The BBC Food and Farming Awards

Those listeners who tune in to BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme every week and follow @BBCGoodFood and #bbcfoodawards on Twitter, will know that the finalists have now been chosen for the 2012 BBC Food and Farming Awards. Across nine different categories, including best food producer, best food market, Big Food Idea, best street food or takeaway, best food retailer and best farmer, some of the nation’s most talented artisanal food and drink professionals have been showcased as exemplary in their category.

The nominations are sent in from the British public, and a panel of esteemed judges get to taste, cook, visit and interview the nominees to shortlist the most commendable. This year’s judges include Christine Tacon {BBC Rural Affairs Advisory Committee}, Kath Dalmeny {Policy Director of Sustain}, Simon Parkes {author and Food Programme reporter}, Pete Brown {beer writer}, Victoria Moore {wine writer} and Chef Angela Hartnett.

The award ceremony will be held on Wednesday 28th November 2012, 2pm, at the NEC in Birmingham, and if you wish to apply for free tickets, click here.

To find out more about the importance of these awards and their significance in today’s food scene, we wrote to Dan Saladino, the producer and co-presenter, alongside Sheila Dillon, of The Food Programme. Here is what he revealed about the making of the show.

TFB: Dan, how long have you been producing The Food Programme and when were you brought in to work on the series in the first place?

Dan: I started producing The Food Programme in 2006. I’d had an interest in food journalism and making programmes about food through working on other programmes like BBC Radio 4’s consumer affairs programme You and Yours. I’d listened to the programme when I was growing up and have very clear memories of hearing Derek Cooper’s distinctive voice, and distinctive approach to food. Since joining the programme I’ve also overseen the BBC Food & Farming Awards and produced the annual awards programme. None of this would have been possible if I didn’t have a genuine interest in food and the people who produce, sell, campaign and write about food.

TFB: How do you manage to find the story leads that ultimately feature in each programme? Do you read all the food and drink magazines, websites and blogs and find new features and contacts through them?

Dan: We have a small production team who are all on the look-out for good stories and contributors. We do read widely, books, newspapers and many of the regular food publications from Fork magazine to Fine Food, The Grocer to the Caterer magazine. It’s such a big subject that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of stories on offer but as we are also broadcasters and so we’re always thinking about what will make great radio, and increasingly provide additional online content. In recent years we have become increasingly aware that a growing proportion of the audience want additional online content. This is something we are exploring through this year’s Food and Farming Awards, for example greater use of Facebook and Twitter.

TFB: If a writer or food producer thinks they have a good story they want to tell, are they able to contact you with a synopsis or are you so inundated that you would not recommend it?

Dan: I would recommend they contact The Food Programme. We’re a small team and usually in the middle of making programmes but always keen to hear new ideas from new potential contributors. It’s essential that the programme keeps up to date and invites fresh ideas. What helps is if people have taken the time to listen to the programme and have thought about how their idea might translate into a 30 minute radio programme.

TFB: How long ago were The Food and Farming Awards set up and what impact do you think they have had on the food and drink industry?

The Food Awards first took place in 2000, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Food Programme. Back then there were fewer food awards, and people who worked in food and farming had a much lower profile. I think the awards started to shine a light on some incredible work that was taking place in food production, in farming, catering (with school food featuring early on) and in people who were working to make a difference to our understanding of food, be that through journalism or academia. By giving a platform to people involved in food, to have a high profile way of celebrating their work, I think it’s contributed something incredibly important. When the awards were launched in 2000, HRH The Prince of Wales gave the opening speech and hosted the ceremony. He returned for the 10th anniversary Awards and I think that’s an illustration of how important they’ve become.

TFB: Do you think that if an artisanal food and drink producer, cook, farmer, campaigner or shop owner wins an award it can make a significant impact on their life and work thereafter? Does the programme keep tracking their progress?

