The cream of Sussex’s hospitality and produce industries were honoured at the 12th annual Sussex Food and Drink Awards on a freezing cold Wednesday night in February.
The 400 guests, which included some of the top chefs in the South of England, were treated to a stunning seven course banquets, prepared by the catering team at the Amex Community Stadium in Falmer - the home of Premier League Brighton and Hove Albion.
The awards were hosted by Danny Pike of BBC Sussex and Benidorm actress Julie Graham, representing the charity Chestnut Tree House.
Over the past 12 years the awards have received over 4,000 nominations and 133,000 public votes promoting hundreds of businesses as Grand Finalists. The awards scheme is run by Natural Partnerships Community Interest Company (CIC), co-directed by Hilary Knight of the Sussex Food & Drink Network and Paula Seager, Managing Director of Natural PR Ltd.
Winners included the Ridgeway Wine Estate at Ditchling Common, which scooped the title of Sussex Drink Producer of the Year.
Tamara Roberts, who runs the estate, said: “Last year was a great harvest against all odds and we developed new relationships with new growers.”
Michael Notman-Watt, of 64 Degrees in Brighton, impressed a panel of judges, including super chef Matt Gillan, to be crowned Sussex Young Chef of the Year.
He particularly impressed them with his dessert which married his three favourite things - doughnuts, tea and gin.
Of his invention, he said: “You mix doughnuts with booze - it is going to be good! A lot of my food just makes itself - if things go nicely together then just do it.
“I am just glad that I can cook.”
Steven Edwards, who won MasterChef: The Professionals in 2013, celebrated after his etch. restaurant in Church Street, Brighton, which opened in March, was named Sussex Newcomer of the Year.
He said: “It has been a rollercoaster. I want to thank everybody who has supported us on this journey - it has been tough.”
Jack Stilwell, 26, from Forestside near Finchdean, who set up his own farm following a crowdfunding appeal, was named young farmer of the year.
He said: “I was new to the business world and agriculture so it was not without its trials and tribulations.
“When people listened to my story and heard my sincerity, then it really took off.”
Chichester Farmers Market, which marks its 20th anniversary this year, was named the best farmers market in Sussex, an honour which delighted Amy Robertson.
She said: “I am very surprised we have won and I want to thank everybody who voted. We could not it without the community and traders - it is what makes the market.”
Asked by host Danny Pike to name both the best and worst aspects of running the market, she replied: “Worst bit? The 4.15 alarm call and the best bit is the produce.”
Les and Louise Nicholson of The Artisan Bakehouse in Ashurst were stunned that their business was named Sussex Eating Experience of the Year.
Mrs Nicholson said: “It is amazing, we are a small business in rural West Sussex, it is the most incredible thing that has happened to us.
“We teach breadmaking and we open up a pop up cafe.”
Mr Nicholson said: “I am Sussex born and bred and I believe in Sussex and the food that is produced in this county.
“We used to live in France and the cheese in this county rivals anything there.”
Rob Bookham, of Bookham Harrison Farms at Rudgwick, collected the award for best food producer of the year. The business is famous for its Sussex Charmer Cheese range.
He thanked the organisers of the awards before paying tribute to his team.
He said: “It is very difficult for producers to get their produce into supermarkets.”
The team at New Street Butchers and Deli in Horsham were shocked to win the best butcher award.
Father and son Chris and Rob Ayling took on the business in 2001 and have taken it from strength to strength.
Rob, who now runs the business, said of his success: “I say the secret is presently the meat nicely and serving it nicely. I think we give people what they want and make them feel comfortable when they come into the shop.”
Garlic Wood Farm, which is based in Steyning, won the award for best Sussex street food.
Toby and Michelle Harmer took to the stage to receive their award and Toby said: “It is all about getting the best local food we can, cooking the best local food we can with some of the best people you can meet.”
The Sussex Produce Company, based in Steyning, won the award for best Sussex food shop. Nick Hempleman, who set up the business in 2007, spoke of how a previous victory at the Sussex Food and Drink Awards had given him a much needed boost.
He said: “I would like to thank our suppliers, who are amazing and our customers, without whom we would not be here.
“Our first 18 months we had a really tough time - we might have gone bust but the award back then really helped us.”