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Mike Sunley, managing director at Lexington Catering

Mike Sunley, managing director at Lexington Catering

When Lexington Catering catered for the opening of Cancer Research’s Cambridge Research Institute in the presence of the Queen last month, the meal had to be cooked in a field. Managing director Mike Sunley talks to Amanda Afiya

Tell us about the event.

Cancer Research has just completed a state-of-the-art research centre and, as the patron of the charity, the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, opened the building. Cancer Research invited 250 people who have a connection with the charity. Once lunch was over, we had a Champagne reception for 250 local volunteers, and we finished with a buffet for 400 Cancer Research staff.

Was it part of a contract?

We do have the group contract with Cancer Research, but this would normally be out of the scope of our agreement as it was on Cambridge University land.

Did anything go wrong?

The event went very smoothly, but then it should have done, as the team put a huge effort into the planning stages. No major incidents – although the sniffer dogs became challenged by the smell of hot bacon rolls first thing in the morning (it was Duchy of Cornwall bacon, so we were “keeping it in the family”). We also had a last-minute dash to the supermarket to purchase the duke’s favourite tipple, Greene King IPA.

What’s the biggest challenge when cooking from a marquee?

That it doesn’t blow away. The event was really about logistics. We thought long and hard about equipment needed, style of service, etc, and on the day it really paid off, as everything was planned down to the smallest detail.

What was on the menu?

A trio of salmon followed by individual shepherd’s pie with best end of lamb and finished with a lychee bavarois with passion fruit jelly and coconut ice-cream. We took into account flavours, seasonality, balance and achieving the highest standard out of a field kitchen. We knew these dishes were deliverable from a marquee and we could achieve a real “wow” when the plates hit the table.

Does the Queen have any dietary requirements?

The Queen opened the event but left the Duke of Edinburgh to host the lunch. We were given the guidance that they like unfussy food, so when we planned the menu we had to think about creating an impact but with simple, well-cooked ingredients.

Any tips for catering for these kind of events?

Organisation, organisation, organisation – and a good team to deliver the vision.

As MD, what was your role on the day?

We have a brilliant team of people who are infinitely capable of organising events such as this without my interference. I get the hint they’ve had enough of me when I’m put on Champagne-opening duty.

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