The aim of the olive Chef Awards, when we launched them last year, was to salute the unheralded chefs – age, gender, experience, location, scale or ambition being no barrier – who had been quietly excelling in the background. You probably wouldn’t recognise their faces, you might not even know their names, but these chefs have been bringing joy to a nation through the food they cook.
And we found them, thanks to the thousands of you who voted for your local food heroes. From the intricate pastry work of London’s Calum Franklin and the inspired pastries of Leeds’s Sarah Lemanski, to the heritage British ingredients translated into modern fine dining in Birmingham by Brad Carter and the addictive, festival-favourite ice-cream sandwiches made by Terri Mercieca. We even found Tony Evans, in Liverpool – a chef who not only teaches vulnerable people to cook from scratch, so they can feed themselves, but who also provides meals for children during the school holidays who otherwise might not get fed.
Unlike most restaurant awards you’ll come across, the olive Chef Awards are all about the people, rather than the places. We want to share the stories of those hard-working chefs that have dedicated their lives to having a positive impact on the way we eat (and, in the case of the Sustainable Star award, even the planet).
And so the awards are back. This year we aim to delve even deeper into the kitchens of your local communities to find Britain’s ultimate professional cooks. And this starts with you. You can vote as many times below as you’d like, for as many different chefs as you’d like. Just tell us their name, place of work and why you think they deserve an award.
We’ll then whittle these down to a shortlist, which our panel of esteemed judges will then personally visit, before deciding on the winners. Entries close on 1 September
Nominate a chef below
This category was the most popular with you last year, and received the most nominations. This chef will be able to prove that they care just as much about the environment as the food they’re serving. They’ll be a pioneer of low-waste cooking, they may have invested in low-energy kitchen equipment or use recycled materials in the design of their restaurant and they’ll probably grow some of their own produce.
Best street-food chef
The street food scene has exploded in the past decade, and now we expect restaurant quality whether we’re in the middle of a muddy field at a festival, or in a car park during our lunch hour. We’re looking for a chef that is producing the finest on-the-hoof food in the smallest of spaces. Sweet or savoury, original or authentic, this is the chance to shout about your favourite.
Vegan, veggie, plant-based, raw – however you want to call it, vegetables are quite rightly having a moment and we want to know the chefs celebrating this. Meat and fish can be on the menu, but veg have got to be the stars.
Ever been to a restaurant and been surprised, in the best way, at what was served? We’re looking for a chef who’s seriously innovating and doing something truly different from everyone else. This will be the chef who has changed the way you think about food.
Small but mighty
Chefs are some of the hardest working people we know – and this award is about those that do more than just cook. They’ll be the person who cooks, owns and runs the whole restaurant. They’ll be washing the kitchen laundry on their days off, tending to the allotment before service, and paying the wages – as well as serving up great plates of food.
There are plenty of chefs doing great things to give back to their community and we want to hear about them. Do you have a dinner lady at your local school going above and beyond? Do you know about a baker donating unsold loaves to the local homeless shelter? Does your favourite chef have special initiatives to work with vulnerable people? Does your local cookery school provide classes for those in need of it most? Let us know!
Best pastry chef
Not every chef can master the science of the sweet stuff – this award is about celebrating those that have. We want to find the restaurant chefs finishing the meal with the same pace, innovation and quality as the savoury courses. We want to discover those crafting the perfect pastry, decorating the most intricate desserts, producing the most delicate, flavourful cakes, and moreish petits fours.
If you think the hours of a chef are tough, meet the bakers. Those that exist on only a few hours of sleep a night – those that knead, roll, bake, repeat, while we’re still in bed. We want to meet those artisans who obsess over lamination, who’ve nurtured a sourdough starter like it was a member of their family, and who get you returning to their bakery every weekend.
Meet the judges
Our editor has been writing about food for more than a decade. Having reviewed restaurants across the UK, interviewed dozens of chefs and authored the internationally acclaimed Taste: the Infographic Book of Food, she’s well placed to find the best unsung chefs in the country. “The way we eat, talk and write about food is dramatically changing, as the world changes around us, and so now more than ever it’s so important to celebrate those that are making a positive impact on the food we eat, the communities we live in, and the planet.”
Bristol-based journalist and restaurant inspector Mark has written for a number of newspapers and magazines for the past 20 years. He started out writing about pop but when food became the new rock ’n’ roll, he swapped interviewing bands and watching gigs for reviewing restaurants and interrogating chefs.
Samyukta is the co-founder, with her father, of gourmet Indian restaurant Jamavar, which has five restaurants across India, and opened its first London outpost in 2016. Sam divides her time between London and Mumbai, where she has grown up in the family business, the luxury hotel group, Leela Palace Hotels. She launched the Jamavar Women’s Club three years ago, where she invites leading ladies to come and give inspiring talks, and created a hugely successful networking platform for women.
After taking the leap from home cook to professional chef in 2011, Londoner Zoe quickly gained attention for her pop-up restaurant, supper club and catering company Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen. She’s since published her own cookbook, been honoured at the Iconoclast Dinner Experience at the James Beard House in New York and, earlier this year, presented a TEDx talk on food as a cultural stepping stone.