Returning for their second year, the olive Chef Awards are all about celebrating your local food heroes. Back in the summer, you voted in your droves for those chefs having a positive impact on the food you eat, the communities you live in, and even (in the case of the sustainable star) the planet as a whole.
We whittled those down to a sterling shortlist of 30, all of who deserve a massive pat on the back. Support them with your business (they’re worth it, trust us) and enjoy plenty of their recipes, restaurant reviews, podcasts, interviews and more.
Our esteemed judges – Samyukta Nair, Zoe Adjonyoh, Mark Taylor and editor Laura Rowe – have spent the past couple of months travelling the country, meeting these great chefs, tasting their food and learning their stories. These are the winners they selected…
Winner: Aidan Monks, Lovingly Artisan, Kendal, Cumbria
“Bread with northern soul” is the fitting tagline for Lovingly Artisan, an eight-year-old business occupying a converted barn at Kendal in the heart of the Lake District. This community bakery is run by Aidan Monks, who has been baking sourdough for 30 years and specialises in naturally leavened sourdough made from stone-ground heritage grains from Gilchesters Organics located two miles north of Hadrian’s Wall. All breads are fermented for at least 24 hours and award-winning flavours include cheese and chilli, and Kalamata olive. What started with a domestic oven and small mixer at home has grown into a thriving business, and Lovingly Artisan supplies high-profile restaurants such as Moor Hall and The Forest Side, as well as selling over the counter in Kendal and at markets in Altrincham.
Aidan says the growing awareness of sourdough’s health benefits has helped the business’s growth – heritage grains contain twice as many vitamins and minerals as modern varieties. One of the most popular sourdoughs is made using emmer grains and kombucha, the acidity of which aids the quality of the dough and the additional nutrients and minerals. He says: “Heritage grains bring taste and flavour, and the flour is never the same because it’s milled on the farm, so weather affects it and water percentage varies. We have to change everyday to react to the flour, so maintaining a consistent product is the skill. You never know until it comes out of the oven but that’s what makes it so engaging and why we are constantly chasing perfection.” lovinglyartisan.com
Head judge Laura Rowe says: The strength of this category, standalone for the first time this year, was staggering but it was Aidan’s experience and knack for flavours – from an umami-bomb of cheese and Marmite, to a sweet spiced apple – that really shone for us. Aidan’s also just announced new full-day Sunday sourdough workshops for 2020 in Kendal and Altrincham, for just £95 (plus VAT).
Best pastry chef
Winner: Mark Perkins, Rosewood, London WC1
With a painter for a father and a mother into the crafts, it was probably inevitable that pastry chef Mark Perkins would one day combine his skills with the art world. His award-winning contemporary afternoon teas served in the elegant Mirror Room at London’s stylish Rosewood hotel are currently being inspired by the work of acclaimed British sculptor Sir Antony Gormley, most famous for his Angel of the North sculpture in Gateshead. Three months in the planning, chef’s latest art-inspired menus are a collaboration with the Royal Academy and the Tate.
As well as exquisite scones topped with Cornish clotted cream, homemade jams and lemon curd, there are creative sandwiches such as coronation chicken on turmeric bread with a Sri Lankan twist to reflect Gormley’s Buddhist learnings. The Gormley-inspired afternoon tea menu features Mark’s own colourful drawings based on what he’s made and he also works closely with a photographer to see how best the food is presented. His intricate and playful pastries include Body and Fruit (ceylon tea chocolate mousse, mandarin jelly, praline crémeux, hazelnut financier and a chocolate coating) and the Full Bowl (chocolate sponge, cherry compote, whipped white chocolate and vanilla cream, sprayed chocolate), all presented on specially designed stands with equal attention to detail. rosewoodhotels.com/en/london
Head judge Laura Rowe says: In another new standalone category, it was Mark’s playful tribute to some of the world’s greatest artists (previous menus have been inspired by Banksy, Rodin and Van Gogh) that impressed us most: cooking and culture colliding in a beautiful afternoon tea experience that London can be proud of.
Joint winner: Henrietta Inman, Stoney Street, London SE1
After her successful residency at Yardarm in Leyton earlier this year, pastry chef and gardener Henrietta Inman has taken her vegetable-focussed food to Stoney Street, the second opening from 26 Grains owner Alex Hely-Hutchinson. Henrietta’s love of seasonal fruits and vegetables, wholefoods and natural ingredients was shaped by a childhood spent in the idyllic Suffolk countryside, where she now lives and grows her own produce. Trained at The Lanesborough hotel in London, Henrietta went on to work in a number of notable kitchens for five years before starting her own catering and teaching business. Her cooking is centred around the basic principles of soft, crunchy, acidic and creamy – a mantra that crops up in every dish, whether it’s Aztec broccoli, whipped ricotta, smoked and popped quinoa, black chilli and salsa verde; or apple and carrot cake using five different apple varieties and served with quince custard flavoured with hyssop.
