The Profumo affair had nothing on the antics that took place at the 31st Acorn Awards at Cliveden House in Berkshire. Katherine Price reports
This year's Acorn Award winners - hospitality's 30 rising stars under the age of 30 - were put through their paces with a weekend murder mystery, where teams had to put their fingerprinting, deduction and even shooting skills to the test. Again, don't worry, no real guns were fired - these were all activities organised by event management company Team Spirit.
The winners descended on National Trust property Cliveden House in Berkshire, one of the UK's most beautiful (and outrageous) historic country houses, renowned for being where secretary of state for war John Profumo met 19-year-old model Christine Keeler in 1961 - a meeting that led to an affair quoted as the most scandalous in British political history and responsible for bringing about the downfall of the Macmillan government.
Welcoming and congratulating attendees following an early networking lunch were The Caterer's editor Amanda Afiya and co-founder of sponsor ACT Clean John Stevenson, emphasising the elite club the winners had joined - just 930 people have won the award in an industry that employs three million.
It was a sobering thought when Afiya pointed out that, following the Acorns' own 30th anniversary last year, this year's cohort would not even have been born when the first group were given their Acorns in 1986. But despite this, the awards are showing no signs of slowing down.
t attendees had never met, but within minutes of witnessing the 'death' of solicitor Lionel Doyle, the collection of chefs, concierge and managers, covering everything from finance to operations at hotels, restaurants, foodservice and universities, had transformed into a crack team of expert crime scene investigators. Following rigorous examinations, interviews, reaction tests and the results of a pathologist's report, two of five teams managed to identify the murderer correctly, one of which took home the prize and a silver salver.
After a few hours of rest for our detectives, the Acorns were welcomed by hotel general manager Kevin Brooke and Andrew Stembridge, managing director of Cliveden and last year's venue, Chewton Glen, followed by a barbecue at the hotel's Astor Grill and a rousing trio of musicians who did covers of everything from Blur's Park Life to R Kelly's Ignition.
er the meal, everyone retired to the main house bar for a nightcap before returning to their rooms to find a surprise mascot to take away and remember the weekend. Courtesy of Cliveden, a toy squirrel with an acorn was waiting on everyone's bed bearing the message 'hold on to your acorns!' - and there was also a plate of cakes in case anyone was in need of some late-night sustenance.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on the following sunny spring morning, the Acorns posed for their photos and welcomed their nominators to the hotel for the official part of the weekend which included a celebratory lunch of cured and grilled Loch Duart salmon, roast Devon lamb and English strawberry cheesecake paired with Matthew Clark wines in André Garrett's restaurant.
mer Acorn Award winner Stuart Procter, general manager of the 105-bedroom, five-red-AA-star Stafford hotel in London, warmed up the room with a light-hearted talk on his own Acorn weekend. He spoke of how he met a budding chef called Jason Atherton "before he met Savile Row and got a personal trainer", as well as sharing his involvement in creating the Hotel and Café Football concepts as managing director of GG Hospitality, the company he co-founded with Manchester United football legends Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville. One 2017 Acorn, Cassie Delaney-Brown, is herself marketing manager at the Stafford.
cter emphasised the importance of keeping in touch with the people you meet in hospitality along the journey, because you never know when you may benefit from a referral, a good word, an insider tip - or simply make some lifelong friends.
Friendships sealed, limbs intact and all present and accounted for, it was back to the world of hospitality for our keen detectives with reunions already being arranged and phone numbers exchanged. Who knows what these future hospitality leaders will be saying of these two short days in 30 years' time?
Thank you to Team Spirit and the Grosvenor hotel
The Caterer would like to thank event management company Team Spirit for its faultless and enthusiastic approach to organising the Acorn team-building tasks for another year, and for staging the awards ceremony the following day. Team Spirit ensured that a group that had started out as strangers ended it as teammates - and as potential long-term industry contacts.
We would also like to thank GLH and the Grosvenor hotel in London Victoria for kindly hosting the judging of the Acorn Awards this year.
The 48-bedroom, five-red-AA-star Cliveden House hotel near Taplow in Berkshire is one of the National Trust's crown jewels.
Ian and Richard Livingstone, the billionaire property developer brothers whose L&R property company owns a portfolio of hotels including Chewton Glen in Hampshire, acquired a long lease for the property from Ernst & Young, the administrators appointed following the collapse of the hotel's former operator, Von Essen. The freehold of the property is owned by the National Trust.
e current Victorian, Italian-style mansion was designed by Sir Charles Barry in 1851 and was the home of American Nancy Astor, the first female member of Parliament to take her seat, and the wife of Waldorf Astor.
Kevin Brooke took over the general manager role at the hotel from Sue Williams in August 2016, with Andrew Stembridge as managing director overseeing Cliveden and Chewton Glen. Both ensure the property retains its sparkle following its multi-million pound renovation. The hotel spa is due to reopen following refurbishment in the autumn. The Acorns were suitably impressed, with much talk on arrival of the long tree-lined approach to the house as a real wow factor.
mbridge said: "We were delighted to host the 31st Acorn Awards at one of our properties once again this year. The awards identify the extraordinary talent in our wonderful industry and we were delighted to have them all with us here at Cliveden House for what they will remember as a very significant occasion in their careers."
And of course our Acorns would not have been able to conduct their detective work without any sustenance - the kitchen team, overseen by executive chef André Garrett, produced an excellent array of dishes across the two days, with the seemingly effortless service overseen by restaurant manager and 2016 Acorn winner Daniele Quattromini.
The sponsor - ACT Clean
John Stevenson of ACT Clean says: "At ACT Clean we know that our business and its success begins and ends with the quality, commitment and aspirations of our team and the job they do. Creating great experiences and partnerships and demonstrating excellence is all about people.
"The Acorn Awards have long recognised, rewarded and celebrated these attributes and the exceptional talent within our dynamic industry. That's why we're proud to support the awards. Our support plays a small role in a vital scheme in an industry we can all be proud of, recognising future leaders and helping them to shine further. It's our pleasure and privilege to do so."