A mouthwatering 200 products were entered for this year's Caterer and Hotelkeeper Excellence in Food & Drink Awards, in association with 3663 First for Foodservice.
After several days of tasting and evaluating everything from savoury pies to indulgent puddings, our judging panel of industry experts has arrived at a shortlist for each category, from which the winners, deemed to deliver excellence in terms of taste, appearance and usability, will be selected.
In the first of a series of awards previews, we shine a light on the shortlisted products in the first six categories.
STARTERS, SIDE ORDERS AND BUFFET
McCain Signatures Herby Onion Scoops
McCain Herby Onion Scoops are quarter-cut slices of onion coated in a light and crispy herb batter. The quick-to-prepare scoops help caterers to differentiate a menu by offering an alternative to snacks such as crisps, nuts or a bowl of chips. The scoops have an appealing shape and can be used for dipping and scooping dips, and offer a distinct twist to the traditional onion ring.
To buy it, call 0800 146573McCain
Millifoods Asparagus Gruyere Crown
Traditionally made puff pastry boasting more than 100 laminations - to guarantee a successful puff - goes into making the Asparagus Gruyère Crown. The asparagus filling accounts for 55% of the dish and includes asparagus (21%), crème fraîche (16%), Gruyère cheese (14%) and vegetarian Italian hard cheese. Each Gruyère Crown is filled and formed by hand and is best served hot from the oven.
To buy it, call 01233 624886
Scholler Movenpick Balsamic Vinegar Sorbet
Zingy balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy, gives this Mövenpick sorbet an intense flavour and refreshing finish. While the sorbet sits comfortably on any dessert menu, the company suggests adding a scoop of the balsamic vinegar sorbet to starter or side dishes such as tomato, mozzarella, basil and olive oil for a burst of extra flavour. The sorbet is coated with streaks of balsamic sauce, giving it an attractive appearance while adding extra flavour.
To buy it, call 01483 205500Schöller
MAIN COURSES AND CENTRE OF PLATE
Classic Cuisine Luxury Fish Pie
This single-portion handmade meal can be cooked and served in its own terracotta dish. The pie includes organic salmon, prawns, smoked haddock and white fish, presented in a creamy white wine fish stock sauce. The mashed potato is made fresh from real potatoes and is topped with grated Cheddar cheese plus a dusting of spices and herbs.
To buy it, call 01604 644884Classic Cuisine
Classic Cuisine Toad in the Hole
Aimed at making it easy for caterers to serve this popular dish, this product comprises three Cumberland sausages in a Yorkshire pudding batter made with wheat flour. It is supplied uncooked and can be prepared in various types of oven for a home-cooked appearance.
To buy it, call 01604 644884
Millifoods Cottage Pie
Savoury British beef mince with vegetables is topped with real English mashed potato to create this classic dish. Aimed at the coffee shop and staff feeding market, the dish has an authentic home-made appearance, achieved by using Estima boiled potatoes to make a traditional mash. Vegetables include tomatoes, onions, peas and carrots. The dish has also recently been reformulated to reduce salt levels and remove additives and potential allergens.
To buy it, call 01233 624886
3G Select Florentine Fish Pie
The 3G Select Florentine Pie (400g) combines fresh Scottish salmon, Dartmouth smoked haddock and Honduran king prawns to create a high-quality main course dish. The pie's creamy sauce is combined with wilted spinach to complement the fish and seafood, and the dish is topped with buttery mash and sprinkled with Mendip Hills grated Cheddar.
To buy it, call 0870 850 52133G Food Service
MEAT, GAME, POULTRY AND FISH
Brown and Forrest Side of Smoked Salmon
The Freedom Food-accredited Loch Duart sustainable fish farm in Sutherland rears salmon in low volumes to produce fish of a consistently high quality. The salmon is wet-cured with salt, water and whisky, and laid on racks rather than hung vertically as in traditional methods. It is then infused for 20 hours with cold smoke generated from a slow-burning trail of native oak dust. The salmon is delivered as a whole side on a daily basis, allowing restaurants to slice it to their own requirements.
To buy it, call 01458 250875 Brown and Forrest
Moy Park Non-fry Chicken Mini Fillet
The reduced-fat whole-muscle chicken mini fillet is coated in a non-flash-fried breadcrumb for high quality and consistent results in line with healthy eating trends. Developed especially for the education sector, in line with Government nutritional guidelines, the product has 64% less fat and 50% less sodium than similar products with a fried coating. The versatile chicken fillet can be used as a filler for wraps, sliced and mixed with salad leaves or served with potatoes and vegetables.
To buy it, call 0800 085 2749
Moy Park Foodservice
3G Food Service and Seafood Solutions Natural Smoked Halibut
Cold-smoked over a traditional mix of wood chippings at 3G's own smokehouse in Hull, this Natural Smoked Halibut has a firm, meaty texture and a slightly salty, distinctive smoke flavour. The fish, which has a slightly golden sheen, is supplied chilled with its skin on, weighing 1-2kg. The halibut provides large white steak-like fillets suitable for all types of cooking, and can also be supplied in individual portions.
To buy it, call 0870 850 5213
3G Food Service
DESSERTS AND PUDDINGS
Atlantic Foods Go On! Mini Chocolate Brownies
Individually baked Mini Chocolate Brownies have a crispy outside and a soft, gooey, rich chocolate fondant centre. The chocolate treats, with real Belgian chocolate, are made for sharing and are free from preservatives or additives. They are part of a 12-strong range of mini desserts, including profiteroles and bread and butter pudding. The brownies defrost in an hour and can be warmed through in the oven in five minutes.
