Judging The Free From Eating Out Awards 2017

Waking up at 4:30am on any other day would seem like a nightmare, but on a day when I get to be a part of the Free From Eating Out Awards as hosted by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, it seemed more like it was part of a dream. As a result of my mother’s, Jacqui McPeake’s, work and my own personal list of confusing allergies I was presented with the wonderful opportunity to be on the judging panel for the Free From Eating Out Awards 2017 Category 9, Foods Manufactured for Food Service. I was met at London Euston by Julian Edwards from Allergy Accreditation (see here), who not only guided me through London and to Michelle’s beautiful house, but also – with Michelle – offered me the chance to be a part of this incredibly talented panel.

Once at Michelle’s house the first product tested was a dairy alternative to a milk designed for coffee, this was an intriguing opening product as it wasn’t something I necessarily expected but made for a great ice breaker and a lovely morning coffee. Especially after my early start. As someone with a dairy allergy I have tried a great number of milks from coconut to almond, hemp and soy, the list goes on. I am more than used to soy milk and the kind of coffee it produces, and this first product created a creamy coffee that enhanced the flavour of the coffee in a way soy never has done for me before.

The products that followed after this were the savoury products of this category, which was an interesting section for me. Out of the products available for testing I could only test just under half, and there were only a few that I could confidently try. This made me incredibly aware of how repetitive some of the use of ingredients were, in particular the use of maize and potato starch, two ingredients I struggle with. This however in no way undermines the products involved in this category, as there were some products that I could not try but looked tempting. A product I tried that  remained memorable to me in particular was a simple one, a meat glaze. This product interested me as I am all too familiar with being presented a plain meat meal whenever I have eaten out. The product was presented to us on chicken and the added glaze was a welcomed and enjoyable change. Although this product may not be one most people would be excited about, it thrilled me.

The next products to be tasted and judged were the dessert products, the products I naturally was most looking forward to. This section although contained some similar ingredients, was thankfully a much more edible section for me. Without a doubt the product that stole the show for me personally was a doughnut batter mix, desserts tend to excite me anyway as they aren’t something I’m frequently offered, but this particular dessert was everything I didn’t know I wanted. They were light, fluffy and the tasting left me wanting more. Another product that pleased me was a brownie mix, which although there are many of, it can be questioned how many truly exquisite ones there are. A brownie is a classic dessert and one frequently offered to someone with an allergy (that’s if a fruit salad isn’t available), but I have had many an average or sometimes even a below-average brownie. A brownie mix that easily allows you to make your own brownies on demand, that taste incredible – I can assure you! – are a very handy item. I’ve had many a free from brownie and the brownies this mix produced are if not the best, one of the best I have ever tried.
Finally, to round off the dessert section tasting and the day, we tried some chocolate bars. Of course nowadays you can find your standard plain dairy free chocolate bars in many supermarkets, I know I have a few Tesco and ASDA favourites, but I thought these would be of a particular interest to those with a dairy allergy who either miss their old favourites or wish they could try them. These chocolate bars however are not for those with a nut allergy as the ones we tested contained nuts, and mimicked the flavours of some other (dairy filled) popular chocolate bars available.

Shortly after the final judging and discussion about the desserts tasted, I had to head back to London Euston for my train home. This day, though one unexpected, opened up a world to me I didn’t realise I could fall into but am thrilled I have. It was wonderful to meet so many people also interested in the world of allergies and to find out about the work they have done. It was also fascinating to see and effectively analyse the list of ingredients used in the products, and consider any alternatives. I learnt a lot from the day and am now looking forward to the awards being announced.