Dan: Without fail, whenever we speak to a finalist a few months on from The Food and Farming Awards they tell us that it has made a huge difference to their work and their business. The awards not only draw the attention of millions of radio listeners to their story, but also people in positions of influence understand the value of the work being done. Two examples stand out from last year: Malcolm Veigas, who runs Bolton market, last year’s Best Food Market, told us that winning helped him get more funding from his local authority and it resulted in coaches full of visitors turning up at the market to try the market out for themselves. Another example is the Loch Arthur Creamery, the winner of the 2011 Best Food Producer. They had incredible feedback from the people in their region, and one simple measure of success was that, following the awards, they sold out of cheese.

TFB: Increasingly consumers are worried about food security and provenance, sustainable farming, global economics and compassionate animal husbandry – how much do you feel compelled to include these issues in both the programme and the awards? Is there a danger that, because listeners look to the BBC for entertainment, they do not want to be lectured or preached at, but just want to hear about good food stories?

Dan: It’s something we think about a lot and discuss within the programme team. We believe, as many others do, that the world can be seen through the lens of food, nearly every issue, every news story has a food dimension to it, and so food as a subject provides stories of pleasure, fun, history and memory, but food is also a very political subject, and at the centre of stories about economics and conflict. We aim to be topical, relevant and surprising. We also know people don’t to be lectured and preached at. We try and resolve this by offering something new and different each week. We hope we usually get the balance right.

TFB: We live in an increasingly celebrity led media age: do the programme producers and the award judges try to steer clear of the celebrity side of the food industry or is it inevitable that really famous people feature in the programme and might win in some of the award categories?

Dan: We aim to be story driven, not celebrity driven. In the programme’s 30 year history most of the UK’s leading food celebrities have featured in the programme and BBC Food and Farming Awards. Jamie Oliver featured early on in his career (and met school food campaigner Jeanette Orrey at an awards event), as did everyone from Gordon Ramsey to Gregg Wallace: all of those appearances were there for good editorial reasons. We don’t believe the Radio 4 audience, and Food Programme listeners want to hear us featuring the same cast that dominate so much television and magazine food output. Many of the celebrities have achieved great things, there are great chefs and inspirational food writers, but often I’m more curious about what someone like Ivan Day and Tom Jaine have to say on a subject. In terms of The Food and Farming Awards we’ve always had people in the judging team who bring great food skills and are in tune with the values of the Awards, hence Angela Hartnett, Mark Hix, Raymond Blanc, Giorgio Locatelli, Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have all made important contributions.

TFB: With a name like Saladino you obviously have Italian heritage – what do you cook at home? Where do you shop for your food? Tell us a bit about how being the producer of such an important foodie programme affects your actions as a consumer.

Dan: My father is from a town called Ribera in Sicily. My childhood influences included spending summer holidays on family farms among oranges, grapes, olives and figs. I think my early experiences of the link between food and family were really important. Also, leaving the UK in the 1980’s for summer holidays in Sicily meant that I saw a sharp contrast between one food culture and another. During that time there were no supermarkets in Sicily: noisy, colourful street markets dominated, an array of bakers, cake makers, pasta and ice cream producers could be found in every small neighbourhood. Back in the UK, my father spent most of life in the restaurant business and so the rest of my holidays would be spent on back tables near the kitchen where the waiters would mingle and where I would watch pizza chefs working. All of that I guess must have had an impact. I love to cook and try to experiment as much as I can. Italian food still dominates but I also enjoy cooking Asian and Middle Eastern food (some links there with Sicilian cuisine). I mostly enjoy making the simplest of things: bread, pasta, hummus – all can allow you to spend years in search of perfection. In terms of shopping, as with an increasing number of people, I spend a lot of time looking at labels and the way food is described. I try and go into as many shops and supermarkets as possible to keep up to speed with trends and to ensure that I increase my knowledge from experience and not from preconceptions. I live in Cheltenham and so I’m lucky to have access to great markets (e.g Stroud Farmers’ Market), great producers within reach (Severn and Wye Smokery) and there are some great young chefs who working hard to turn more pubs in this region into wonderful places to eat and drink.

Further Information

The finalists for The BBC Food and Farming Awards: click here

Follow Dan Saladino and the team on Twitter: @BBCFoodProg and use the hashtag #bbcfoodawards to join in the conversation

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