Food & Drink Heroes! Taste of Kent Awards, Leeds Castle

A magnificent 12 outstanding food and drink champions were honoured at Produced in Kent's seventh Taste of Kent Awards, held at Leeds Castle...

Food & Drink Heroes!

A magnificent 12 outstanding food and drink champions were honoured at Produced in Kent’s seventh Taste of Kent Awards, held at Leeds Castle

Best Vineyard

Chapel Down Winery, TenterdenOwner: Frazer Thompson

Best Kent Vineyard 2010 (sponsored by Kent Life) saw some of the county’s most respected vineyards competing for the title – with each vineyard asked to present two wines from their collection for tasting by a panel of experts.

This year’s award for Best Kent Vineyard is Chapel Down’s fifth Taste of Kent Award since 2006 but, says Frazer Thompson: “We feel as excited about this as we did with the first. We don’t have a secret. We just put quality and passion at the centre of everything we do in every department.  

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“Demand continues to exceed supply, so were delighted to pick the first grapes from our new vineyard at Kits Coty near Aylesford and process our largest-ever harvest in October. It will help us meet more of that demand.

“Winning our second KEiBA Award, this time for our leisure and tourism operation, was a real highlight and more recognition for the investment we have put into the people and facilities of the business over the past three years.”

He adds: “Richard Phillips at Chapel Down really got into its stride in 2010 and customers come from Kent and much further afield for a fantastic experience in our unique setting. We successfully introduced our new draught lager, Curious Brew – we’d love to win Brewer of the Year too!

“Despite the recession, we continue to make investments in our vineyards, winery and visitor facilities, but most importantly in our people. My job is to make sure we have the best and most passionate people we can.”

Best Cider Maker

Biddenden Vineyard, BiddendenOwner: Julian Barnes

Multiple former winner of Best Kent Vineyard, Biddenden Vineyards lifted the title for Best Kent Cider Maker 2010 (sponsored by Wilkins Kennedy FKC) for the second year.  

Julian Barnes says: “We have won five awards to date, with many nominations over the years for best cider, wine and juice producer, all areas the company is reliant on.

“I hope the attention and focus we give the individual products along with a firm set of principles, gives us good continuity.”

Biddenden Vineyard is Kent’s oldest commercial vineyard, having been established in 1969 by Julian’s parents who had 30 acres of apples but needed to diversify – which led to the creation of Biddenden cider and apple juice.

Julian, who started work on the farm in 1975 at the age of 15 and was joined by his wife Sally 10 years later, adds: “The last year has been one of the most positive for local and regional produce, both wine and cider have seen strong growth and commitment from local traders and consumers looking to distinguish themselves from the multiples.”

Julian says Biddenden’s aim over the next 12 months is to strengthen its commitment to the “old-fashioned values” of communication and customer service.

As for his plans for 2011/12, these include keeping his fingers firmly crossed for two long, hot barbecue summers “which we hope will help everyone feel good about what is on the local doorstep.”

Best Brewery

The Whitstable Brewery, MaidstoneOwner: Abidi Rafik

One of several closely fought battles in east Kent came between former winners Ramsgate Brewery and The Whitstable Brewery in the Best Kent Brewery category (sponsored by Cask Marque).

But in the end The Whitstable Brewery surged ahead as the winner, a small, independent brewery that specialises in short-run and custom-made beers and is responsible for putting beers such as Oyster Stout and East India Pale Ale on the brewing map.

Founded in 2003, the team consists of Rafik Abidi, fellow brewers Julian Herrington (who also works with local restaurants to stage beer and food matching events) and David Knight, plus brewery assistant Dan Kneller.

Rafik says: “The site was used as a dairy at first and we now use the milk storage vats for fermenting our beers and they are just perfect!

