Acorns 2021: Meet this year's 30 under 30

28 July 2021 by
Acorns 2021: Meet this year's 30 under 30

This year's Acorn Award winners, the industry's brightest 30 under 30, celebrated their triumphs over an adverse year at the winners' weekend event at South Lodge hotel. Lisa Jenkins reports.

Click here to download the winner's supplement >>

‘Freedom Day' was memorable to this year's Acorn Award winners for more than one reason – it was the day they collected their awards at Exclusive Collection's South Lodge hotel in Horsham, West Sussex.

The winners' weekend, in association with headline sponsor CH&Co and supporting sponsor Arla Pro, saw a team from The Caterer and the Acorns treated to a tour, lunch and wine tasting at the Ridgeview Wine Estate, as well as a masterclass with herbalist Michael Isted, founder of The Herball, a specialist in demonstrating the power of plants and their use in tinctures, cordials and beverages.

The Acorns during The Herball workshop
The Acorns during The Herball workshop

The abundance of wildflowers and herbs within the grounds of South Lodge provided the ingredients for six beverages created by the winners, with or without a dash of Ridegview Wine's Bloomsbury sparkling wine – a necessity on the hottest weekend of the year.

The Spa at South Lodge houses Botanica, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant where head chef Jonathan Spiers draws on the South Downs as a larder for fresh and seasonal ingredients. On the Sunday evening the winners, sponsors and guests enjoyed an alfresco feast, with dishes including mini ‘Wasted' burgers; chargrilled tenderstem broccoli, Castello Blue cheese by Arla Pro with wild nettle pesto; finishing with a pumpkin brûlée with pumpkin seed brittle.

Acorn Awards 2021
Acorn Awards 2021

Monday morning started with a reviving breakfast in the Camellia restaurant followed by individual portrait shots and a group winners' photo call in the hotel's stunning gardens.

Following a lunch (see menu below) prepared by executive chef Lewis Hamblet and delivered by conference and banqueting manager Liz Brooks and their teams, the winners heard from Simon Houston, director and founder of independent foodservice caterer Houston & Hawkes. Houston, who set up the company with business partner Dave Hawkes in 2019, spoke about his career and how he had mentors to guide him.

David Connell, general manager of South Lodge, said: "We were delighted to host this year's Acorn Awards winners' weekend. It has been a long time in the making, as we originally planned to be the host venue for last year's winners. Being able to play host this year, for the first in-person industry awards event, falling on ‘Freedom Day', was extremely exciting and gave us the opportunity to bring together the future leaders of our incredible industry after such a long and difficult 18 months."

The theme to the awards this year was sustainability, and South Lodge presented a perfect backdrop with its wild pool, thermal springs and environmentally friendly spa building. The theme was mirrored in Arla's sustainable products, which were available in Botanica, the bamboo lanyards and welcome letters printed on sustainable paper. Finally, CH&Co presented each winner with a gift card embedded with flower seeds, notifying them that an oak tree had been planted in their honour.

Click here to download the winner's supplement >>

Meet the 2021 Acorn Award winners

Headline sponsor CH&Co


"Huge congratulations to the Acorn Awards class of 2021 from everyone at CH&Co. What an absolute honour it is for us to be part of the celebrations that recognise our industry's rising stars.

"Individually, the 30 incredibly worthy winners possess qualities, talents and inspirational stories of achievement that you cannot fail to be impressed by for people so early on in their careers. But together, they are so much more. They are our future leaders, and after the year hospitality has had, they are proof that the innovation, creativity, energy and aspiration that has always shaped our vibrant industry is alive and kicking.

"As we bounce back in a new hospitality landscape, we all need to adapt and think differently about how we bring memorable food and service experiences and joy to our customers and how we engage and develop our people. We also need to work pragmatically and collaboratively as we recognise what wasn't perhaps so rosy before and take the positive learnings from the past year to create an even more dynamic, inclusive, progressive and attractive industry.

"Against this backdrop, one fundamental strength of our industry that, in my opinion, remains unchanged is the incredible development and career opportunities and support it offers those with the right attitude, energy and determination. I've seen it within CH&Co and other businesses – the ability to progress from entry level through the ranks right up to board level and across different disciplines is a reality that's there for the taking.

