The inaugural olive magazine Chef Awards, in association with Dark Horse Wine, were launched in May with the aim of championing the chefs who are having a positive impact on the food we eat, the communities we live in and the planet as a whole. Thousands of you nominated your local heroes, and over the summer we whittled it down to a sterling shortlist of 30 chefs, which you can see here, along with loads of their recipes, podcasts, restaurant reviews, interviews and more. Our esteemed judges – Clerkenwell Boy, Felicity Cloake, Laura Rowe and Mark Taylor – travelled the country meeting the chefs, tasting their food and learning their stories. These are the winners they selected…
Best pastry chef or baker
Winners: Calum Franklin of Holborn Dining Room, London, and Sarah Lemanski of Noisette Bakery, Yorkshire
Calum Franklin of the Holborn Dining Room in London took an unconventional route into pastry stardom. He didn’t train as a pastry chef but was inspired to learn the craft as an executive chef because, as he puts it, “I don’t like having gaps in my knowledge”. His passion for reviving traditional pastry skills was ignited by finding an old pâté en croûte pie crust mould in the cellars of the restaurant. “None of us knew what that mould was but now I’ve had the opportunity to train 35 chefs in these old-school techniques. I am on a mission to pass on these skills to the next generation.”
The proof, of course, is in the eating, and everything our judge tasted was “outstanding”, from a dry-aged Cornish duck and pork pâté en croûte with pistachios and plum chutney to a vegetarian potato pithivier with aged comté and caramelised onion. And then there were the desserts, including a classic tarte tatin that Calum spent three months trying to perfect, and a paris-brest so good our judge claimed they were even better than those they had eaten in France over the summer. A purist but also an innovator who is now developing new types of pastry, Calum is the real deal – talented, relentlessly curious and utterly obsessed with the technicalities and details of pastry. Here are some of Calum’s pastry recipes to try at home…
Founded by our second winner Sarah Lemanski in 2013, and now co-run with sister Hannah, Noisette Bakehouse calls itself a “curious micro bakery” and started life working from a converted 1978 Citroën HY van at pop-ups and events. It’s now a full-time bakery with a separate café in the dockland area of Leeds, a space it shares with North Star coffee roasters. The daughter of a Yorkshire village butcher, Sarah is self-taught and was a trained nutritionist before turning to baking. She takes a “holistic” approach to running a bakery café in that she will only sell items she has baked herself and never buys products in – that’s why, uniquely, and some might say bravely, she doesn’t sell croissants despite customers asking for them.
Sarah’s passionate and knowledgeable approach to baking is formidable and her background in nutrition means she has an in-depth understanding of the science behind it all. She likes to play with unusual ingredients like miso and kefir, and is inspired by baking across the globe, from Japan to eastern Europe. Sarah’s signature streusel-topped morning cake was inspired by American ‘coffee cakes’ and it’s layered with a white soured-cream-enriched batter, tonka beans and topped with almond streusel crumb and a dusting of cocoa powder. But it was the savoury bakes our judge tasted that really showed Sarah’s strengths – a galette with swiss chard, leeks, caraway seeds, rosemary and labneh was as memorable as the four-cheese and rye scone: a blend of stoneground wholemeal and rye flours, black pepper and cayenne with cheddar, red leicester, parmesan and cream cheese.
Head judge Laura Rowe says: “We couldn’t decide between these two incredible chefs because they excel in very different ways. Calum has revived the art of pie-making in this country with his obsessive eye for detail and craft, and shared his knowledge with chefs across the globe, while Sarah has determinedly innovated in the world of pastries, and punches way above her weight as an independent baker.”
Best street-food chef
Winner: Terri Mercieca of Happy Endings, London
A former YBF Awards baker of the year, artisan chocolatier Terri Mercieca’s pop-up have become a familiar sight at festivals but now her Happy Endings desserts can be enjoyed in a new dessert bar at Old Spitalfields Market in east London. Stocked in Harrods, Terri’s ice-cream sandwiches are also sold in a number of places around the capital, including Selfridges and the ramen restaurant Tonkotsu.
Made from organic chocolate, Somerset cream from The Estate Dairy and free-range eggs, the ice-cream sandwiches include passion fruit, popcorn and a ‘naughty’ version comprising miso salted caramel parfait squished between layers of chocolate Guinness cake and soy dulce de leche. Fun and approachable, ethical and retro, Terri produces high-impact desserts that wouldn’t look out of place on the menu of a fine-dining restaurant. The fact they can be eaten with your hands in a street-food setting makes them all the more enjoyable and decadent.
