, art and travel as well as wine. We have had an incredible roster of big-name chefs, from Angela Hartnett to Mark Hix (both now committee members) Heston Blumenthal, Marcus Wareing, Tom Kerridge, Rick Stein, Jason Atherton, Raymond Blanc and Pierre Koffmann, to name but a few.
We are proud of what we have created with this event, and while there is a very serious underlying message of helping malnourished kids and other good works, it is nevertheless fun. We usually manage to raise an incredible £300,000-plus on the evening, with only 170 people in the room. This year's event will take place on 2 November with yet another amazing chef line-up – Monica Galetti, Neil Borthwick, Jeremy Lee and Nieves Barragán Mohacho.
It would be fantastic to see you there.
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