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Meet The Winners From The St Albans Food & Drink Festival

It was a very different St Albans Food & Drink Festival this year, but there was still plenty to celebrate, with three locals receiving worthy recognition

LIZ MARCY

Community Engagement, Partnerships and Marketing Officer 

St Albans City and District Council

How long have the St Albans Food & Drink Festival Awards been running for?

This most recent Food and Drink Festival was the 14th St Albans City and District Council has delivered. It’s an event that has grown and changed over the years, but the centrepiece has always been our massive street party in the centre of St Albans where the District comes out to play and enjoy all the great food on offer, along with amazing entertainment, market stalls, music, cookery demonstrations and all the fun of the fair. It seems to get better and better each year.

How did you decide on revamping the Festival Awards this year?

The whole of the Food and Drink Festival is overseen by a steering committee comprised of industry insiders, representing various parts of the food and hospitality sector from pubs to market stalls to cafes to producers to high-end restaurants. The steering committee felt strongly that it would just be odd, given the year we’ve had, to try and do a ‘business as usual’ awards, with the usual awards for best café, best family-friendly restaurant, and so on. So many places weren’t able to open at all, and people were using venues in really unusual ways, that it just didn’t seem right!

So the decision was taken that, as the Kate d’Arcy award for customer service is considered the ‘pinnacle’ award – the one that everybody secretly or not-so-secretly wants to win! – we’d change the way the award was made for this year only. Instead of being an award for customer service in the context of a food business, we’d use it to reward the person who’d done the greatest service to the community.

Who was Kate d’Arcy?

Kate d’Arcy was a much-loved local restaurateur who died in 2010. The award was set up in celebration and to commemorate this wonderful Aussie woman who did so much to further the restaurant sector in the City.

WINNER

Caz Kaur, The Portland Arms

Caz Kaur
Caz Kaur, on the right, with some of her team

Can you give us a brief overview of your work in the hospitality industry to date?

I have almost 20 years’ experience as a publican and still have a great passion for my job. 

How did it feel to win the Kate D’Arcy award for customer service?

I was very proud and honoured to receive what was, for me, an unexpected award. I am very humbled by all the support we have received. 

What initiatives did you launch during lockdown?

The initiative for me was to provide a place that people could meet safely and still have the opportunity to visit the local pub, as far the restrictions would allowed. Like most I looked at my business in a different way because of Covid. I invested heavily in the outside garden area with the 11 pods that seat four to six people, so customers could still visit.

It’s hard to know what the future may hold, but with society opening up again, what are you now looking to offer the public?

The pub is open and ready to serve customers with an outdoor space in The Portland pods. We will be offering theme nights, live music, Christmas parties and, of course, just being a local pub to everyone.

portlandarmsstalbans.co.uk

WINNER

Jamie West, Rose and Crown and Hare and Hounds

Jamie

Can you give us a brief overview of your work in the hospitality industry to date?

I’ve been in the trade all my life. I grew up in my grandparents’ pub and worked in bars in my younger years. I spent four years working with Majestic Wines and 13 years with Charlie Wells brewery. I became landlord of the Rose and Crown pub in Sandridge eight and a half years ago and then took over the wonderful, historic Hare and Hounds in the heart of St Albans two years ago. It’s in my blood and it’s an industry I’m hugely passionate about.

How did it feel to win the Kate D’Arcy award for customer service?

It was a lovely surprise and it felt wonderful to be recognised. I said on the day that a massive portion of the thanks needs to go to my chef, Kevin, who did it with me and all the local people who donated and helped distribute food. Together we made it happen and supported the local community as we faced dealing with the biggest health crisis ever known.

Customer service is quite a broad term, but what does it mean to you?

I’m an avid pub-goer as well as a publican, and I like to go places where – from the minute you walk in the door until when you leave – you have had a proper, genuine experience. One that you remember and that makes you want to go back, time and time again.

It’s hard to know what the future may hold, but with society opening up again, what are you now looking to offer the public?

To continue to offer people a lovely local pub experience with excellent food. The big challenge for us now is staff. The staffing crisis is impossible. Finding experienced staff is virtually impossible and I’ve had to close on more than one occasion because I can’t staff the pubs. With hard work and a solid requirement process we will get over this. The staff welcome is so important to the pub experience and the hospitality industry is a great industry to join, irrespective of age – when you join us you are part of the family and join a team you are really proud of.

If I could say one thing to the local community it’s this: now more than ever, this is the time to visit your local, independent pub. It’s a critical time and often, once your local independent pub closes, it’s gone. Please use it, enjoy it and help save it.

SaveStAlbansPubs.co.uk

WINNER

Raihaanah Ahmed, Sopwell Community Trust

Raihaanah Ahmed

How did it feel to win the Kate D’Arcy award for customer service?

Overwhelming. The award is recognition of the 50 people strong team’s dedication and commitment since March 2020 to providing food aid in a dignified manner and hard work in rescuing food from landfill.

Customer service is quite a broad term, but what does it mean to you?

An opportunity to build relationships. I love meeting new people, hearing their food stories and connecting over a shared love for great food.

What initiatives did you launch during lockdown?

From January 2021 I have organised teams to collect food destined for landfill from local supermarkets, twice daily every day of the week. Then a delivery scheme, where fresh fruit, vegetables and culturally competent ingredients are packed into boxes and delivered daily to those who have restricted mobility for various reasons. This started in March 2020 with just myself and my sons delivering to 45 families and today we have 30+ drivers who deliver to 400 people a week.

Our baked treats and notes for the isolated elderly started with my sons and I baking cakes for our elderly neighbours who were unable to see their out of town family members. My sons drew pictures and wrote notes, which we added to the cake boxes. After a social media call for help we had over 70 volunteers baking and writing notes for 300 elderly residents across St Albans. We also cooked meals for NHS staff. Both my brothers are NHS doctors and at the start of the pandemic were working incredibly long hours under the most stressful circumstances so when I saw the call for help from You Donate We Deliver I signed up to cook meals for NHS staff.

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