When Porsche opened its Driving Experience Centre at Silverstone, it didn't expect catering to be a big focus for customers. The company has been pleasantly surprised, as Janie Stamford reports
Need to know
The Porsche Driving Experience Centre opened its doors at Silverstone in November 2008 with the primary purpose of acting as an extension to the supercar sales process. As Porsche began to broaden the centre's functions to include car launches, press days and dealership training, James Taylor (who heads up the Porsche driving experience) and BaxterStorey managing director John Bennett began exploring ways to use the centre outside the core opening hours of 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
"When they let the contract food was important," Bennett explains. "But at the time Porsche saw it as simply necessary, not as part of the key activity." Positive feedback from visitors surprised to find the catering amounted to much more than a basic bacon sandwich soon convinced the client otherwise.
The idea to launch a series of culinary evenings, led by celebrated chefs, called Fuel Your Passion was inspired by BaxterStorey's collaboration with Nigel Haworth as well as the Michelin-starred chef's book, Obsession, celebrating 10 years of Haworth's food festival of the same name. Four evenings have been planned for this year, beginning with Haworth, followed by his protégé and Great British Menu winner Lisa Allen, and fellow BaxterStorey consultant chef John Campbell of Coworth Park. The last chef is still to be confirmed.
The Fuel Your Passion evenings are expected to have a broad, three-strand appeal. In addition to the "depositors" (buyers who visit the centre to browse the optional extras available for their ordered car), a number of Porsche's key suppliers - such as Bose, Panasonic and Michelin - have expressed an interest in making use of the space. The marketing company responsible for promoting the centre will also market the Fuel Your Passion evenings to its audience of large corporate firms. The target audience will be predominantly UK based but the global Porsche business has already held an event at the Silverstone centre, which was attended by the marketing and managing directors for all the main countries out of which the car manufacturer trades.
Porsche was initially keen to run the Fuel Your Passion evenings monthly, while also opening the restaurant to the public in the evenings one or two nights a week. However, BaxterStorey is keen to develop the business more organically in order to capitalise on the already significant consumer interest. "If we can grow on that it should be a real success," Bennett says. "But if we suddenly flood the market with a new idea, then that possibly might not be so popular."
How we stand out
The proposition of Michelin-quality fine-dining within the Porsche environment is unique. When BaxterStorey initially pitched for the contract it was with the expectation of catering for around 60 customers a day, but Bennett says it has grown beyond recognition. "We embraced what they were looking for, which was something more cutting edge. I did the pitch with our executive head chef, Danny Hardy, who was instrumental in setting up the operation," he adds. With a 9am slot in which to sell the BaxterStorey offer, Hardy prepared a selection of breads, low-fat savoury muffins and energiser shots at his home that morning in order to fully demonstrate the company's professed commitment to fresh produce.
While BaxterStorey, like all caterers, has a preferred supplier list, it has worked to garner support from suppliers local to the site, which Bennett says was key from an environmental point of view. He says: "At face value there appears to be a slight conflict when you consider the contract is with Porsche, but in actual fact they take CSR very seriously. Porsche has the only supercar with reduced CO2 emissions."
With guidance from John Campbell, the caterer has worked with Porsche to develop the kitchen. It started out as quite minimalist, but with the addition of key equipment such as sous-vides and steamers the kitchen was made much more user-friendly and able to cope with the demands of the BaxterStorey chefs, who prefer to make most products on site. As a result, the bulk of orders consist of just core ingredients.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE FOOD
The catering has become very well known within Porsche circles because it has surpassed expectations. The centre receives a great deal of written feedback and, without exception, every letter has mentioned the food. "It is of a much higher standard than people expect," Bennett says.
As a result, the Porsche UK managing director, who initially thought that the fine-dining food offer was perhaps a little too refined, was moved to bring Porsche personnel from around the world to Silverstone in order to share the experience.
The guest chefs at the Fuel Your Passion evenings are given carte blanche to devise their menus with innovation and creativity and a similar faith is placed in the everyday kitchen brigade. The only boundaries that the BaxterStorey chefs must work within are budgetary. Porsche actively encourages them to "play" with the food, which has resulted in no set menu - it constantly changes.
BaxterStorey has developed the use of sous-vide at the Porsche Centre, in order to make sure the food remains high in quality but versatile to shifting schedules.
JOHN BENNETT'S REVELATIONS
Favourite hotel Gleneagles. It's very relaxing and an embracing experience, whatever the reason for your stay.
Favourite restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, which luckily is just two miles from my home.
What book has inspired you Papillon by Henri Charrière: it's about someone who through all adversity managed to succeed; and a text book called Competitive Advantage by Michael Porter, which stood out to me during my MBA and it helped me understand how business works.
If you weren't in catering, what would you have been? An architect, I love building and buildings.
Which hospitality provider do you most admire? A restaurant in the ski resort Port du Soleil. Whatever the weather, the chef cooks from a BBQ outside, producing amazing food in an unforgiving environment, always with a smile and fantastic service.
Describe your business in five words Fun, busy all-encompassing, delicious.
FACTS AND STATS
Manager Lilly Hall
Chef director Adam Nossek
Staff Core of six, up to 50 during peak times
Weekly visitors 300-1,200
Average weekly turnover £6,000-£7,000, peaks at £50,000 during the Grand Prix