“We have developed a range of German and Belgian-style beers to go with the seven cask ales permanently on sale, which gives an added zest to our range of flavours, together with our Kentish lager and European Pilsner. Raspberry Wheat beer adds a refreshing summer drink while our Wheat Beer has wonderful natural banana flavours.

“In the past few years we’ve been really pleased with an organic growth but this award gives us the confidence to invest and expand our brewing base.”

Restaurant of the Year

The Secret Garden, Mersham Le Hatch, AshfordOwner: Stephanie Wanstall

Sponsored by Visit Kent, this category proved the most closely contested of all with The Secret Garden (a runner-up for the past four years) just edging past two-times former winner The Mulberry Tree and Eddie Gilbert’s.

Stephanie Wanstall says: “We continue to raise our standards in all areas and I think our victory was down to just doing everything well, from our sourcing policy (always local) to the service and of course the quality of the food our diners experience.”

She adds: “It seems that people do still have some money to spend and our job is to make sure that they choose to spend it with us. We do this by offering good-quality and value food eaten in fine surroundings.

“We keep costs down by using local, seasonal ingredients and then passing this value down to the customer. For example, our cakes are made from eggs produced by our own hens, not only are they local, fresh and traceable but they are a lot cheaper too!

“The menu changes every day, so you can come in twice a week and never get bored of the choice. We are converting one of the greenhouses for private dining, the garden continues to develop and each year we grow more and more produce for the kitchen. But most of all we continue to improve the experience our customers have when they visit us.”

Future plans include building Kent’s first purpose-built cookery school – so this summer look out for courses as diverse as foraging, Italian, classic British and beginners.

Dining Pub of the Year

The Plough at Stalisfield Green, FavershamOwners: Robert and Annie Lloyd

This popular award (sponsored by Kent Frozen Foods) was won for the second time by The Plough, whose owners Robert and Amie Lloyd pride themselves on their strong links with the local farming community and have built a thriving business over the past five years, despite its rural location.

Robert says: “Our latest venture involves our neighbour, cattle farmer Richard Vant, who selects and rears exceptional beef cattle specifically for our menu. By buying the whole animal we can ensure the beef is the best available, giving us control from field to plate and allowing us to traditionally dry-age the beef for optimum flavour and texture.

“Other local farmers have supplied us with rare-breed pork, Seasalter lamb, fruit and vegetables, while local gamekeepers provide us with game.

“We always have local ales, lagers, stout, cider, juices, water and wine and believe the quality is second to none.”

Amie adds: “Our food is all made in-house and we believe authentic, fresh pub food can rival and better that at many restaurants. We are not afraid of traditional pub dishes like sausages and mash, but we’d rather make the sausages in-house using local rare breed pork from our friends Julie and David Murray at Snoad Farm.

“We are still a pub at heart, just a pub that happens to serve great food.”

Food Product of the Year

Kent Fine Foods, GillinghamProduct: Lavender JellyOwner: Matthew Kearsey-Lawson

This category (sponsored by Opies) proved a sweet sensation this year with Kent Honey Caramels from Madame Oiseau, Kent Honey from Bluebell Hill Apiaries and Lavender Jelly by Kent Fine Foods all competing for the category which recognises Kent’s most unique and innovative new food product.

The award went to first-time winner Kent Fine Foods for its Lavender Jelly, hand made in small batches with natural, local ingredients. Owner Matthew Kearsey-Lawson says: “The award is like having an invisible person standing next to me while I’m working and giving me a friendly pat on the back! This product gave me many headaches in its inception and required a lot of fine tuning, so this feels like a celebration of all the effort undertaken.”

He adds: “The recipes are all my own design and we cook in small batches using no artificial colourings, flavours or preservatives. The main ingredient in our Lavender Jelly is Bramley apples, supplied by Pine Tree Farm, an Upchurch farm grows the second of the ingredients, Victoria plums, while the main flavour – Whitstable Lavender Food Oil – is supplied by Colin Dudley, who runs his own lavender shop in Whitstable.”