Head judge Laura Rowe says: “We were inundated with nominations for Terri’s quirky Happy Endings ice-cream sandwiches and our judge was bowled over with the innovative and complex flavours these sweet treats provided.”
Winner: Richard Buckley of Acorn, Bath
“Acorn is one of the most exciting restaurants we’ve visited this year,” raved our judge after experiencing the vegan cooking of Bath chef Richard Buckley. Despite being a lifelong vegetarian, Richard didn’t want to cook vegetarian food. Or, at least, not the kind of stodgy lasagnes and worthy lentil bakes that most restaurants were offering at the time. Acorn doesn’t really shout about its vegan-ness because Richard wants to cook good food that just so happens to be vegan, rather than be defined by it. This is vibrant food that keeps diners interested to the last bite, with a balanced combination of flavours and textures.
“This certainly isn’t nut roast territory,” gushed our judge, who singled out a main course called One Whole Cauliflower – an elegant arrangement of roasted florets, truffled purée, molasses-cured stalk and sautéed leaves, with onion and fenugreek croquetas to add crunch, and puddles of creamy, savoury spelt rice pudding for richness. There’s serious process here, too, with Richard working in “the lab” to get almond milk to form curds for the confit tomato our judge started with. He is justifiably proud of the rich mushroom parfait with a jellied top that looks for all the world like a chicken liver version, and tasted (to our omnivore judge at least) “even better”. This is not only clever vegan cooking but clever cooking full stop.
Head judge Laura Rowe says: “Richard’s food has continued to improve and improve over the years and it’s little surprise to us at olive that he’s won this award. He impressed our judges with his approach to plant-based cookery, shunning easy wins from carbs or cheese, and instead displaying the true versatility and ingenuity that can be achieved with vegetables alone.”
Winner: Tony Evans of Can Cook, Liverpool
Chef Tony Evans left the world of restaurants when his first child was born, taking a huge pay cut to work at a children’s centre and start a community café there, teaching parents to cook basic dishes. That planted the seed for Can Cook, which Tony started with Robbie Davison, and the first project was teaching a group of 16 people how to cook basic dishes over the course of 10 weeks. “This was often the first time any of these people had cooked from scratch,” says Tony. “There was one lady, aged 75, who was a victim of domestic abuse and lived in a refuge. She had had a very hard life and had never cooked.” Eleven years later and Can Cook has trained 13,000 people, and the business now has various strands and projects.
Venturing into catering too, Can Cook now provides a fresh-food service for care and education settings across Merseyside, specialising in catering for children and older people. Tony says he believes that everybody should be able to access “good fresh food” and the aim is to tackle food poverty and create employment (it is a committed Living Wage employer, all staff are paid a minimum of £8.25 per hour). This summer, Can Cook started a new pilot project called Holiday Hunger, providing around 700 meals each day for children who might not otherwise get a proper meal during the school holidays. It’s also started a project based on the old ‘meals on wheels’ system but taking the food to community centres.
Tony says: “When I was a restaurant chef 10 years ago, I would have never predicted we would be doing this and it’s the hardest job I’ve ever done. But even when I get home and I’m on my knees because I’m so tired, the thought that we are helping to fight food poverty by feeding families, kids and old people fresh food when they might otherwise not eat, makes it all worthwhile. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for having the belief in what we do.”
Head judge Laura Rowe says: “While we had plenty of strong contenders in this category, for chefs who run their businesses with positive purpose, Tony’s unfailing and inspiring humanity, the impact he has had on his local community and the sheer scale of good deeds made him a clear favourite.”
Small But Mighty
Winner: James Cross of Lake Road Kitchen, Ambleside
Lake Road Kitchen in the Cumbrian town of Ambleside is run by chef James Cross and his partner, Sally Wilson, who looks after front of house. Located in the heart of the beautiful Lake District, but with a decidedly Nordic feel, this small local restaurant is rapidly gaining a national reputation for its innovative food and DIY approach. Everything is made on the premises, from the sourdough (using a 30-hour fermentation) to the aged butter (which is ‘washed’ in aquavit and then aged for nine months – the result is the richest butter our judge had ever encountered).
