Event Review: The Caterer Middle East Awards 2017

We take an in-depth look at the winners from all 16 categories

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More than 400 people attended the Caterer Middle East Awards 2017 at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah on Wednesday, May 24 to see who would be crowned this year’s winners.

This year, Whissle Hospitality Group were victorious in three categories with wins for Okku’s Brendon Charles — Sommelier of the Year, Claw BBQ Crabshack & Grill  for Casual Dining Team of the Year and Okku for Independent Restaurant Team of the Year. Okku’s Dimitris Panopulos also received a highly commended nod in the Waiter of the Year category.

The Croft also had multiple reasons to celebrate with Darren Velvick being highly commended as Head Chef of the Year — Hotel-Managed Outlet and a win for Restaurant Manager of the Year, Jane Nedanoski.

Newcomers Lock, Stock & Barrel won of Bar Team of the Year and Bartender of the Year was awarded to Bahri Bar’s Maria Essa Janina Sinay. The other beverage-focused award of the night went to Marvin Coelho from the Treehouse at the Taj Dubai. Restaurant Team of the Year — Hotel-Managed went to La Tablita at Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights who impressed the judges with their authentic take on Mexican food and hospitality.

Faisal Kaniyan was this year’s Kitchen Hero of the Year, while Restaurant Manager of the Year was won by Jane Nedanoski from The Croft, Dubai Mariott Harbour Hotel & Suites.

Emirates Leisure Retail won Events Catering Team of the Year and the prize for Restaurateur of the Year was awarded to Oliver Zeitoun, who co-founded Maki group with his brother, Amer Zeitoun, in 2004. Executive chef at Ossiano, Atlantis The Palm, Grégoire Berger, won Head Chef of the Year — Hotel-Managed while Michele Spadone of Aubaine was crowned Head Chef of the Year — Standalone Restaurant.

Caterer Middle East received almost 300 nominations that were whittled down to six shortlisted nominees per category. A group of independent F&B industry experts were called upon to make the final decisions. This year the panel included some new faces alongside returning judges.

The judges were: Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai director of culinary arts Michael Kitts; The Cutting Edge Agency founder Duncan Fraser-Smith; founder of bar consultancy company Pineapple, Rebecca Sturt; Ròya International general manager of F&B development & operations Andrew Morrow; Brandon Grusd, senior training manager and consultant at Fling Bar Services; ICCA Dubai founder, director & CEO Sunjeh Raja; Lynne Bellinger, founder of Purple Hospitality; Abela & Co corporate chef Colin Campbell; ITP Business editorial director Robert Willock; ITP Business Hospitality Group group editor Devina Divecha; and Caterer Middle East editor Claudia de Brito.

The Caterer Middle East Awards 2017 was sponsored by DMK Group, GEMCO, TSSC, A. Ronai, Unilever, Meat & Livestock Australia, Bragard, MMI, Aramtec, SIAL, Party Social, Newby Teas, and Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino.


Maria Essa Jannina Sinay, Bahri Bar — Jumeirah Mina A'Salam

Bahri Bar’s team leader Maria Essa Jannina Sinay won the title of Bartender of the Year, and was presented her award by MMI’s Andi Senton.

“The room was full of very talented bartenders and professionals, so I feel quite privileged to win such a coveted award,” said Sinay who was the first awardee of the ceremony.

Sinay began her career in Dubai three years ago at Le Royal Méridien, Dubai as a bartender and she has participated in various flair and bartending competitions.

In 2015, she was ranked ninth in the Bols Competition Around the World, backing that up by securing the fifth rank in the Bols Competition for Middle East.

She also finished that year with a third place finish in the Jameson Barrelman Cocktail Competition.

Sinay previously worked in Singapore where her skills won her the title of ‘Best in cocktail Barstylez World bar-tending championship 2013 Singapore’.

“Taking part in these competitions not only boosts my personality but it also lets me learn new things from around the world. The last time I had won the best bartender in the Monin Competition and represented Jumeirah and the UAE in Paris, it just gives me motivation.”

Sinay revealed on days when it’s not going well, her seniors and team members do their best to pick her up. “I want to thank them because they help and push me to overcome the pressure I face sometimes,” she said.

Her involvement in competitions does not however take her focus away from her duties at Bahri Bar, and Sinay has launched a new menu of stylish cocktail creations.

