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Be Inclusive Hospitality Spotlight Awards – get to know the finalists

With just hours to go before the very first Be Inclusive Hospitality (BIH) Spotlight Awards, here's your chance to get to know the finalist of the Writer of the Year Award, sponsored by Decanter.

Tonight we will find out who will be named Writer of the Year at the BIH Spotlight Awards, which celebrates exceptional talent and achievement from Black, Asian, and ethnic minorities working in hospitality, food, and drink.

As a proud sponsor of this category, below Decanter shares more about the finalists and their journeys within the industry so far…

‘I am so proud of the stellar line up of talented professionals in the Writer of the Year category. Their words and stories are ever powerful in our community and our industry. They all inspire me, my peers and future generations to continue to push to be heard.’

Lorraine Copes, founder of Be Inclusivity and the BIH Spotlight Awards

Emanuele Mensah@cocktailswithlele

[The Spotlight Awards] It’s something we really need. It makes us stronger and makes us confident to shine. Your voice is heard, it means a lot to be given the chance to be recognised.  

Did you always want to work in hospitality?

From a young age I was lucky enough to spend some time in Accra, Ghana. My grandmother owned a little restaurant on the corner of the street, selling traditional food like banku and fufu. I’d spend a lot of time there after school getting under everyone’s feet. I just remember being around lots of people, talking and laughing with them, this inspired me. I wanted to create this feeling in my adult career. I would actually like to open my own bar or restaurant one day.

How did it feel knowing you had been nominated for this award?

I honestly didn’t believe it was real at first, I had to double check. When it was confirmed, I called my mum in disbelief.

How important do you think it is to have awards that highlight the achievements of Black, Asian and minority groups in the industry?

For a person of colour, this industry can be a lonely place, I’ve been lucky enough to work in some of the best bars in the world, but no one looked like me. With awards like this, you don’t feel alone anymore, I’m grateful there are organisations taking steps in making sure we are seen.

What do you think the hospitality industry needs to do to be more diverse and inclusive?

Set the example from the top. Hire more people of colour in senior positions. This way people from underrepresented groups can see that it is achievable. 

You can now add author to your list of titles, how did this come about?

I was shocked how it all happened to be honest. During the pandemic and lockdown, I really missed being behind the bar and interacting with people, so I decided to make YouTube videos of everything I have learned throughout my years as a mixologist, and put it in one place for people to make at home. I was contacted by Whalen Book Works, who saw my videos and wanted me to write a recipe book. Just like my nomination, I wasn’t sure whether this was real, but after checking with a lawyer, it turns out that it was.

I wrote my first book Mezcal and Tequila Cocktails – during lockdown. It did really well, and I was commissioned to write a second book – Rosé Cocktails.

Why rosé? 

It’s a summer drink that people really love! But at the same time, a bottle only lasts about two or three days in the fridge. So that it doesn’t go to waste, taking the sustainable approach, I thought why not create rosé cocktail recipes. This book not only teaches readers how to make great cocktails, it also talks about the history of rosé, and which flavours work best with different styles. 

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into the industry?

Believe in yourself, believe in what you want and keep chasing it. Learn as much as you can and read from the first day. You can learn for people, but you should also do the work and read, read, read.

Melissa Thompson @fowlmouthsfood 
FOWL MOUTHS: Food & Recipe Project

When you put your all into writing, having the initial feedback is great acknowledgement for what you are doing’.

How important do you think it is to have awards like these?

Award ceremonies are always important, having awards for under-represented people creates a level playing field. The influence that BIH and Decanter combines really helps to bring attention to the nominees. 

As a person of colour, how difficult was it to make the transition from journalist to food writer and author?

The media system is quite closed, it’s helpful to know people in order to get in. There are a lot of barriers for entry. It’s not just about race, it’s also about class. In journalism, coverage needs to be diverse, and if you haven’t got that in your workforce then it’s impossible.

You’ve released your first cookbook titled Motherland: A Jamaican Cookbook. But it is more than just a cookbook, without giving too much away, what can our readers expect?

