As some of you may or may not know, I am now in my second year of membership at the Guild of Food Writers. As a relatively new food writer and at the tender (?!) age of 27, it feels such a pleasure and privilege to have been accepted as a member of the Guild, amongst so many food heroes and heroines of mine, whose books grace my rather overstuffed cookery bookshelves.
You can therefore imagine my delight at being asked to be a judge at this year’s Guild of Food Writers Awards. I didn’t play this one very cool. I think I was in the car when the email came through asking me to join the judging panel, and I’m pretty sure I had responded within 30 seconds of receiving the email with a “yes please, I’d love to!”
Several weeks later, the books started to arrive. There were a lot of them. And I’m talking mostly large hardback books. We seriously started to feel sorry for our trusty postman. And then there were jokes – not by me – after the novelty of so much post arriving every day had passed, whereby a virtual eclipse would be cast over the front of our house by yet another TNT lorry (you don’t see many of them round our way in Dorset) arriving to deliver yet another shedload of books to be read and reviewed.
Reading so many books critically did take quite a lot of time. But it was an absolutely fascinating experience. Some titles I’d wanted to get hold of for some time, and some were certainly books which would have never really have come to my attention otherwise, which did make very interesting reading.
One of the most interesting aspects personally, was seeing that many books which I judged were my Literary Agent’s books which have been published in the past year, which reinforces the sentiment that, I hope, I’m in good hands.
So, my job as a judge, was to come up with a shortlist of books, just three, which would be published by the Guild in the run up to the Awards. This was a very interesting challenge, which did concern me initially, but was in fact, remarkably simple. For me, there were a great many very good cookery books which where entered into the Awards. I found it hard to differentiate between them – they all had many differing strengths. But where the task was made easier, was the small number of truly exceptional books, which really stood out from the rest, and were clear contenders for the shortlist.
Another interesting aspect to the judging was that the judges did not discuss results until a shortlist had been reached. It concerned me a little to think that my choices could be a complete curveball to the judging process being such a newcomer (although a very well-read newcomer!). I was amazed to see however, that the judging panel’s choices were unanimous, which was an unexpected surprise!
Once the judging was out of the way, it was time to sit back and look forward to the Awards. I had a crazy schedule in the run-up and ended up coming back in from France from the Awards, so I arrived in a slightly jaded state after a fair number of hours travelling, wearing an ever-so-slightly crumpled dress, which I had managed to spill pineapple juice down the front of (don’t ask). I was thrilled to be able to take a guest, which naturally had to be my wonderful colleague, Jayne who helps me in so many ways.
The Awards took place on 30th May at Fishmonger’s Hall on the Thames in London. Fortunately, this was when we were still enjoying that nice warm spell, so it was just glorious to be able to enjoy a cold glass of rosé on the banks of the Thames with the other guests.
I’m not afraid to admit, I did get a little bit starstruck on the evening itself. Playing it cool, as always, I had to run off and put my heels on as soon as I arrived, as they were too uncomfortable to stagger over London Bridge in on the way to the venue. As I carefully stepped out of the Powder Room, trying not to trip over in my nude LK Bennetts (which invariably seem get my friends drawing comparisons between me and Kate Middleton, although they fail to recognize I am about 6 stone heavier than the Duchess) I immediately bumped into one of my all-time foodie heroes, which did leave me stumped for words. This was to become a recurring theme on this evening. It was such a privilege to be in the company of so many inspiring people, and to actually see them in the flesh and chat to them.
The awards ceremony itself was most enjoyable, recognizing some real talent and excellent work. I was particularly pleased to see Emma Gardener and Silvana de Soissons winning awards for their work, which really is of the highest standard.
The evening was nicely rounded off by a chance to chat with the wonderful Claudia Roden, deserved winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, another glass of wine, and a train journey home with Silvana and John-Paul de Soissons who so kindly saw me on to the delightful rail replacement service at Swindon at midnight or thereabouts back to the Cotswolds.
For further details on the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2012 and all winners and shortlisted entrants, please see here.