Smoked eel review wins AA Gill Award for 2020

Posted on: October 5, 2020 by Claire Meadows

A writer who reviewed a celebrated smoked eel sandwich at Quo Vadis has been announced as the winner of the 2020 AA Gill Award for Emerging Food Critics. 

The Award, launched in association with the Society of Editors, was founded last year to honour the late Sunday Times reviewer AA Gill. This year’s prize was awarded to waitress Jemma Paek with her piece published in The Sunday Times yesterday.

Announced by the late writer’s daughter Flora Gill, the brilliance of Paek’s piece, she said, was that it reflected public sentiment and uncertainty amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

She added: “The winning piece, by Jemma Paek, a waitress at the restaurant Quo Vadis in Soho, was chosen because it perfectly encapsulates this strange moment in time, set around a simple review of an eel sandwich.

“The brilliance of the piece is that it reflects the emotions and experiences of so many across the country: the camaraderie, the anxiety and the uncertainty — and the value in sharing a meal when you don’t know what the next day will bring.

The award was judged by Gill alongside Sunday Times food critic Marina O’Loughlin, Jeremy Clarkson, the Sunday Times Magazine’s Dish editor Lisa Markwell, the restaurateur Jeremy King and the Society of Editors Executive Director Ian Murray.

Announcing the winner, Gill said that the coronavirus had presented a fundamental problem for this year’s awards given that lockdown has meant no restaurants were open when the call for entries was announced in April. Widening the parameters on what entrants could review, entries were open to a piece of writing that covered a restaurant or the memory of a restaurant experience, including service, atmosphere and wine; or the wider subject of food by delivery, or takeaway. 

The runners-up were Zahra Al Asaadi in second place and Caroline O’Donoghue in third. The judges said that Al Asaadi’s piece on going out for shawarma “wowed the judges” and was “evocative and emotive”. O’Donghue’s “lyrical piece” on searching for sustenance in rural Co Kerry was praised by the judges for being “imaginatively structured and witty”. Both pieces can be read here.

Paek will receive a prize of £5,000 alongside the publication of her review in The Dish.