What it’s like to be a food awards judge

Take a trip behind the scenes as Pier MD Amy Bendall took on judging duties at the Suffolk Food and Drink Awards 2024
The Suffolk Food & Drink Awards 2024 - Pier are sponsors

This year, Pier was a sponsor at the Suffolk Food and Drink Awards. And. We. Loved. It. The awards have been on ice since Covid, so being part of the revival was extra special. Part of our sponsorship package of Best Newcomer included the privilege of judging the entries. I’ve done some industry judging – various PR awards – but this was a new experience.

Credible and authentic, winners weren’t decided on a whim. It was a thorough process that added gravitas to this awards programme, and gave us – the judges – a unique insight into our local foodie landscape.

Here’s how it worked.

Round one: the long-list

To kick things off, the award organisers – Newsquest Media Group, the team behind Suffolk Magazine and the East Anglian Daily Times – sent me all the entries and a scoring crib sheet.

The job? To score all the entries according to how they performed against the award criteria. This included their product range, business performance, ambitions for growth and customer reviews.

This was incredibly tough and also fascinating. All brilliant, wonderful businesses. Some scoring was easier where the question hadn’t been fully answered. Others, it felt like comparing chalk with cheese – all hungry businesses, doing different but equally tantalising food and drink propositions.

I knew that from the long-list, the top six would go into round two of judging. However, what relieved the pressure was the knowledge that the fate of every business wasn’t with me alone. A second judge – an industry expert, unknown to me at the time – was also independently scoring. And together, our scores would determine our top six.

On we went.

Round two: the top six

Time intensive but my absolute favourite part of the process was the second round of judging. In-person visits to meet our Best Newcomer potentials.

First job? Meeting my fellow judge. I was joined by Matthew Potter, an Employment Law Partner at Howes Percival, who also specialise in the food and beverage sector.

Travelling the length and breadth of Suffolk over several days, it really was an absolute treat. And completely essential to enable us to score our top four, and ultimate winner. From adopted geese to lockdown plant obsessions, the power of by-the-glass wine to mind-blowing baking maths, the stories behind the business were lifted off the page and brought to life, making our job both easier and harder as we got to know the people behind the food.

Getting to know Matthew was a joy too – it’s rare to meet someone with so much food passion and knowledge. I know who I’ll be asking for my next restaurant recommendation.

Co-judges for Best Newcomer, Matthew Potter and Amy Bendall, at the final

Again, we scored independently.

The final

Some time later, the final rolled around. From a business perspective, I was incredibly proud to see Pier’s branding visible throughout the event, putting our stamp firmly on the Suffolk food and drink scene.

The Suffolk Food & Drink Awards 2024 - Pier are sponsors

As a firm foodie, seeing so many rich pickings from my home county really was special too.

From hard-working licensees to passionate producers, very tempting delis to fresh veg boxes, the best of the best in Suffolk were there.

The Suffolk Food & Drink Awards 2024 - Pier are sponsors
Lisa and Amy digging into the The Suffolk Food & Drink Awards goody bags!

Highlights included:

  • Our category winners – ACRE Farm + Bakery – an absolute triumph in farming, sustainability, community and nailing the science of baking
  • Teams from winning pubs celebrating loud and proud and enjoying the drinks from beer sponsor, Woodfordes Brewery – my passion for pubs is still strong.
  • Our host – comedian Scott Bennett – I do love comedy but not every comedian. He was FUNNY.
  • Joey and Katy from Husk, Thorington, scoping two very well-deserved awards – a visit to the Husk supper club is an absolute must
  • A night out on a Monday night – we had a ball

The Suffolk Food & Drink Awards 2024 - Pier are sponsors

An absolute privilege to be part of, from start to finish. Thank you Newsquest and here’s to the 2025 event!

Amy Bendall – MD

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