Judging the Free From From Food Awards: What Really Happens

This years final judging day is worth recording , not because it was exceptional but because it was business as usual. Effective food judging is about routine and organisation – having enough of everything, making sure products are cooked as per instructions, ensuring judges have a regular supply of drinking water, paper plates and biros. And Michelle, Cressida, Katherine, Kate and the team excel at this – they have been doing it for years and have evolved good systems.


In response to a three-line whip on punctuality I manage to get to the judging venue 15 minutes earlier which means there is time for a cup of English Breakfast and gossip with my fellow judges before we begin. This year I know everyone in the room and we have all judged together before. 1100 kick off and we are upstairs judging Best Start Up, i.e. a product entered by a company formed in the last 2 years. We judge all products blind, so when the kitchen delivers the product to us there is no packaging. We have printed sheets with full product information but not the name of the company. We write our comments – both positive and negative – on the sheets and then give the product a mark out of 10. We then have a short discussion on the product before moving on. There are around thirty products entered in this category – we do savoury first, then sweet. There are two beers, which come as a welcome change of pace (albeit in modest quantities). It takes us about 2 hours to get through the list and then we work with Michelle to construct a shortlist and finally an overall winner.

The process is considered, orderly and (occasionally) passionate. Judges are very aware of their responsibilities in promoting individual products and are keen to reward genuine innovation which brings the sector forwards. However we never forget that a winning product has to taste good. It takes us very little time to agree a winner, a decision that everyone in the room supports.

In theory we should now break for lunch but consensus is that having spent the entire morning eating this is a bit unnecessary. Just time for another quick English Breakfast (I only drink water when I am judging) and then downstairs to judge Best Product Overall. Incidentally one of the ways you can spot an experienced food judge is they eat modestly – when you are eating for 4 or 5 hours a day pacing becomes important.

The judging process for Best Product is the same as with Best Start Up. The major difference is that we are menaced by screeching parakeets from the back garden, who are impervious to threats and cats. As before, we move to a shortlist and then have a fascinating debate about the merits of which product should be made the overall winner. I am particularly pleased with our final decision – a real game changer…as you will find out on April 17th!


If all the above sounds a bit dull, please carry on believing that Michelle throws products out of her first floor window and judges standing in the garden below try to shoot them with air-rifles – the winning product is the one with the most bullet holes. Only you didn’t hear that from me….