We speak to three previous Essex Life Food & Drink Hero Award winners

PUBLISHED: 11:10 05 March 2019

Maldon Salt

Maldon Salt


There are some stars of the local food and drink industry who have done more than their bit to put Essex on the foodie map worldwide. Over the years, Essex Life has recognised some of these heroes and heroines with the annual Food & Drink Hero Award at the Essex Life Food & Drink Awards. Stephanie Mackentyre went for a catch up with three of the recent winners

- Steve Osborne, Maldon Salt

Winner of the Essex Life Food & Drink Hero Award for 2018 was Steve Osborne. He represents the fourth generation of a family that has run one of the county’s most celebrated yet simple food exports – Maldon Salt.

‘I was immersed in the factory from an early age and so I have fond memories of using it as a playground!’ explains Steve with a smile. Nowadays there are much tougher health and safety laws, but Steve’s time in the factory certainly helped him learn the secrets of salt harvesting from his father, who in turn learnt the trade from his father.

Before joining the family business, Steve was a city trader in London. Nevertheless, driven by his love of the salt works and a deep desire to continue the work of his father, grandfather and great grandfather, Steve returned to Maldon ready to take on the family firm. Today he continues the legacy of this highly sought afetr salt, created by the minerals of the Blackwater Estuary.

Building on the work of his forefathers, Steve has expanded the company with extra salt pans in response to an ever-increasing international demand from chefs and domestic cooks around the world. In fact it is on the royal dinner table as in 2012 Maldon Salt was recognised with a Royal Warrant, a fitting accolade for a dedicated, family-run business.

The criteria for the Essex Life Food & Drink Awards’ Food & Drink Hero Award explains how, among other things, the award aims to reward someone who has made, ‘an outstanding contribution to our county’s food and drink industry. Someone who is an expert in their chosen field with a proven track record in inspiring others and setting high standards’.

Few words would describe what Steve Osborne has done better than that.

- David Smale, English Saffron

Another Essex Food & Drink Hero who optimises this criteria is David Smale, although David’s story is a very different one. In a similar way to Maldon Salt, David has built upon centuries of history and tradition, while also making the most of the natural resources which make Essex so special. But to establish his business and bring a unique product into the market place, David looked back to the heritage of the region for his inspiration.

16 years ago, David focussed on one iconic product which is steeped in history and also boasts a long-standing connection to Essex. He began growing a small number of autumn crocuses, with the intention of harvesting a very special crop.

The reaping of this specialist crop had become a lost art, but through a dedication to the cause and a desire for authenticity that saw him scour text books from the Middle Ages, David researched the necessary techniques for the cultivation, harvesting and drying methods of the stamens from the autumn crocus in order to create English saffron.

Today he works with family members in a thriving business, the English Saffron Company, which proudly boasts a show garden explaining this unique story at Bridge End Gardens in Saffron Walden – well where else?

David is a true advocate of this product and a timetable of talks on the subject take him all across the UK and abroad too, sharing the story of this fascinating crop to a new and ever-increasing audience, as well as introducing more and more customers to our county of Essex and the town which takes its name from this famous spice.

Most recently David has expanded the business to use this delicate spice to create Saffron Gin and Saffron Chocolates, both of which are already proving to be successful and innovative expansions to the company’s product range.

English SaffronEnglish Saffron

- Steve Andrews, The Blue Group

Another no less worthy winner of the Food & Drink Hero Award three years ago was Steve Andrews. Steve started serving food and drinks in Essex more than 20 years ago. Over the years Steve has spent a considerable amount of time and money to transform a number of derelict or dilapidated buildings into what we now know as beautiful, exquisitely decorated restaurants, pubs and hotels.

However, it’s not just the buildings in our county which have benefitted. Steve’s continued commitment to the local hospitality trade and his employees as a whole has seen him turn down opportunities to sell parts of his business for generous financial offers when the job security of the group’s employees could not be guaranteed.

Today, The Blue Group employs more than 160 people across Essex with eateries including The Blue Anchor in Feering, The Blue Boar in Abridge and The Riverside in Chelmsford.

Despite a long and successful career, Steve continues to work a minimum of 60 hours a week and still enjoys playing an active role alongside his employees. In addition, his chain of pubs, restaurants and hotels are well known for using fresh, Essex suppliers whenever possible. With this commitment he is further supporting the county’s community and economy as a whole, while celebrating all that is great about food and drink here in Essex.

The Blue Group remains a family-owned group of restaurants and in 2015 its sister company, The Grey Group, was launched. The foundations of both of these businesses are built on a commitment to every employee and a passion for locally-sourced, fresh and seasonal ingredients.

There are plenty more people who care passionately about our Essex produce enough to make a business out of it, many of whom you will read about in Essex Life throughout this year. In the meantime we can recommend you experience each of these remarkable companies and see for yourself what makes them so special.

The Blue GroupThe Blue Group

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