“It’s absolutely important for a bartender to have skill and flair. Yes, it’s all about the bar, but we need to showcase our skills as well. At the end of the day we need to be hospitable [and skills behind the bar go a long way].”


Brendon Charles, Okku Dubai

Okku’s sommelier Brendon Charles was crowned Sommelier of the Year at the Caterer Middle East Awards. 

Charles’ nomination entry noted that “through his passion coupled with fun and interactive training, knowledge throughout the team has advance beyond recognition. As a result, this quickly translated into sales and growth. By involving the team in the process of assessing and choosing the wines available by the glass, Okku was able to bridge the gap between the sommeliers and the team making them junior sommeliers in their own right.”

Charles unfortunately couldn’t make it on the night but the award was collected by Whissle Hospitality Group founder & managing director Markus Thesleff and brand manager Pavlos Frensis from MMI’s Andi Senton.

Speaking to Caterer Middle East about Charles’ impact on the beverage programme at Okku, Thesleff said: “Not only did he develop many innovative programmes and solutions to the Okku wine menus,  more importantly he succeeded in making wine fun and interesting for the rest of the team.

“By involving the team in the process of assessing and choosing the wines available by the glass we were able to bridge the gap between the beverage teams and waiters with many keen to gain their own wine qualifications.” 

Charles, originally from Trinidad and Tobago left home for Georgia, USA for university. After completing a Master of Science degree in International Hotel & Resort Management at Oxford Brookes University, he moved to London. He worked the Intercontinental Park Lane working in the Cookbook Café as a sommelier and at the Theo Randall — learning from some of the city’s best Sommeliers, namely — Alex Arestides of the Cave Wine Bar and at Hakkasan under Olivier Gasselin, before joining Okku Dubai.


Marvin Coelho, Treehouse, TAJ Dubai

Handed over by Horeca Trade business development manager Dana Yakteen, Marvin Coelho fought off tough competition from five other contenders to win.

Highly commended was Fairmont The Palm’s The Cigar Room bar manager Luis Urrea, and other shortlisted nominees included: Ahmed Wahab, Pure — DoubleTree by Hilton; Mohan Narendra Kataria, 360° Dubai; Andy Dunn, Vault Bar, JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai; and Suresh Ramanathan, Uptown Bar, Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

Coelho joined the Taj family in 2014 as an assistant restaurant manager, and was made bar manager at Treehouse a year ago.

Judges were impressed by his green bar which avoids wastage by using leftover fruit for décor and syrups and has exceeded the yearly budget by 64%. He is also heavily involved in the property’s CSR initiatives.

Speaking to Caterer Middle East immediately after he won his award, Coelho admitted he wasn’t expecting to win after considering the high calibre of the finalists in his category.

He said: “We just wanted to be different. The whole concept was around being a greenhouse, offering healthy options, and honestly, weird options.”

These “weird options” include products like cheese, squid ink, and hibiscus sorrel.

His team members dubbed him a ‘wolf pack leader’ when they nominated him for the award, and Coelho said this is due to his efforts to encourage camaraderie amongst the team. He added: “It’s less of a team and more of a family. We have a pack and we’re always together.”


Lock, Stock & Barrel

The judges agreed that Lock, Stock & Barrel has excelled and established itself as a go-to nightlife venue. A recent menu revamp resulted in a 25% increase in food sales and the venue continues to break its own sales records.

Speaking to Caterer Middle East at the awards just after he accepted the award from Sial Middle East’s managing director Joanne Cook, Solutions Leisure Group group operations director Sacha Daniel said: “We’re a big old family. Not just Lock Stock but the whole group. We’re very close to our staff, very close to our team.” When Daniel was asked about the three things that keep the customers coming back, he added: “Big smile, great offers and great ambiance.” The shortlist of nominees included 360°, Jumeirah Beach Hotel; Cave, Conrad Dubai; Nola Eatery & Social House; Pure, DoubleTree by Hilton, and W Lounge at the W Istanbul.

After a spirited debate the judges decided that the highly commended nominee would be W Lounge, W Istanbul saying that it takes a lot of courage to do what they’ve done with the challenges they’ve had to face.