For Henrietta, colour, vibrancy and freshness have equal importance, and that’s why they steer the menu. Her focus is on food that’s “alive and living”, and she goes out of her way to innovate and push the boundaries in terms of offering vegetarian dishes with a deep sense of textures. With two baking books already published and all eyes on new launch Stoney Street, Henrietta says her ultimate dream is still to have a restaurant with a garden and an education centre. henriettainman.com
Head judge Laura Rowe says: Henrietta had been quietly excelling from her small kitchen in Leyton when she got nominated and she seriously impressed on our visit, where she cooked a sneak peak of her Stoney Street menu from her family home. Not only do her veggie-centric plates look beautiful but they taste great, too, and she’s a major champion of UK farmers and producers.
Joint winner: Bindu Patel, Sanctua, Leicester
After years of studying law and farming, Leicester-born Bindu Patel then swapped lecture theatres for professional kitchens, gaining experience at Gymkhana and Trishna in London. In April 2019, Bindu realised her dream of opening her own low-waste, sustainable vegan restaurant when she launched Sanctua back in her home city. With its plant-based menu, the fusion food at Sanctua has a global influence that reflects Bindu’s background (Bindu has a Kenyan coffee farmer father and Malaysian mother) and also the multicultural city of Leicester. Asian in style, the seasonal dishes might fuse with Italian or Spanish.
Typical dishes on the fortnightly changing menu includes an amuse-bouche of bonfire-smoked toffee apple chilli and rosemary cheesecake with an oat, hazelnut crumb, and a main course of vegetable, chickpea and coconut Bombay potato hotpot served with garlic butter naan and tarka green beans. Although a vegan herself, she didn’t open her restaurant specifically aimed at vegans, just people who appreciate really good food. “I wanted to show that vegan food can be really exciting and adventurous without compromise,” says Bindu, who proves you can achieve incredible textures and flavours from humble vegetables and herbs. sanctua.co.uk
Head judge Laura Rowe says: We really couldn’t believe Bindu’s dishes didn’t contain ghee and meaty stocks. She really understands how to deliver flavour – through rounded, well-balanced spicing – as well as texture, whether that be a crisp onion bhaji on top of a velvety, fiery, tangy tomato rasam soup, or an oaty crumble on a smooth quenelle of ‘cheese’ cake. Leicester is lucky to have her back.
Winner: Rachel Stonehouse, Luminary Bakery, London N16
Founded by Alice Williams, Luminary Bakery is a social enterprise bakery based in east London which provides opportunities for disadvantaged women to learn new skills to find employment in the food industry. Head baker and trainer Rachel Stonehouse started working for Luminary five years ago. She was only 18 when she gave up a place at university to do an unpaid internship at the bakery, raising enough money from friends to live in London for a year to work in the bakery for free.
It was Rachel’s passion for social justice, particularly for women in poverty, combined with a love of baking that inspired her to get involved with Luminary, which has made a huge difference to the women who have graduated. Luminary runs six-month employability training schemes for women who have experienced an array of different issues, often homelessness, domestic violence, working in the sex trade or prison. Many of the women arrive with low skills and confidence but they are happy to find a safe and supportive environment. Luminary places emphasis on being a supportive and caring community, breaking down barriers and simultaneously building each other up.
The courses teach a range of baking techniques and transferable skills. Some of the women have never baked before, so they start with basic skills such as making brownies and cookies, and then move on to layer cakes, bread, pastry and desserts. By the end, they are making advanced pastries such as éclairs. At the end of the six months there is a graduation ceremony for the women and their friends and family, and they get the Level 2 Food Hygiene qualification. Each graduate is assigned a Progression Support Worker and a mentor to help them with the next stage of their journey into work, and also to help them become independent. Sixty-six women have already graduated – some of them have gone on to work in well-known restaurants and bakeries, and some have set up businesses of their own.
Luminary has just opened a second site in Camden, so there will be twice the number of graduates next year, as well as a cookbook, proceeds from which will go back into the business. As well as serving a range of delicious cakes in their bakery café, this is a business that has made a huge social impact on the lives of the women as well as the community at large. Rachel says: “In cohesion with the training, holistic support and opportunities we provide, Luminary gives some of London’s most disadvantaged women a community to be a part of. One woman, six weeks into the course, said that we were like her family.” luminarybakery.com
Head judge Laura Rowe says: What stood out most about Rachel was her commitment to others, above herself, from such a young age. This is a woman in food that is feeding bodies and souls with her delicious bakes.
