Recently I had the pleasure to chat to a judge for the upcoming Investec Food and Drink Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. We chat about her life and her job and we look at what she is looking for in an Entrepreneur.
Can you please introduce yourself to our audience…
Alexia Robinson, country girl brought up in Dorset, who founded British Food Fortnight and the Love British Food campaign 13 years ago in response to the foot and mouth crisis that brought rural Britain to its knees.
Why did you get involved in the Investec Food and Drink Entrepreneur of the Year awards?
I am a huge fan of everything that Caroline Kenyon organises! I meet so many people in the food world and Caroline has always stood out as someone I admire hugely; everything she runs is ‘of the moment’ and despite taking on the hugest challenges she always does so with wonderful charm.
In my job I can get so engrossed in the grafting involved in running British Food Fortnight that I often miss many of the interesting things happening in the food scene. So judging these awards is irresistible – just to have the opportunity to read about what some of our leading food and drink entrepreneurs are doing will be fascinating and to be invited to select the winners is a tremendous honour.
Ah, I can see why you got involved with the awards then, I myself like to keep in the know with subjects, but grafting hard means you miss a few things.
What are you most looking forward to in the awards?
I admire mavericks, something that entrepreneurs often are. The bravery, energy, determination and daring-do that it takes to believe in an idea and make it happen, all on ones own steam, is human nature at its best. For me it is on a par with climbing Everest or winning a gold medal; that ‘just do it’ mentality.
It is a quality that has made this country great and the current generation of entrepreneurs are those who will continue to make it so. I particularly love the passion that entrepreneurs in the food world have for their product; I get a bit exhausted at the attention that celebrity chefs constantly receive – for me there are many other heroes we should honour for Britain’s food renaissance and I expect to find them amongst the entries in these awards.
I have to admit I have fallen down that “celebrity chef” route, so things like these awards bring out people who have taken a different path.
Now let us talk a bit about you. What is the last book you read? And why did you enjoy it?
Mandy Retzlaff’s ‘One Hundred and Four Horses’ about a family rescuing horses from Mugabe’s land invasions in Zimbabwe. Horses are my passion and this is a wonderful story of the human spirit refusing to give up (a similar quality that I am looking for in the awards!). And I have to own up to indulging in a lovely romantic novel when we were on holiday this summer: ‘Secrets of the Lighthouse’ by Santa Montefiore; bliss from beginning to end. I knew Santa when I was growing up and it is rather fun seeing what a huge success she has made of her writing. She always said she wanted to write a book and look what she has achieved! Again…the sort of person I am looking for in these awards!
What is British Food Fortnight? And what is its goal?
British Food Fortnight is the national celebration of the wonderfully diverse and delicious food in this country and the people who farm and produce it. It takes place every Autumn in the last week of September and the first week of October (this year: 20th Sept – 5th Oct) at the time when traditionally we celebrate the harvest.
Shops, pubs and restaurants run British food promotions during the event and schools take part in our annual activities for children which encourage teachers to get children excited about the food on their door step. In 2012 the winners came to Buckingham Palace to cook for The Queen!
I always envisaged British Food Fortnight as a modern day harvest celebration – it is a tradition that I passionately want to reinvigorate and ensure that it remains an important part of our national calendar. As part of our activities we have established a National Harvest Service that was held last year in Westminster Cathedral (it was the first harvest festival there for nearly half a century) and this year takes place in Birmingham Cathedral.
There is also a national competition that we are running in conjunction with The Telegraph to find the most imaginative and inclusive harvest celebration. Raymond Blanc, The Secretary of State and the MD of Tesco are some of the judges. And there is also a fun ‘harvest selfie’ activity…..
With most things with an active person, what do you keep in your handbag?
An old fashioned pencil case, a Letts diary (I don’t understand how people plan their lives on a smart phone; I have to see my ‘week to view’!), Tesco coupons (they are sponsoring our harvest campaign this year), Dermalogica tinted moisturiser spf 15, Terry mascara and an Egyptian scarab beetle that Charles gave me. Plus Blackberry for emails only and ancient Nokia phone for telephone calls (this is my way of keeping work and home separate and means I can go for a walk or ride without emails in my pocket).
Very Organised I can see. Digital has its pros and cons, but you use what works for you.
Time to bring it back full circle, the awards look at entrepreneurs and how they make decisions and develop as a business person. So, what was the biggest business decision you have had to make?
I am not sure about the ‘biggest’ – every decision seems big at the time! But the ‘best’ decision was evolving our work from a ‘fortnight’ into a year round activity with the Love British Food campaign.
Also hiring Catherine and Pippa who work with me. They are both entrepreneurial in spirit and the sort of people who never give up. I worked on my own a lot in my 30s but now I am in my mid-40s I really value having a strong team around me.
Nice to see you adapting to what you and your business needs. Thank you for your time and I hope you enjoy judging the Investec Food and Drink Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
Investec Food and Drink Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 –
www.investecfoodanddrinkentrepreneuroftheyear.com – Still seeking entries of the best Food and Drink entrepreneur who know their food/drink is the best in the nation. No matter if you are a producer or a retailer all efforts are covered. The competition is free to enter and the winner receives £5000.
Awards are still open for entry – until Friday 12th September.
For News on British Food Fortnight –
all the details are on www.lovebritishfood.co.uk.