The awards are actually quite a feverish event, and not just because of all the lovely wines, bubbles and food (the Scotch beef cooked in a Big Green Egg was one of those mind-altering things you occasionally eat) but because of the intensity of the enthusiasm of the attendees. I don't know if the old adage that writers, who spend so much of their time alone, go at social gatherings with greater alacrity applies here, but it could be a factor.
Food in the UK has become so democratic - anybody can have a fine, authentic meal for a moderate price - and good food writing is easy to find too. In fact, one of the most interesting things about food writing, perhaps more than any other subject, is the way that blogs can very quickly become hugely popular, and the Guild's awards recognise this. In publishing, food books become big sellers and there is a proliferation of books that are beautiful things in themselves, especially the hybrid travel/food books.
So with over three hundred writers, chefs and publishers gathered together to celebrate all of that, you would be forgiven for expecting to hear lots of pretentious twaddle - but not a bit of it, certainly not in the many conversations I had. Maybe that's a British thing; it might be the case that a gathering of Swiss chefs would be as haughty as it comes. At OHP last night, the overwhelming impression was of genuine passion for all things food, with people excitedly telling each other about restaurants, or other blogs, or recipes their aunt had. There were some great stories too, like that of Elly McCausland and her blog Nutmegs Seven, which won Blog of the Year. She is an Oxford graduate who started writing about food to get Chaucer out of her head, and who, despite her success, is still upping sticks to go to Denmark to do two years academic research into children's literature (I don't know why, but I found that very cool indeed).
Or the more starry Russell Norman, founder of the hugely successful Polpo, who won for a book about food in New York, and still wants to hear great restaurant recommendations and talk animatedly about Cacio e pepe.
Everybody eats food of course, and it shouldn't really seem out of the ordinary that a gathering of people who make their living out of grub would be enthusiastic about it, yet there was something unusual, to my mind at least, about the all-consuming thrill they seemed to feel. I like to cook, but writing about it is not something I could ever do because I think there is a very particular skill in elevating, by description, what is our most basic human need (reviews on TripAdvisor don't count). I can scarcely write a list of ingredients for the things I make, so I have a high regard for those who successfully turn food into art on a page.
Congratulations to all the winners.