This is an entrepreneurial kitchen that grows a lot of its own ingredients and also uses a lot of foraged wild food, which it preserves and pickles throughout the year. This was evident to our judges over a meal that included fermented wild garlic capers (served with an extraordinarily creative taco made from thinly sliced slow-roasted celeriac and topped with barbecued veal short rib, pickled cabbage and yogurt) and an intense tomato consommé (made from this year’s homegrown ripe cherry tomatoes and last year’s green ones) with super-fresh Norwegian king crab. Although James gets most of the fish from sustainable Norwegian and Scottish waters (the steamed halibut with miso butter emulsion, fines herbes and trout roe our judge tried was “sensational”), he also has local Lake District farmers rearing rare-breed pork, beef and lamb for him.
Head judge Laura Rowe says: “James has appeared on olive’s radar numerous times and that’s because his obsessive commitment to producing ground-breaking food, in what feels like the middle of nowhere, stands out. He’s truly passionate about the land he lives and works in, and that is evident on every plate he produces. He lives and breathes Lake Road Kitchen.”
For St John-trained Douglas McMaster, his zerowaste epiphany came when he worked in an Australian restaurant that threw away too much. “I just knew something was wrong,” says the chef, who has reduced his own waste by simply not having bins in his kitchens. Douglas and his team use every part of the vegetables and animals, with pickling and fermenting techniques employed to make everything last longer. Whether it’s using eco-friendly clingfilm or using vegetable skins (our judge enjoyed a resourceful dessert of blackcurrant with potato skin and fennel flowers), Douglas goes the extra mile. “I’m doing everything I can to provide an alternative,” he says. His first book, Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint, is out this month.
At Carters of Moseley, Brad Carter uses exclusively British-sourced produce and little-known or ‘lost’ ingredients such as lemony Douglas fir (yes, the same as your Christmas tree) and kaffir lime leaves grown in Evesham rather than Asia. As well as growing produce on his urban allotment, Brad’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond the plate. This month he will start giving his sous vide bags to a company that will recycle them and turn them into children’s plastic toys. The money made from these toys will then be given to Hospitality Action, a charity for hospitality workers who have fallen on tough times.
Head judge Laura Rowe says: “Both of these chefs are inspiring in very different ways. Douglas takes sustainability incredibly seriously – in everything from the tabletops (made from recycled yogurt pots) to the crockery and glassware (he’s now looking into recycling glass to turn it into plates in the future) – and he is producing truly zerowaste food that is challenging and delicious. On the other hand, Brad produced one of the best meals I’ve had all year, all from British-sourced ingredients, most of which were from his allotment or locally foraged. It’s smart food that you want to return for, food that you know is having a positive impact on its environment.”
Dark Horse Wine Award
Winner: Luke French of Jöro, Sheffield
Luke French calls his food a “Scandi-Jap mash-up’, which pretty much sums it up, although it is, of course, a lot more refined than that throwaway description might suggest. Formed from a cluster of shipping containers on the side of a busy road on Kelham Island – the old industrial part of Sheffield where Victorian warehouses and steelworks are being transformed into chic apartments, restaurants and bars – Jöro is quietly gaining a name for itself outside Sheffield. Local produce combined with Scandi/Japanese techniques are at the fore, with lots of Yorkshire produce named on the menu. The food here is all about extracting as much flavour as possible out of what are often pretty humble raw materials.
Our judge pulled up a stool at the chef’s table to enjoy a parade of genuinely exciting, deeply flavoured dishes. Highlights included new-season peas cooked in lamb fat and dotted with a ‘pesto’ of mint and local Yorkshire Fettle (a feta-style cheese), pea shoots and mint ‘jam’; and tender, juicy Moss Valley pork neck barbecued and glazed with a rich, sticky homemade yakiniku sauce (made from sake, mirin, sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, miso and katsuobushi); and Scottish king scallops brined and cured in elderflower vinegar, sliced and served with grated horseradish, samphire, pickled elderflowers and grated smoked scallop roe. The quality and inventiveness continued through to a dessert of frozen parfait of brown butter and muscovado with plum sake caramel, spiced cake and apple.
Head judge Laura Rowe says: “This was a no-brainer for our judges – Luke’s food is special and hard to define. There’s no one else producing food quite like this in the country, and we’re sure it won’t be long before Michelin comes knocking.”