The Caterer Middle East Awards was sponsored by Gold sponsor DMK Group, category sponsors GEMCO, TSSC, A. Ronai, Unilever, Meat & Livestock Australia, Bragard, Aramtec, SIAL, Newby Teas, Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino, beverage sponsor MMI, and event sponsor Party Social.


Cecilla Sharon D’Cruz, Prime68 Steakhouse, JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai

Prime68 Steakhouse server Cecilia Sharon D’Cruz took home the Waiter of the Year award, presented by Newby Tea general manager marketing Karina Abzalova.

The steakhouse is located at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, where D’Cruz has been working for two years. D’Cruz began her hospitality training in Radisson Blu Switzerland as a butler where she learnt her foundation on hospitality career in Business and Hotel Management School.

She then joined the Oberoi Hotel, Mumbai as a butler at the age of 21 and worked there for two years.

D’Cruz’s service motto is ‘all about exceeding expectations and making it personal’.

“I’m happy to be part of Prime68, and I hope I go on to win more awards in my career,” said an elated D’Cruz after she collected her award.

A factor that swayed the award in her favour is the strong rapport she builds with guests and the personal touches she adds to service.

In the two years that Cecilla has been with Prime68, she has played a key role in increasing the number of database additions for the outlet to over 450 with many guests receiving updated information and returning for their next dining experience.

D’Cruz has gone above and beyond her call of duty on a number of occasions; the most memorable was when she created a special evening for a couple staying within the hotel celebrating their honeymoon, by booking a dessert safari, a limousine service all over Dubai and a romantic dinner on a yacht.

“You need to be ready to work hard and not argue with either the guests or your senior managers. Once you put in the hard work, the results will follow — do you best and the rest will come. It’s almost like developing a bond that you would with your family because that leads to lasting impressions,” D’Cruz said.


Vijesh Puthen, Media One Hotel

Vijesh Puthen, chief steward at Dubai’s Media One Hotel won the Chief Steward of the Year title at the Caterer Middle East Awards, which was presented by A. Ronai managing director Gavin Dodd.

He implemented a new well defined breakage monitoring programme in the hotel and verified the result by daily monitoring and updating information to the concerned outlet managers on a daily basis.

This is Puthen’s second time winning the Chief Steward of the Year award. He previously took home the trophy in 2013.

Unfortunately Puthen was unable to attend the event and collect his Chief Steward of the Year award so Girish Babu took to the stage to collect the prize on his behalf.

Puthen started at Media One on 2011 in the role of kitchen steward. His previous job in Dubai was with the Address Hotel, Dubai Marina for 15 months, where he also worked as a steward. Prior to this, his hospitality experience was in Kerala, India when he worked with independent hotels as a steward and waiter. In January 2012, he was promoted to stewarding supervisor as a result of his hard work and positive contributions in the F&B Department. He is now responsible for a team of 10 stewards of mixed nationalities and provides an amazing service to the culinary team and hygiene manager.

Speaking about his accolade he said: “It Is not easy to win an accolade like this once, so I’m over the moon to win it twice! I feel absolutely honoured to be recognised by Caterer Middle East Awards 2017 and owe my thanks to the Media One for their encouragement and support throughout the years. This would never have been possible without my hotel family!”


Jane Nedanoski, The Croft, Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites

The title of Restaurant Manager of the Year was awarded to Jane Nedanoski from The Croft Restaurant & Terrace and presented by MLA international business manager MENA Dr David Beatty.

Nedanoski began his career as a waiter in his home country of Macedonia and later became a part of the pre-opening team of Spice Market by Jean-George in the GCC as an expeditor. He shifted to Okku in Dubai as captain waiter, after which he received the opportunity to work at Table 9 with Nick & Scott at the Hilton Dubai Creek, with Viktorija Paplauskiene where he improved his sommelier skills and managed the cellar. He met Darren Velvick at the same venue where he was then promoted to assistant manager. They eventually joined forces and opened The Croft as part of the Project Canvas initiative by Marriott International.

He told Caterer: “The sommelier side helped me develop a profile but I was definitely seeing myself running a whole restaurant from every aspect.”

Judges commended his ability to develop a concept from scratch and his initiatives and creativity to cut costs and implement revenue generating initiatives.

Nedanoski said while it’s a tricky thing to achieve, he commented: “I do my own way, where you squeeze when it’s needed and release when it’s needed. The guys appreciate that, where I’m involved with them and I’m working with them.”