"This is why it's so important to support and celebrate our emerging talent and it's with pure pleasure and intrigue that we will watch the Acorn Award winners navigate their incredibly bright futures and flourish alongside our wonderful industry."

Allister Richards, chief operating officer, CH&Co

Supporting sponsor Arla Pro

Arla Pro
Arla Pro

"Firstly we would like to extend our huge congratulations to the winners of the Acorn Awards 2021. After what has been the toughest year our industry has ever faced, now really is the time for us to rally and celebrate the fantastic talent that UK hospitality has to offer – and what a talented group of people they are!

"We're delighted to have sponsored the Acorn Awards for the first time this year and to help shine a spotlight on the people who make our industry what it is and whose resilience, fight and positivity will ensure that we will bounce back stronger than ever.

"People are at the heart of our industry and they're at the heart of what we do at Arla Pro too. As a farmer-owned business, we simply wouldn't be able to do what we do without brilliant people driving our business forward. Whether that's working tirelessly to produce the milk that goes into our products, developing technologies, optimising our supply chain, reducing our carbon footprint, or supporting our foodservice customers: we are a sum of parts.

"We're proud to be champions of this industry and the people who work so hard to make it what it is: a fantastic place not just to work, but to thrive. We can't wait to see what the future holds for the Acorn Award winners!"

Andy Bacon, senior global culinary lead, Arla Pro

The menu


  • Dorking asparagus with 36-month-aged Parmesan beignet, olive crumb

  • Portland crab pikelet, brown crab mayonnaise, cucumber and dill -Morel, shiitake and oyster mushroom pikelet, truffled mascarpone (V)


  • Fillet and brisket of Sussex beef, roasted shallot, spring onion mash
  • Braised artichoke and courgette, roasted shallot, spring onion mash, glazed carrot (V)


  • Single origin Pump Street chocolate delice, raspberry sorbet
  • Coffee and sweet treats


Matthew Clark
Matthew Clark

  • Welcome drink: Pongrácz Brut NV, Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa
  • Starter and fish course: Te Kairanga Riesling 2018, Martinborough, New Zealand
  • Main course: Vivir Sin Dormir 2018, Bodegas Arraez, Jumilla, Spain## Acorns Alumni event – 35 years of Acorn Award winners

Acorns Alumni event

The Acorns Alumni event on 19 July celebrated 35 years of The Caterer's Acorn Awards. The event was organised by David Connell, general manager of South Lodge, and saw Acorn winners from the last 35 years join some of the 2021 Acorn winners for a barbecue, indulgent desserts and music from King Brasstards.

The event was supported by The Herball, Ridgeview Wines, Weber Barbecues and rare-breed pork and lamb supplier Hill House Farm.

Ridgeview Wines


Ridgeview has been crafting traditional method sparkling wines since 1995, leading the way in the English sparkling wine revolution.

Established near the picturesque village of Ditchling in Sussex, this second-generation family business was crowned the globe's best in the International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2018 and named number 36 in the Top 50 Worlds' Best Vineyards in 2019.

The vineyard is situated in the beautiful South Downs National Park, where visitors can drink in the gorgeous view that gives Ridgeview its name and celebrate the family message written in the neck foil of every bottle that; ‘Life is for celebrating'.

Ridgeview has been a partner with South Lodge and Exclusive Collection since 2017 and the relationship has gone from strength to strength. We are delighted to be partnering with South Lodge for the Acorn Awards.

South Lodge (Exclusive Collection)

South Lodge is situated in the heart of the West Sussex countryside with stunning views and walks on its doorstep, a place where guests can disconnect from the everyday and get some much-needed R&R.

Each room and suite is of beautiful bespoke design, with some featuring their own hot tub balconies, and others with private gardens – perfect for a break away with four-legged companions.

For food lovers, locally sourced dishes can be discovered in Camellia restaurant, as well as guest chef residencies in the Pass, and delicious afternoon teas to be enjoyed in one of the lounges or on the terraces soaking up the summer sun.

The icing on the South Lodge cake is the spa, where guests can hit the gym, enjoy rejuvenating treatments and an array of thermal experiences, as well as a choice of three pools to relax by.

Photography: Hospitality Media/Adrian Franklin

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