To buy it, call 01252 846500
Brakes Premiere Chocolate Box
An all-butter shortbread base is topped with dark chocolate mousse made using Belgian chocolate, surrounding a caramel cream centre and enriched with French butter and fresh cream. The Chocolate Box dessert is hand-finished with a chocolate dusting, and can be served after defrosting for three hours in a refrigerator.
To buy it, call 0845 606 9090Brakes
Rachel's Organic Divine Rice
Organic Divine Rice is made from fresh milk from organic farms and is slow-cooked for a traditional creamy taste. Delicious eaten hot or cold, the dessert contains 100% organic ingredients, 5% fat, no artificial additives and is suitable for vegetarians. The single-serve portion size makes the Divine Rice a versatile option for staff canteens, impulse snacking or to round off a light meal as a dessert.
To buy it, call 01970 625805Rachel's Organic
Brakes Premiere Dairy Clotted Cream Vanilla Ice-Cream
Fresh whole milk and clotted cream are used to make Premiere Dairy Clotted Cream Vanilla Ice-Cream. The ice-cream is enhanced with Madagascan bourbon bean extract and pieces, and is suited to desserts with a fruit coulis or scooped into a premium cornet.
To buy it, call 0845 606 9090
La Maison des Sorbets Watercress Sorbet
Designed by Parisian pastry chefs for restaurants and hotels, Watercress Sorbet is made from natural ingredients to give a freshly made, artisan look. The clean, refreshing and distinctive tasting sorbet can be purchased in two-litre tubs or as individually hand-scooped balls or quenelles.
To buy it, call 020 8968 0707
La Maison des Sorbets
La Maison des Sorbets Mixed Berry Ice-Cream
Blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and blueberries are mixed with dairy ice-cream to create Mixed Berry Ice-Cream, which is handmade from natural ingredients. The ice-cream has a rich and refreshing taste with distinctive berry flavours. It is available in four-litre tubs or as individually hand-scooped balls or quenelles.
To buy it, call 020 8968 0707La Maison des Sorbets
CHEESE, DAIRY AND MILK PRODUCTS
Brakes Premiere Barrel Aged Greek Feta
This DOP feta cheese is created using free-range sheep and goats' milk from the Thessaly region of Greece. It undergoes a three-month maturing process in traditional birchwood barrels to give it a smooth and distinct flavour. The feta is suitable as part of a salad or melted in a toasted sandwich, where its distinctive flavour stands out.
To buy it, call 0845 606 9090Brakes
The Cheese Company Tickler Fabulous Extra Mature Cheddar
Tickler extra-mature Cheddar, crafted in Devon at the Taw Valley Creamery, combines sweet, tangy and strong notes with a slight crunch. Developed as an extra-mature with an ageing process of an average of 18 months, the cheese is graded out to a specific "spidergraph" of flavours to ensure its consistency. It is suitable for serving as part of a cheeseboard or for use as an ingredient, such as a topping cheese.
To buy it, call 01454 252301
The Cheese Company
A MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSOR
3663 First for Foodservice believes that excellence and quality are attributes that every company in the food and drink industry should be striving for. Not only does practising excellence improve the experience for customers, it can help improve your bottom line too.
Ben Woodhouse, catering development controller at 3663, says: "At this year's judging of the Excellence in Food and Drink Awards we saw so many fantastic new products. In the current climate, where innovative new products are in abundance, there is no excuse for outlets to be offering bland menus and uninspired dishes.
"Mirroring the increased demand from customers for products with provenance, there were more entries this year from local producers.
"Provenance is still high on the agenda, and you can capitalise on this by choosing your products carefully. Featuring locally sourced produce and using descriptive terms on the menu - such as Aberdeen Angus Beef burger instead of simply beef burger, or locally sourced Lincolnshire sausages and Maris Piper mash instead of bangers and mash - is proven to make dishes sound more appealing."
Thinking carefully about your offering and tailoring it to your market can mean the difference between average and excellent.
Here are some top tips for serving excellent starters, mains, desserts and meat.
- Starters These are a good way of extending the menu and making it more flexible. Doubling up starters as sharing platters or combo options for a main course or snacking option gives choice to your customer, and can encourage snackers who do not want a complete meal.
- Main courses Women tend to be the key decision-makers when the family dine out, so try highlighting healthy main-course options to engage their interest. Fish and seafood are considered healthier choices and prove popular with the more health-conscious consumers.
- Meat Work using flexible menus and "dish of the day" boards to take advantage of seasonal discounts and special offers - this will help those all-important GP targets and give your customers continued variety.
The Barton Meat Company, 3663's own catering butcher, can supply a wide range of special offers to help flexibility and provide week-long promotions, while controlling costs and maximising margins.
- Desserts Offer luxurious versions of the old favourites. Ice-cream still holds a 20% share of the dessert market and Whites vanilla ice-cream with pods, Belgian chocolate truffle ice-cream and strawberry clotted cream ice-cream will add a decadent touch to the menu.
Woodhouse adds: "We are proudly supporting the Excellence in Food & Drink Awards for the sixth consecutive year, and continue to celebrate and promote product quality and innovation."