He continued: “I’ve been in other kitchens where there’s been a massive boundary — but myself and Darren did not want that from the very beginning. It’s a very small team and if you put a boundary it will be a challenge that can lead to catastrophes. We wanted the guys to have a cohesion with each other and it’s been important that we do it right.”


Peter Flieger, Jumeirah Beach Hotel

After a passionate speech from one of the judges, the decision was unanimous. Peter Flieger, executive chef of Jumeirah Beach Hotel was referred to as a craftsman, a master baker and a standout figure in the regional pastry industry.

Speaking to Caterer Middle East at the awards Flieger said: “I’m not grasping credit for myself. I see this as a team effort so whatever I get, I divide it among my team. You’re nobody without your team.”

After decades of dedication to his craft, many members of the regional F&B industry look up to Flieger. When asked about what advice he would have for aspiring chefs, Flieger added: “Just go into it. It’s a wonderful profession. It’s hard work, it’s long hours but I’m still excited to wake up in the morning and go to work.”

Flieger began his career in Austria in 1976 and after stints in the Philippines and China, landed in the UAE at Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Hotel. He is responsible for the pastry requirements of the luxury resort’s 618 rooms, all F&B outlets, banqueting facilities and Latitude Creations, the in-house bakery shop. The Austrian national is also a keen ambassador of waste management and develops recipes that incorporate unwanted produce.

Shortlisted nominees included: Alannah Doe, Savarin; David Sanderson, Bull & Roo Hospitality and Investments; Fabrice Meynet, Royal Catering; Francesco Aquaviva, Social by Heinz Beck, Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah and Sebastien Charrier, Aubaine.

The judges decided that Alannah Doe of Savarin should be highly commended in the category for the commitment, perseverance and creativity with which she undertakes her work (including coming to work in a wheelchair when she was injured).

The award was presented by Aramtec sales & marketing manager Riyadh Hassan.


Faisal Kaniyan, Dubai World Trade Centre

Faisal Kaniyan bagged the prestigious ‘Kitchen Hero of the Year’ title at the 2017 Caterer Middle East Awards.

Kaniyan was not present at the event as he was travelling; his colleague, Abdul Aziz, chief steward at the Dubai World Trade Centre, collected the award on his behalf.

Aziz said: “With this award and the recognition that comes with it, he [Kaniyan] can go anywhere, because the company has given this opportunity. This award will enable him to pursue better job opportunities and it will now motivate him to work harder.

“The award will allow him to rise in the department, the management will also recommend a higher position for him.” Aziz added: “He always is positive and has a smile on his face, no matter what the circumstances. He’s very capable, and he definitely deserves this award.”

An ecstatic Kaniyan, who collected his award a few days afer the ceremony, told Caterer Middle East that he wasn’t expecting it at all. “This award truly means a lot to me and my career, my aim is to work harder and get recognised further,” he said.

DMK marketing manager MENA Daniel Deliano presented the award.


M. Oliver Zeitoun, Maki Group

The judges were impressed with the mark that M. Oliver Zeitoun and the Kuwait-based hospitality group that he founded have made on the regional dining scene.

The restaurateur lives in and “lives” his restaurants. Thus, both back-­of­-house and front­-of­-house staff are constantly motivated to create, improve, and do their best to live up to his vision. Zeitoun treats his staff like family, listening to their suggestions, and working with them on a personal level.

Unfortunately, Zeitoun was not able to attend the awards ceremony but Maki Group operations manager Toufic Salloum was on hand to collect the trophy which was presented  by Gavin Dodd, managing director of A. Ronai.

Upon being united with his award shortly after the ceremony, Zeitoun was asked by Caterer Middle East if he had any advice for budding restaurateurs in the region: “Be yourself! Do not try to copy others. Instead, get inspired, research, and work hard on your concept(s). Endeavour and strive to come up with new, original ideas, and be open-minded to accept criticism and rejection. Build on it. Be ready to be ‘married’ to your concept. Place a lot of time into it, and you will reap the rewards sooner or later. Achieve financial prosperity through happiness and not the other way around!”

