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Anna Murby looks at the shortlist of current and future heroes of the Northamptonshire food scene for the Weetabix Food and Drink Awards

With just over a week to go until the results of this year’s Weetabix Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards are announced, revealing the county’s best producers, eateries and chefs, more stars of the sector are celebrating their deserved moment in the spotlight!

Among them are the six nervous finalists vying for glory in the ‘F&B Achiever of the Year’ category (sponsored by Howes Percival), one which is designed to recognize those individuals who have made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to the food and drink scene in the county. 

The finalists are (in alphabetical order):

Rachael Bradshaw of Hamm Tun Fine Foods Deli, Long Buckby

Laurence Conisbee of Wharf Distillery, Towcester

Richard Gordon of The Greedy Gordons, Twywell

Teresa McCarthy-Dixon of The Swan & Helmet, Northampton

Zoe Mee of Mee Farmers, Nassington

Dennis Willmott of The Bell Inn, Finedon 

The impressive sextet were selected from a record number of entries – reflecting the resilience and stature of the sector despite this most challenging of years – and then faced interviews from a panel of business experts including Matthew Talbot, Partner at Howes Percival, Yvette Lamidey, who is SME Champion and a board member at Awards Associate Sponsor, SEMLEP, and Wayne Pheasey from fellow Awards Associate Sponsor, Musk Process Services, the Peterborough-based engineering service providers, whose clients include some of the major names in the food and drink sector across the UK.

In a year that has seen business leaders modify their practices to both survive and thrive, Wayne was impressed by the calibre of all those shortlisted: “I was delighted to represent Musk Process Services as a judge in this brilliant competition, one which perhaps has more significance in 2020 than ever before in publicly applauding this amazing sector in Northamptonshire” said Wayne.

“The finalists in this category have endured the same challenges as any other, yet they’ve shown real commercial acumen, adapting accordingly while continuing their commitment to superb customer service and their collection of inspiring professional and personal stories made it a very difficult, but no less enjoyable, judging session!” he enthused.  

By contrast, the ‘One To Watch’ category (sponsored by Whitworth Bros. Ltd Flour Millers) is aimed at producers younger than five years old and is designed to recognize their potential for major growth, their future impact on the market and thereby raising the profile of the county at regional, national or international level. 

The five on the shortlist are (in alphabetical order):

Brooklyn Brownie Co, Northampton

Butler’s Pie Company, Brackley

Nakasero, Northampton

What’s Poppin’, Northampton

Whittlebury Bakery, Whittlebury 

Meanwhile the ‘Local Food Hero of the Year’ category (sponsored by Northampton College) is the only one in the annual competition which invites public nomination rather than direct entry and, following as challenging a first stage judging session as the category has ever witnessed, the four finalists chosen at the subsequent shortlisting were (in alphabetical order):

Elliott Family of Elliotts Butchers of Kislingbury and Norborough Lodge Farm Shop, Brockhall

Hamm Tun Fine Foods, Long Buckby

The Fox and Hounds, Whittlebury

The Plough, Shutlanger

In recent years, the ‘Local Food Hero’ category has celebrated a wide range of projects and individuals whose stories may not otherwise have come to light and, given the remarkable response to the COVID-19 pandemic shown by so many food and drink businesses across the county, Awards Director Rachel Mallows MBE DL believes it was inevitable that the competition would be inundated with suggestions of those who should be lauded for their exceptional efforts: “This category was introduced in 2010 and over the last decade we have been humbled by the hundreds of nominations we’ve received but, perhaps not surprisingly, the public sentiment this year overwhelmingly demonstrates that so many food and drink businesses are going above and beyond to support their communities” revealed Rachel.

“Reading all the nominations was incredibly heartwarming and made me not only more proud – if that were possible – of our wonderful food and drink sector, but also all the more thankful that I am not a judge and, while we won’t be revealing the final results until next month, I am delighted to divulge that we will have few celebratory surprises up our sleeves, come the big night!” she added.

The results, which will see finalists across all twelve categories being awarded gold, silver or bronze, will be announced as part of a virtual online Awards celebration taking place on Thursday 12th November. 

For more information on the Weetabix Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2020/21, please visit www.northamptonshirefoodanddrink.co.uk or call Rachel Mallows on 01933 664437 or email rachel@themallowscompany.comMeanwhile for further details, including news of the finalists in the remaining categories as they are announced and details of how you can join the virtual Awards celebration on 12th November, follow the Awards on Facebook at @foodawards or Twitter and Instagram at @foodawardsHQ or on LinkedIn at @weetabixnfadawards

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