Matthew says his Lavender Jelly is delicious on scones, pancakes, toast, crumpets and croissants, can be used as a glaze on pork or lamb and he has even been told by a customer that it’s lovely with cheese on toast!

“The inclusion of Lavender Oil offers great health benefits, too,” he adds.

Local Food Retailer 

Macknade Fine Foods, FavershamOwner: Stefano Cuomo

One of the most popular categories among the general public, Kent Local Food Retailer (sponsored by Stephens Fresh Foods) was a strongly contested category. Macknade Fine Foods just edged past Quex Barn to clinch the award for the second consecutive year, with Faversham’s flagship foodhall offering both a breadth of produce and a great retail experience, with its own fishmongers and caf� on site.

Stefano Cuomo says: “Our staff strive to create the ideal atmosphere for an enjoyable shopping experience. We look to source products we know our customers want and then make sure we have the knowledge to back up those products. We also react, as fast as we can, to customers’ comments and input, good or bad.

“We started last year on a high, having won the Taste of Kent Award and, despite some words of doom and gloom, we have found growth. I believe this is down to our team’s hard work and customers’ trust in what we do. “People realise that independent food retailers are better priced than supermarkets, particularly when one considers quality and supermarket wastage. We give a much better return pound for pound than the multiples.”

He adds: “We have gained more space and so we will be developing further food retail areas to add to our on-site food and drink experience.

“We also hope to build on the strong relationships we have with our producers and customers to get word out about what we do and who we are, and of course, to hold onto our title!”

Artisan Food Producer

Corinne’s Creative Kitchen, SellingOwner: Corinne Goodman

The newly branded Kent Artisan Food Producer category (sponsored by Barclays Bank) saw an exciting newcomer lift the award. Corinne’s Creative Kitchen was established in 2007 by the South Indian owner from Madras and in just three years has already come to prominence with its range of Asian meals produced from local produce for direct order, corporate events and retail customers. Corinne’s Asian cuisine cookery classes are also extremely popular.

“As a small producer, receiving an accolade of this calibre makes you feel part of the community and brings such huge recognition,” says Corinne.

“I think what gives me the edge is that I’m an Indian trying to bring real home-cooked Indian food into the market. I also offer a lot of services such as cookery classes, demos and events such as a South Indian Brunch. We also attend lots of festivals and fairs around Kent where we cook on site and that’s great fun.

“This side of London I’d found it very difficult to get authentic Indian food, so I started a business cooking from home and selling my products in Farmers’ Markets, adding the cookery classes a year later. We now supply several local farm shops and delis and also do dinner and garden parties.”

Corinne adds: “I would like to move into a unit dedicated to the business where I can do larger cookery classes and have a small shop. I also hope to do more of the things I enjoy such as different cookery classes, thereby getting more people cooking and eating authentic Indian and Thai food.”

Juice Producer of the Year

Owlet Fruit Juice, LamberhurstOwner: Colin Corfield

Picking up its first Taste of Kent Award for Kent Juice Producer of the Year (sponsored by Kent County Council), with 20 years experience in making fresh pressed juices from fruit grown in its orchards, Owlets has won 31 awards over two decades and four this year already, so was delighted to add a Taste of Kent Award to its trophy cabinet.

Colin Corfield says: “We started making apple juice in1990 to pay for the replanting of the farm and were one of the first fruit growers to diversify into apple juice. The business has grown steadily and we now produce hundreds of thousands of bottles of Owlet as well as making juice for several other companies and many private individuals.

“Our first juice, the Cox and Bramley blend, is still our best seller but we now do 13 different juices, all based on apples or pears. All the apples on the farm are picked fully ripe and pressed shortly afterwards and then we buy apples from nearby farms during the rest of the winter. Our other enterprise is six acres of cherries, which we sell to local farm shops and greengrocers in July.