Cedric Touissaint of Coya Middle East was highly commended in this category and other shortlisted nominees included: Jonathan Vercoutre and Julien Pilard concept developers for Bistro Des Arts and Publique; Kunal Lahori, CEO and founder of Create Hospitality; Bhupender Nath, MD and founder of Passion F&B and Umut Özkanca, founder of concepts including Masa, Borsa, Parle and Rüya Dubai.


Grégoire Berger, Ossiano, Atlantis, The Palm

In a unanimous decision, Grégoire Berger from Ossiano at Atlantis, The Palm was awarded the coveted title of Head Chef of the Year — Hotel-Managed Outlet at the Caterer Middle East Awards 2017.

Berger was presented his trophy by Aramtec sales and marketing manager Armel Van Erck and the highly commended nominee in this category was The Croft Dubai head chef Darren Velvick.

One of the judges said during the judging ceremony that “his food was out of this world” and all agreed that his skill with culinary creations was very high.

This is something Berger has always worked towards improving, telling Caterer that he dreams about the Michelin guide coming to Dubai. He added: “I want to continue to win things but I want to keep getting better. I will continue to work hard.”

His restaurant, Ossiano, has the lowest wastage levels of all restaurants in the resort, and the highest profit margin.

Berger is also a proponent of all things sustainable, and he says: “We drew up a menu that is very intelligent because we make sure that we use everything. We have different techniques but I work closely with Badr [Benryane, restaurant manager of Ossiano] to make sure that everything is going to be sold.”

Berger talks of his restaurant manager with great respect, and he added: “I do believe that the waiters are our eyes and ears, and if we don’t work together, for sure the product delivery will not be good. When Badr joined me, we found we have the same craziness.”

He credits the management at Atlantis, The Palm for also supporting him throughout his endeavours.


Michele Spadone, Aubaine, The Dubai Mall

Aubaine’s head chef Michele Spadone was was named Head Chef of the Year — Standalone Restaurant at the Caterer Middle East Awards.

Spadone was presented with the coveted award by Fabien Firetto, director Middle East for Bragard.

Spadone began his career at Aubaine as a sous chef at central London’s Selfridge’s in 2011. The determined Spadone moved from sous chef in the UK to head chef in Dubai in just four years.

According to his nomination form, ”his talent, determination and adventurous nature led him to successfully volunteer to take on the role of head chef at Aubaine restaurant in the Dubai Mall”. 

Speaking to Caterer Middle East at the event, Spadone said: “I’m in shock. Wow. I’m overwhelmed at receiving the award. I definitely wasn’t expecting to win and I must congratulate my fellow nominees in my category.”

“This award is dedicated to my team as without them I wouldn’t be able to do what I love everyday. In the UAE, the most important thing is pleasing customers and adapting the dish to their taste buds,” he added.

Spadone saw off stiff competition in the category. Highly commended in this category was Roudy Petersen from Catch Restaurant & Lounge. Other nominees included Francesco Guarracino from Roberto’s Abu Dhabi, Louis Kenji Huang from Maki Bahrain, Shane Macneill from Novikov and Cinu Chandran from Urban Bistro.


Emirates Leisure Retail Events Team

Emirates Leisure Retail Events Team took home the events catering team of the year award at the 2017 Caterer Middle East awards.

Emirates Leisure Retail manage the F&B for the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby 7s, Taste of Dubai and the European Tour: Race to Dubai, to mention a few.

Over the year, the catering service provider has provide its services to more than 200,000 guests, at over 30 events with a relatively small team.

“The way we do it is we offer the guests an enhanced F&B experience and provide a diverse range of offerings. That’s happens when we listen to our guests, partners and all our stakeholders, who demand nothing less than perfection all the time,” said Kevan Hodges, general manager — bars and restaurants and food development, Emirates Leisure Retail, to Caterer Middle East.

“We draw on the expertise and support of the wider ELR Bars & Restaurants team to facilitate these events, utilising internal experts within our business,” Hodges added.

Emirates Leisure Retail found particular success with the Food Truck Village it launched at the 2016 Rugby 7s. This lead to an impressive six-figure increase in sales from this area alone.

In 2016 Emirates Leisure Retail also introduced an RFID payment system for the Rugby 7s, enabling the company to track customer spend patterns across the site, accurately track stock usage and peak traffic times. “For 2017, this will enable us to better plan the staffing, stocking and locations of the F&B outlets for this event,” said the winners on the night.