Best street-food chef
Winner: Robert Radoni, The Gorilla Kitchen, Brighton, Worthing & Steyning
Robert Radoni spent three decades as a chef in high-profile hotels and restaurants across Europe and in London. Born to French-Italian parents, he grew up around food and started cooking in Calabria at just 14 years old. When Robert saw some of the terrible versions of pizza being made around the UK, he was inspired to start his own street-food business (even if his first two wives didn’t agree). It was his current partner, Fiona Heselgrave, who encouraged him to follow his dream. Fiona had experience of trading on markets and they converted a shipping container on wheels into a kitchen with a wood-fired pizza oven.
The Gorilla Kitchen moves between three Sussex sites from Wednesday through to Sunday. The busiest pitch is on the south side of Brighton’s London Road railway station, where Robert knows most of his customers by name – and their preferred pizzas – and some of them even bring him back specialist ingredients such as charcuterie when they travel to France and Italy. Passionate about high-quality produce, Robert has been known to bring back truffles in his suitcase when he returns from Italy.
With their four-day sourdough bases, tomatoes grown close to Vesuvius and wild oregano from Calabria, these are artisanal pizzas that wouldn’t look out of place in a high-end restaurant, and popular choices include Leanne, a white pizza topped with garlic, oregano, mozzarella, sliced fresh mushrooms, courgettes, Sicilian sun-blushed cherry tomatoes and torn ventricina salami. So busy is this pizzeria on wheels that Robert is now training two young chefs to help move the business forward. thegorillakitchen.com
Head judge Laura Rowe says: Robert is bringing a little bit of Neopolitan sunshine to the south coast and, understandably, had so many nominations from his army of fans. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last pizza van, but how many do you know curing their own meats, pickling their own pickles and serving organic wine alongside each slice?
Small but mighty
Winner: Rajiv KC, Rajiv’s Kitchen, London
The concise biography on Rajiv KC’s Twitter account modestly says “project manager by day, chef on weekends”, which is something of an understatement considering how much this self-taught chef has achieved since starting supper clubs from his home in Bethnal Green. The supper clubs were started out of necessity when Rajiv was having treatment for cancer five years ago. His sick pay wasn’t enough to cover his outgoings so he started the supper clubs. The first one attracted just two people but word spread about his delicious regional Nepalese food and he was soon hosting regular nights and residencies. The supper clubs are intimate and run by Rajiv, his wife (who he met when she attended one of his dinners) and his cousin.
Accompanied by Nepalese wine and whisky, dishes on his menus include Nepalese momo dumplings, perilla-seed-infused roasted aubergine with Nepalese salsa, garlic yogurt and pomegranate, and lamb ribs marinated in Nepalese rum, herbs and spices with green chutney, hemp-seed sauce and garlic yogurt. So far this year, the themed events have included a pop-up vegan supper club and a Nepalese vegan swing night, both in aid of a homeless charity. For Rajiv, it’s also about giving something back to the local community, and in his spare time he is also a private tutor for children with disabilities. rajivskitchenlondon.com
Head judge Laura Rowe says: Rajiv is cooking food from his heart and his home – and he’s single-handedly bringing Nepalese food into the spotlight, for which we’re very grateful.
Winner: Tommy Banks, York
Tommy Banks jokes that his committed approach to sustainability simply stems from being a “tight Yorkshireman” and any frugality comes from growing up in a farming family. But his methods go well beyond saving money at his Michelin-starred and internationally acclaimed restaurant-with-rooms The Black Swan at Oldstead and York small-plates restaurant, Roots. The majority of produce used in both kitchens is as local as the Black Swan’s garden and family farm itself, the rest is from small local suppliers – often the fruit and veg no-one else wants, such as 80kg of unripe strawberries. But it’s the way the produce is utilised that makes Tommy a true sustainability star – from using one Hispi cabbage to feed 16 people (the outside leaves are used as wraps at the Black Swan, while the hearts are roasted at Roots), to the waste whey, from homemade cheese using raw milk, which is used four times, across two savoury dishes, in ice cream, and caramelised and grated on top of carrots.
“There’s no reject produce and everything gets used rather than it just ending up in the compost,” says Banks, who employs three full-time chefs just to preserve produce (there’s enough dried, fermented and pickled stuff to fill a shipping container). Any surplus pickles, jams and pickles are now sold at farmers’ markets, and plenty more is infused in alcohol, like a peppery nasturtium bud vodka. And it’s not just the food that’s sustainable: Tommy cares about the wellbeing and mental health of his staff enough to reduce their hours to a four-day week and offers weekly check-ins about anxiety and diet. He even provides nutritionally balanced staff meals and creates a special vitamin C-enriched drink for staff to fill up and prevent dehydration during a busy shift, rather than consume unhealthy energy drinks.
