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Tom Parry has been executive head chef at Jockey Club Catering’s flagship site, Cheltenham Racecourse, for four years. In that time he has used his experience – which includes time at Wembley Stadium, the London 2012 Olympics, the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, and mobilising the catering at the Formula One in the US – to keep the course’s catering at pace with the world-class racing.
Parry is responsible for all food offers, recipes and chef development on site as well as ensuring the execution of all catering, from hospitality, fine dining and retail. Naturally, the biggest operation of the year is the annual Cheltenham Festival, which attracts some 250,000 punters over four days of jump racing.
During this epic catering operation, Parry and his team of 400 chefs operate 15 restaurants, 72 retail catering units and 240 private boxes serving more than 40,000 four-course hospitality meals from 65 kitchens. More than 60% of these operations take place in temporary structures, including the Chez Roux restaurant and private boxes.
With guests to the racecourse having ever greater expectations, Parry has introduced a new concept to the course, Theatre@ the Festival. This year he also introduced the PLUSE deli range, which is now being rolled out to all 13 Jockey Club Racecourses retail outlets. The range includes homemade sandwiches, filled speciality breads, seasonal specials, salad boxes and breakfast pots.
Parry is passionate about using local suppliers, and he uses ingredients from producers within the wider Cheltenham area. As well as sourcing meat from local farms, all of the cheese used is produced within 50 miles, while all salmon is cured or smoked within 50 miles (Severn and Wye), while 70% of fruit and vegetables are from the UK. That’s no mean feat when you take into account the scale of the operation.
Sustainability doesn’t stop at local sourcing. Parry has championed segregation of waste in kitchens and holds monthly conference calls with departmental ‘Green Champions’, while a waste company is invited to brief managers at the Festival. As a result, food waste recycling has gone up from 50% in 2015 to 70% in 2017.
All this work has led to significant financial success too, with staff retention up along with improved sales for both race day and private weddings, conferences, exhibitions and dinner parties. Meanwhile, almost all feedback on hospitality was excellent or good across the site during the Cheltenham Festival – no easy task when serving more than 40,000 meals.
As Ian Renton, regional director for Cheltenham Racecourse, said: “Tom’s impact on the level and standard of catering here at Cheltenham Racecourse has been huge. We have really pushed the boundaries with what is offered.”
What the judges said
“The smooth running of the business and his staff retention on such a scale is truly impressive. His staff love working for him. He’s big on minimising environmental impact and provenance, which is admirable too.”
Dennis Mwakulua, executive chef, Schroders
“With an enviable record of customer satisfaction and quality, while serving an incredible amount of meals, Tom galloped ahead of the competition in this category.”
Hayden Groves, executive chef, BaxterStorey
“His ability to drive the business forward across all areas is inspiring.”
Steve Groves, head chef, Roux at Parliament Square
Darren Archer CH&Co Venues
Tom Parry Jockey Club Catering
2017 Steve Groves Roux at Parliament Square
The Chef of the Year Award was split into two categories in 2016 to reflect the advance of private and public sites
2016 Steve Land Gather & Gather
2015 Hayden Groves BaxterStorey
2014 Nick Vadis Compass Group
2013 Rob Kirby Lexington Catering