The award was presented to the Emirates Leisure Hospitality representatives by DMK’s marketing assistant Safwat Jabi.


Claw BBQ, Crabshack and Grill

The team from Claw BBQ, Crabshack and Grill clinched an impressive casual dining win at the Caterer Awards 2017.

The winning team which was part of the Whissle Hospitality Group’s winning trifecta on the night made a favourable impression on everyone including the judging panel who were unanimous in their decision.

This restaurant which has consistently performed well in terms of profitability and customer service was highly commended in this category last year.

After an emphatic celebration, the whole team went up on stage to collect the award from GEMCO regional food service manager, Manika Saxena.

Speaking to Caterer Middle East about his team, Whissle Hospitality Group founder and MD Markus Theleff said: “They’re not just ambassadors for the brand, they are the brand. They live and breathe it.”

Fellow nominee CaféM at the Media One Hotel was highly commended in this category.

Other shortlisted nominees included: Dhow & Anchor, Jumeirah Beach Hotel; Garden, JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai; The Noodle House, Dubai Mall and Seven Sands.

This year’s edition of the Caterer Middle East Awards was sponsored by Gold sponsor DMK Group, category sponsors GEMCO, TSSC, A. Ronai, Unilever, Meat & Livestock Australia, Bragard, Aramtec, SIAL, Newby Teas, Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino, beverage sponsor MMI and event sponsor Party Social.


La Tablita, Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights

One of the big team awards of the Caterer Middle East Awards was Restaurant Team of the Year — Hotel-Managed Outlet, which was presented to La Tablita from Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights.

Going up on stage to receive the award on the night were chef de cuisine Daniel Hurtado and restaurant manager Isaac Adam from Unilever’s chef David El Bitar.

The team fought off competition from: Naya, Jumeirah Beach Hotel; Noire, Dining in the Dark Restaurant, Fairmont Dubai; Ossiano, Atlantis, The Palm; and The Croft, Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites, with Bab El Nil Restaurant, Fairmont Nile City making it to the highly commended rank.

Officially opening in January 2016, 85% of La Tablita’s team originates from Latin America, with the majority of their front-of-house staff members coming from Mexico. A total of 21 team members are employed at the venue, with 13 front-of-house staff, and eight back-of-house.

Hurtado added that one of the secrets to the restaurant’s success is employing people who understood the ethos of the restaurant.

Adam agreed and said: “It’s been challenging every day but I’d like to say that we try to maintain the authenticity of our Mexican cuisine.”

He said he was proud that it wasn’t just Mexican customers who appreciated the team’s work, but with guests from all over the world, the restaurant has struck a wider audience.

The judges were definitely impressed by the team’s commitment to serving authentic Mexican food. This venue’s level of service, as well as the fact that its restaurant manager is one of the only certified master Tequiliers in Dubai struck a chord with the judges.


Okku Dubai

Okku Dubai bagged one of the most desirable awards at the 2017 Caterer Middle East Awards — the Restaurant Team of the Year — Independent Outlet title.

Okku’s team was presented the award for Restaurant Team of the Year — Independent Outlet by Rashid Bahar, business development manager of TSSC.

With a staff of 44 employees, 17 in back-of-house and 27 in the front-of-house section, Okku has evolved with the ever-changing scenery of Dubai.

Okku successfully drove down food costs with a menu consisting of over 250 curated items, throughout the entire year and most dramatically in 2016 Q4 and 2017 Q1. The judges were impressed by the fact that the team managed to drop costs by 8.76% in order to stay competitive.

Speaking to Caterer Middle East at the awards, Whissle Hospitality Group founder & managing director Markus Thesleff said: “We have two new exciting things coming up and we can’t wait to reveal it to you by the end of the year.”

“This says everything about this family, we’re one big family from the guys in our kitchen to our sommelier winning tonight and this is a team win. We’re nothing without our team,” Thesleff said.

Whissle Hospitality Group were victorious in three categories with wins for Okku’s Brendon Charles — Sommelier of the Year, Claw BBQ Crabshack & Grill  for Casual Dining Team of the Year and Okku for Independent Restaurant Team of the Year. Okku’s Dimitris Panopulos also received a highly commended nod in the Waiter of the Year category.

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