He’s also mindful of his carbon footprint, using induction hobs rather than gas and, because they’re not on mains electricity at The Black Swan, the waste heat from a diesel generator is used to heat up water tanks to heat water for the restaurant’s bedrooms, as well as the polytunnel where the seedlings grow. blackswanoldstead.co.uk; rootsyork.com
Head judge Laura Rowe says: Tommy Banks doesn’t need to care this much – his food is world-class and his restaurants are booked out as a result – but thinking this way is ingrained in him. Sustainability makes him and his team more creative, and the quality of what they are producing has gone up as a result. From produce, to people, to plate – Tommy truly cares about the impact he’s having. Other chefs take note!
Joint winner: Nina Matsunaga, The Black Bull, Cumbria
After growing up in Germany to Japanese parents, Nina Matsunaga moved to London was she was 18 to study culinary arts management and went on to do a master’s in food policy. At 21, though, the call to cook became too strong. After stints at a bakery in Germany and restaurants in London, it was a move to Manchester, where she met her husband, James Ratcliffe, when her future career really started taking shape. As well as holding down day jobs, the couple started a weekend street-food business selling pies, preserves and chocolates at local farmers’ markets. Nina would bake everything and when they appeared at game shows, they specialised in unique game and meat dishes such as pulled rabbit with chipotle mayo or braised brisket with sorrel fritters, using local produce and ingredients they foraged themselves.
With a new baby, two dogs and five ferrets to look after, the couple decided to take on The Three Hares in Sedbergh. It was an instant hit, with Nina’s food winning several awards and gaining a place in The Good Food Guide. They still own the café and bakery, which is close to the Yorkshire Dales, but split their time between there and The Black Bull, across the road, where Nina creates an innovative fusion of British, European and Asian dishes such as Mansergh Hall pork trotter, cardoon and cobnuts, and chocolate and red wine cake with quince layers and blue-cheese ice cream. Nina uses hyper-local ingredients, including North Sea fish, native-breed meat and vegetables dropped off by villagers or from her own garden. The pedigree Hereford beef is from grass-fed cattle chosen by a customer who hand-selects a cow for them and finishes them on his homegrown barley.
Nina makes everything from scratch, from the Danish rye bread using beer ferment to her own tofu and miso with coffee-bean waste. She pickles and preserves seasonal produce and writes her menus depending on what arrives in the kitchen that day. theblackbullsedbergh.co.uk
Head judge Laura Rowe says: Nina couldn’t be more humble – saying that she’s only doing “what everyone does in the Lake District” – but she’s truly carving her own path. From jellyfish fritters with rhubarb ponzu, to cured beef powder used as seasoning for steak – this is pub cooking like you’ve never tasted it before.
Joint winner: Gareth Ward, Ynyshir, Wales
Gareth Ward might call the Ynyshir experience “fun dining” rather than fine dining, but nothing quite prepares you for the surprises in store when you arrive at this remote Welsh hotel. A stunning white mansion-style property in immaculate grounds close to Snowdonia, it may look like any other high-end country house hotel but then you step into the bar with its black walls, sheep fleeces, twin decks and shelves of vinyl. There can’t be many Michelin-starred restaurants with their own DJ booth in the bar. The open kitchen is split into two, with a chef’s table in each. There’s a retro Eskimo Joe’s slush machine on one counter (it’s used for the fermented raspberry granita served towards the end of the meal) and Gareth plans to get a rotating kebab grill next – he likes the idea of cooking Welsh lamb on it.
The 23-course tasting menu is protein-heavy and showcases only the very best ingredients, which are predominantly local but some of the top-grade wagyu is from Japan and Scotland, as is some shellfish. Gareth only buys the very best Japanese mirin, soy and miso, and he won’t compromise on quality despite the high prices. Asian flavours permeate the majority of dishes, including Aylesbury duck leg, which is brined, roasted, deboned and crisped up with sesame seeds and soy sauce. Other menu highlights include mackerel (aged for five days in the purpose-built Himalayan salt chamber in the hotel grounds) served raw with fiery wasabi, nori, puffed wild rice, soy and furikake. A dish of barbecue wagyu, sourdough, mayo and compressed Iceberg lettuce has a more intense burger flavour than any burger you’ve ever tasted. The innovation continues through to a dessert of white chocolate mousse made with Japanese silken tofu, served with fermented black bean juice, as well as fudge made with Welsh wagyu beef fat. ynyshir.co.uk
Head judge Laura Rowe says: Gareth has made the most of his fine-dining budget to really have fun and experiment with the best ingredients he can find. Our judge said this was hands-down the best meal they’d had this year (and, trust us, they eat out a lot!).
Words by Mark Taylor
Photographs by @murrayorr, Harriet Clare, Alan Schalle, Fjona Black, Tom Bowles, Milly Fletcher, Severien Vitts, Luke Fullalove, @john8jane, Grant Anderson Photographer, James Mason, Tim Green Photography, Philippa Langley