What is the collective noun for a group of superheroes? Any idea? I didn’t know off-hand, but as I looked around the room at the amazing group of people gathered to celebrate the 2016 Free From Foods Awards this week, I realised that that’s what I was in the midst of: enough superheroes to make any allergy sufferer’s heart flutter. Ever since I spent a fabulous 2 days judging these amazing awards at the start of February, the ceremony had promised to be the highlight of my season and, with M and G in their new role of diary contributors to the Foodsmatter newsletter, the whole family was lucky enough to be invited to attend.
M’s broken leg required some significant amendments to our original plans, but we were determined to get the family, wheelchair and all, to the event, held near Regents Park, London at the rather impressive Royal College of Physicians. We planned to leave as soon as the children finished school, which left ample time to reach our destination and even allowed strategic stops along the way to primp and preen ourselves for the evening. We all had new clothes for the occasion and G took the matter so seriously that she hand-wrote a note for her hanger to remind herself not to wear them before the day itself. Our journey started well and as we travelled along the motorway, the children took turns to pick songs for us all to sing or compared what cloud creations they could spot out of their respective windows. Naturally things couldn’t continue in that relaxed manner and we soon joined a queue of stationary traffic that had me biting my nails and stressing to the hilt that we wouldn’t reach London in time. Fortunately for all concerned, Mike has a much calmer head than me and was our nominated driver for the night. The traffic eventually started to move, we crept past the accident site and soon were back up to speed and on our way without me completely losing my cool. We stopped just once and Mike, G and M were all able to nip into the service station toilets to glam themselves up for the evening. I was too anxious about our timings to take 5 minutes out to change myself and the following hour or so was filled with moments much reminiscent of Dirty Dancing – remember Baby changing on the back-seat of Johnny’s car? – as well as hysterical giggling from M as I contorted my body into unbelievable positions to don my own new outfit.
Of course, as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. We arrived bang on time and thanks to the helpful College staff, we were able to park in their car park to ease the burden of manoeuvering M and his wheelchair around. Convoluted lift systems negotiated – seriously complicated as we had to go down from the ground floor to the lower ground floor before taking a different lift up to the first level – we were finally there and the children were thrilled to receive name badges of their very own. From the moment we stepped into the room, I was surrounded by a group of innovative, interesting and fantastic people who all had one thing in common, their passion for the freefrom market. Some of them I had had the honour to meet at one of the judging sessions, others I know from social media, whilst others I’d never met before, but as we made our way across the room, being hugged and kissed by new friends and old, I realised that I really did feel at home with them. We parked M’s wheelchair close to the stage so that he could observe all the proceedings with ease and my thanks go to the Romer Labs UK representatives, one of the Awards sponsors, as they made sure he could see what was happening at all times.
Michelle Berriedale-Johnson was the emcee for the evening and the awards presented by celebrity chef, Antony Worrall Thompson, who gave what has to be the quote of the night that “..free from people should not be seen as niche people but normal people..”, which was great to hear. It was wonderful to see so many creative and innovative producers receive commendations for their hard work and the winners were all deserving in their categories. It was good to remember some of the fantastic new foods that I had tasted and wonderful to see G so excited about the gluten- and dairy-free offerings available that her own mini fist-pumps could be seen as she heard who the winners were. The full list of winning entries can be found on the Awards website, but a special mention must go to the winner of the FAIR trophy for the Best FreeFrom Food 2016, Nutribix. I was particularly thrilled to see this breakfast cereal win, not least because I had been fortunate to judge the Breakfast products category in February and absolutely loved it. Nutribix is an amazing product, reminiscent of Weetabix and unlike anything else available on the freefrom market at the moment. We’ve still to track down a box in our local supermarkets for G to try, but I’m even more determined to get my hands on some now that one of my favourites has won the overall title.
It was an unmissable night and we could easily have stayed for hours chatting to the other attendees. G and M were on best behaviour and did some impressive networking of their own – politely introducing themselves and chatting confidently to the adults in the room. I received several compliments from those they spoke to, which makes me immensely proud. G was absolutely buzzing from the thrill of having canapés and a buffet that were, more or less, all safe for her and certainly enjoyed the food – the surprise hit of the evening being water buffalo canapés which she declared “delicious” and helped herself to more as soon as she could. It was wonderful to have the time and opportunity to put faces to names of so many other allergy bloggers and companies out there and whilst I won’t even attempt to list them all for fear of forgetting someone, they know who they are and I can’t wait to the next opportunity to meet up. The free from community can sometimes be surprisingly small, but it is also very close-knit and these are people that I’m delighted to be able to describe as friends. Even better, we already have a date in mind and many of us will be able to reconnect at the Allergy and Free from Show at Olympia, London during the weekend of July 8-10th. There’s also the Free From Eating Out Awards coming up later in the year, which is looking to recognise nationwide chains as well as independent restaurants who go the extra mile to provide safe meals for their allergy-suffering diners.
Special mention has to, of course, go to our very own superhero, Ryan from Borough 22 doughnuts. He got one of the loudest cheers of the night, partly aided by our very exuberant family, as well as 2 very much deserved Highly Commendeds for his doughnuts. The highlight of M’s evening was meeting the man he now terms his “personal chef” and even more thrilled that Ryan signed his cast too. It says a lot about the difference this man has made to M in such a short space of time that today even his teacher understood why M was so excited to have met “the doughnut man” in person.
Oh, and I still don’t know what that collective noun is, but I rather think “A Power of Superheroes” fits the bill perfectly!