“Many growers are moving away from growing Cox apples, but for juice flavour it’s still the best, so we’ve been planting more Cox to secure our supplies and will continue to do so.

“Most of the juice is sold in Kent, Surrey and Sussex, but we do a weekly delivery to London, where our customers include the Royal Festival Hall, The Royal Opera House and The Houses of Parlaiment.”

Meat Retailer of the Year

Godmersham Game, CanterburyOwner: Phil Miles

This category (sponsored by NFU Mutual) was extremely closely fought with the three nominees reaching very high standards for all areas of the judging, but in the end family-run Godmersham Game was delighted to lift the award.

Established in 2004 and run by Phil and Pam Miles, the company specialises in game and game products, much of which is sourced from Kent – including pheasant, partridge, wood pigeon, wild rabbit, hare and venison and a range of Godmersham-made venison sausages and burgers. After three consecutive years of making it to the final three, the victory was particularly sweet for the company.

Phil says: “This is recognition by our customers that we are constantly producing top-quality local products, along with a high level of customer service, which we believe helps give us an edge.

“Initially we started up with a local gamekeeper but as the business grew the gamekeeper returned to keepering full time as we expanded the business, moving to our present location. During the height of the season we can have up to seven people involved in the business, all of whom have made a contribution to making the business a success.

“We feel that we can keep on getting better by introducing new products, maintaining customer service and product standards. 

“Our plans for the future include internet sales and further exposure to new Farmers’ Markets.”

Farmers’ Market of the Year

Shipbourne Farmers’ Market, Shipbourne, nr TonbridgeManager: Bob Taylor

With the number of Farmers’ Markets across Kent now standing at 40, the competition was always going to be tough in this popular category. So the second consecutive victory for the Hadlow College-sponsored category was all the more impressive for Shipbourne, which has now won a Taste of Kent Award three times since the awards were first launched.

Manager Bob Taylor said: “Our Market is limited by available space so we have tried to turn this to our advantage by creating a unique and friendly shopping atmosphere both inside and outside the parish church.”

Two new initiatives were introduced in 2010 to help boost sales: shopping vouchers, which are given away as raffle prizes to local church and school fetes, and ‘Shipbourne pounds.’

Bob explains: “A major problem at rural Farmers markets is the ‘cash-only’ environment, especially when there is no cash point close by. Our neighbours at The Chaser pub offered us a solution. They sell ‘Shipbourne pounds’ to customers who use their credit/debit cards to buy them. These are then accepted at the Market. To date we’ve sold more than �600 worth!

“Our stallholders make additional sales, customers don’t go home empty handed and The Chaser benefits from additional potential customers.” 

Seafood Retailer of the Year

Sankey’s, Tunbridge Wells Owner: Graeme Anderson

Sponsored by South East Seafood, this was a closely contested category between previous winner Eddie Gilbert’s, new entry Sankey’s of Tunbridge Wells and Octopusy.

Despite a close result, Sankey’s shone through in the final vote. A family owned and run business based in Tunbridge Wells since 1961, it has a unique pub and Seafood Brasserie in its old cellars, with the restaurant selling fresh fish and shellfish delivered daily.

Its fishmongers is only in its second year, but already claims the ‘largest range of fresh fish and seafood products in the south east.’

“We feel that all our hard work in setting up our new business has been worthwhile,” says Graeme Anderson.

“We started out 18 months ago initially attracting customers to our retail shop with our large range of fresh fish and seafood and have since complemented our range with fresh vegetables and condiments. We also supply many restaurants in Kent and East Sussex, from small bistros to large pub chains. Restaurants in Tunbridge Wells have been especially supportive.

“All our fish stocks are from sustainable sources and we sell as much locally caught products as we possibly can, as we believe it is vital to support our local fishing industry.”

Plans for the future include further expansion of Sankey’s wholesale business into other parts of Kent and Sussex and the opening of another retail shop in a nearby town, while continuing to offer the best possible service and customer satisfaction.