It tells the story of Jamaican food and the history that created the environment for the food to take form. It gives context on Jamaican food. It doesn’t shy away from the difficult elements of how certain ingredients made it to Jamaica. It allows people to cook Jamaican food and feed their curiosity about the origins of it.

Was there a part of the cookbook that you enjoyed writing? Was there any part you didn’t particularly enjoy?

The research was really good fun, I enjoyed writing about family anecdotes, and things my dad would say and the stories he would tell. Structuring it was quite difficult, as well as writing about some of the history. I had to be measured on what I chose to include and exclude. 

What energises you about your career?

The people and hearing about their experiences and learning new things. There are a lot of voices that weren’t around three to five years ago. I find it exciting hearing what they have to say. I also enjoy making [really important] connections through networking.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to do what you do?

Confidence can be a massive barrier for people. Feel the fear and do it anyway! As a writer, you should always be writing. Whatever comes into your head, the things that you think are funny are the things you should be writing about. If you think something is funny or interesting, chances are other people will too. No one can commission you if you’ve got nothing to show. 

Chetna Makan @chetnamakan

I can’t believe that it’s 2022 and it’s the first time these awards are happening. Better late than never! It’s an amazing achievement for the team behind the awards to make this happen. It can’t have been an easy task.

How does it feel to be nominated?

It’s amazing, there’s so many amazing food writers of colour, so to be a finalist was surprising and a real honour.

What does the food industry need to do to be more diverse and inclusive?

Things have changed especially in the last three or four years, there’s still along way to go, but it’s moving in the right direction. There needs to be a bit more understanding of other cultures, more opportunities and voices given to people from different backgrounds to tell their side, rather than someone else doing it by just visiting a place. 

Have you always wanted to write?

Not really, I was a fashion designer when I moved to the UK. This happened by chance eight years ago but I really, really enjoy it.

What is the most challenging thing?

The initial process of writing my first book was hard, but the real hard work came after.

What makes a good cookbook?

The simplicity of a book makes it a good one. Keep it simple but never compromise on flavour.

You have written an astonishing six books, does it get any easier after the first one? 

The first one was difficult on a different level, because I was going through the unknown. The other books were easier in terms of structure as I had experience from the first. Outside of that, they all had their own level of difficulty. 

Any advice?

You need to know what you are going to talk about, you can’t just think you’re going to write about food [or drink]; you have to know your market and what you are going to offer. The more you write the more experience, and the more confidence, you will gain. 

David Jesudason @davidjes601

[These awards are] massively important, it’s a case of representation, it changes the default of what a writer should be or what people think it should look like.

Was it difficult to penetrate the industry?

I experienced a lot of racism. Through my experiences I’ve found out that what works for me is not to work for the people who pay the most, but for the people who are the most understanding and empathetic to work with. You need to have a good support network; be valued by peers; switch off social media and to not take it too seriously.

What is your favourite thing about your career?

This period of my life right now. I never had the opportunity before to write what I wanted to write about. We are living in a time of a new civil rights movement triggered by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the murder of George Floyd. Previously people weren’t interested in what I had to say about race, now is the time and it is important to write and make a difference.

Can you briefly explain the collaboration between The British Guild of Beer Writers and Good Beer Hunting? 

It’s a grant to highlight diversity in the British beer writing industry. Ultimately we wanted to have writers of colour, but it was difficult as you have to do a lot of work to reach people who don’t normally think that it is a career for them.

You’re in the process of writing your first book Desi Pubs: A Guide to British-Indian Pubs, Food & Culture – without giving too much away, what can readers expect?

It’s a guide book exploration and celebration of Desi pubs (British Indian pubs). These pubs were first set up in the 1960s to break the racist colour bar which saw anyone non-white banned from pubs. 

Any advice for someone who wants to break into the industry?

When you start out, be really personal and put yourself in every piece, you need to also have a base of reporting skills.

The winner will be chosen tonight by an expert panel of judges at Percy’s London. Good luck to all the finalists.

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