The Scotsman’s Food & Drink Awards shows how good food has spread all over Scotland from the tiny village of Beeswing to the East Neuk of Fife and beyond, writes Stephen Jardine.
When it was built in 1909 – complete with a grand facade featuring Roman Doric columns – Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange was home to slaughterhouses and agricultural markets.
So it was perhaps the perfect venue for the first-ever Scotsman Food & Drink Awards earlier this week, an event developed to recognise companies and individuals offering something over and above the competition.
Winners ranged from a healthy and delicious chocolate bar to a street food collective from Glasgow and an iconic Edinburgh pub dating back to the 1970s.
As one of the six judges, what was evident to me was the public enthusiasm for what is now on offer in Scotland. Nominations flooded in from people eager to endorse great food and drink.
TripAdvisor can be challenging for the hospitality sector but it has produced a generation of consumers who believe good eating or drinking is something that deserves to be shared with others.
If you are staging a food and drink awards ceremony, you need to get the catering right. Instead of rubber chicken of dubious origin, guests enjoyed a street food menu reflecting some of the exciting developments taking place around food-on-the-go. From salmon tacos to haggis pakora and brisket wraps, the meal was a vibrant celebration of the way great Scottish ingredients can be adapted to work withother cultural influences. Everything, including gins, beers and soft drinks, was Scottish and artisan, rather than mass produced. Even a decade ago, that would have been impossible to deliver.
At one point, Scotland’s food-and-drink revolution was just an Edinburgh thing. The Scottish capital had more Michelin-starred restaurants than any city outside London and that attracted a foodie audience motivated to support a strong Farmers Market and a range of great shops. Then it moved to other cities with Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen all developing vibrant food scenes.
That has proved to be infectious. The inaugural Scotsman awards demonstrated beyond all doubt the extent of the change that has taken place. From Galashiels-based Tempest beer to the Ardross Farm Shop in the East Neuk of Fife, the range of rural winners showed the radical improvement in what we eat and drink has reached all parts of Scotland.
The ultimate proof came with the last award of the night, which was decided by Scotsman readers. You might have expected the winner of the Hidden Gem category to be a speak-easy cocktail bar in back lane in Leith or a pop-up restaurant serving only kale a stone’s throw from Finnieston in Glasgow.
Instead it went to the Locharthur Camphill Community in the tiny village of Beeswing in Dumfries and Galloway. This social enterprise charity provides accommodation and employment for a range of people with learning disabilities. It is also home to a brilliant café and farmshop staffed by members of the community. For them and all the other winners, these awards were not just a fun night off. They represent a validation of all the passion and hard work that has made Scotland’s food and drink something we can all be proud of.