On Thursday the 28th January the Amex stadium hosted the 10th Sussex Food & Drink Awards. This annual celebration of all that is great about Sussex food and drink seeks to find the best of the year across ten different categories. All of the leading lights of the Sussex food community are invited to enjoy a champagne reception and 7 course banquet; they even let some of us food writers in to share in the fun.
The awards are organised by Natural Partnerships Community Interest Company, which is Co-Directed by Hilary Knight of the Sussex Food and Drink Network, and Paula Seager Managing Director of Natural Biz PR. Natural Partnerships are a not for profit organisation who manage a range of projects to support local farming, and the food and drink industry. Most recently they launched a new online food and drink portal www.southdownsfood.org; where you can find information about all kinds of businesses and events in the South Downs area.
I donned my tuxedo, turns out buying one a couple years back for Glyndebourne was a sound investment, and headed to the Amex for what promised to be an interesting evening. Upon arrival I was handed a glass of rather pleasant sparkling wine courtesy of Carr Taylor, who hail from just outside Westfield Village in East Sussex, and mingled. After a brief chat with guests ranging from Steven Edwards and Josh Stanzl of Etch. food; Tamara Roberts from Ridgeview wine; and Paul Clark of Troll’s Pantry, all of whom were up for awards, we headed down for the main event.
After a brief intro from Sally Gunnell OBE, and patron of Natural Partnerships CIC, the banquet began. The highlight of the meal for me was the fish course; consisting of cod in a luscious cream sauce with cheese and topped with breadcrumbs, and served with a mussel bisque heady with the flavours of the sea it was my kind of food. I was also impressed with the fantastic cheese board showcasing many of the superb cheeses of the area; and also the sloe gin truffles supplied by Cocoaloco of West Grinstead.
So with our bellies full and a few bottles of wine from Nutbourne and Bolney vineyards on the table the awards kicked off. There was a great victory for The Traditional Cheese Dairy in the “Food Producer of the Year” who were the smallest of the three finalists. This family run artisan cheese producer, who focus traditional methods and techniques, were worthy winners based on the cheese I had sampled earlier.
Ridgeview Wine Estate took a well deserved win in the “Drink Producer of the Year” category for the fantastic range of sparkling wines that they produce. If you have not tried them then I recommend the Cavendish from their range; a full bodied sparkling wine that I thought excellent when I tried it.
The hotly contested “Young Chef of the Year” was won by Ryan Tomkinson who currently works at The Pass under the guidance of Michelin starred chef Matt Gillan. The finalists had to endure a Masterchef style contest and it was great to see such young chefs putting so much passion into their cooking. Runners up Stephanie Haywood and Michael Sutherland deserve a mention in what was a very popular category on the night.
Charlie and Sarah Hughes of Southview Farm were awarded farmer of the year and have a personal connection with the awards with Charlie having proposed on stage at a previous event. S K Hutchings won butcher of the year and Horsham Local Produce Market took the prize for “Farmers Market of the Year”.
There were wins for Sharnfold Farm Shop and Eggs to Apples in “Food Shop of the Year” and “Newcomer of the Year” respectively; and I had to add The Cat Inn of West Hoathly to my places to visit in 2016 list as they took the award for “Sussex Eating Experience of the Year” beating former champion and Michelin starred The Curlew in Bodiam. Finally, Brighton favourites and ethical champions The Troll’s Pantry won “Street Food of the Year” much to Paul’s surprise as he told me earlier he had not prepared a speech – he did thankfully hold back on a couple of the options we discussed opting for a more traditional acceptance speech.
In all it was a fantastic evening and a really great celebration of the wonderful food producers and businesses that we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep. I look forward to the upcoming year and seeing which of the county’s dedicated food professionals battle it out for glory in 2017.
Here is a full breakdown of the awards and winners:
Sussex Food Producer of the Year, sponsored by The Southern Co-operative
Winner: The Traditional Cheese Dairy, Stonegate, East Sussex www.traditionalcheesedairy.co.uk
Runners up: Higgidy, Shoreham-by-sea, West Sussex and Springs’ Smoked Salmon, Edburton, West Sussex
Sussex Drink Producer of the Year, sponsored by Rix & Kay Solicitors
Winner: Ridgeview Wine Estate, Ditchling Common, East Sussex www.ridgeview.co.uk
Runners up: Dark Star Brewing Co Ltd, Partridge Green, West Sussex and Nutbourne Vineyards, Pulborough, West Sussex
Sussex Young Chef of the Year, sponsored by Sodexo Prestige
Winner: Ryan Tomkinson, The Pass, South Lodge, Lower Beeding, West Sussex www.southlodgehotel.co.uk
Runners up: Michael Sutherland, The Sussex Ox, Polegate, East Sussex and Stephanie Hayward, Ockenden Manor, Cuckfield, West Sussex
Sussex Farmer of the Year, in association with Farmers Weekly
Winner: Charlie and Sarah Hughes, Southview Farm, Pulborough, West Sussex www.charliesfarmshop.co.uk
Runners up: Julia and Simon Feakes, Sussex Lamb, Horsham, West Sussex and Tim and Rupert Hoare, Adsdean Farm, Funtingdon, West Sussex
Sussex Butcher of the Year, sponsored by Absolute Butchery
Winner: S K Hutchings, Partridge Green, West Sussex
Runners up: A C Coughtrey Butchers, Pulborough, West Sussex and Barfields Butchers, Brighton
Sussex Farmers Market of the Year, sponsored by Harveys of Lewes
Winner: Horsham Local Produce Market, West Sussex www.horshammarkets.co.uk
Runners up: Lewes Farmers Market, East Sussex and Shoreham Farmers Market, West Sussex
Sussex Eating Experience of the Year, co-sponsored by Natural PR and Sussex Food & Drink Network
Winner: The Cat Inn, West Hoathly, West Sussex www.catinn.co.uk
Runners up: The Curlew Restaurant, Bodiam, East Sussex and The Sussex Ox, Polegate, East Sussex
Sussex Food Shop of the Year, sponsored by Wealden District Council
Winner: Sharnfold Farm Shop, Stone Cross, East Sussex www.sharnfoldfarm.co.uk
Runners up: Charlie’s Farm Shop, Bury, West Sussex and Rushfields Farm Shop, Poynings, West Sussex
Sussex Newcomer of the Year, sponsored by Spofforths Chartered Accountants
Winner: Eggs to Apples, Hurst Green, East Sussex www.eggstoapples.co.uk
Runners up: Coggings & Co, Brighton and Etch Food, Billingshurst, West Sussex
Sussex Street Food Vendor of the Year, co-sponsored by Food Rocks and Hepworth & Co Brewers Ltd
Winner: The Trolls Pantry, Brighton www.thetrollspantry.co.uk
Runners up: Boca Loco, Arundel, West Sussex and Jah Jyot, Southwater, West Sussex
Full details about the event and all winners and runners up can be found at www.sussexfoodawards.biz