It's less than five months before the world focuses on the competition - and cuisine - on offer at London 2012. Ahead of the Arena Savoy lecture, Olympic catering chief Jan Matthews tells James Stagg what has been achieved and the legacy it will leave.
We've now less than five months until the 2012 Olympics. How are the catering preparations progressing? We are in good shape. Delivery partners are into full-on recruitment and we're working on delivering test events.
We did a lot of events last summer and there are more happening on the Olympic Park now and going forward. Next week we have the senior diving championships, which provide an opportunity for the athletes to test the facilities as well as us.
What are the key elements you're looking for at these practice events? We're basically testing we've got the right processes in place and that things work the way we thought they would - things like whether people queue the way we expect.
It's such a steep learning curve that we need to establish issues right away. When they opened Wembley, the first three months offered the chance to test various situations. But we'll be in and out in three months. We need to make sure before we're in there we've done as much as we possibly can.
The test events in the summer really helped. It bonds the team together, too, as it's the first time that separate function areas come together. Understanding how each other works is paramount. We start feeding people on 18 April so we've already got kitchens being built.
How have the contractors found sourcing equipment? What will they do with it all afterwards? When we wrote the Food Vision we said we wanted to try to bring the manufacturers into the process. So we've done a number of sale and lease-back deals where caterers are leasing equipment for the games and the manufacturer will then take it back and use it in schools, prisons and hospitals at a reduced cost.
Caterers are also renting quite a lot of kit. Because we were out early and had a clear vision of what we wanted to do, people have been able to plan and secure what they've needed.
Though there are many people unemployed, caterers are still finding it tough to find staff. How do you support them with their resource needs in terms of staffing? I think the challenge is always the skill set element. Because of the volume we need, chefs de partie and sous chefs are the challenges. To be fair we started early and our HR department has been helping all the contractors in setting up interview days and workshops.
We've worked with the five boroughs around the Olympics site to get long-term unemployed to a level of employability.
The caterers have been talking to the colleges and universities since 2009 about bringing in students and that's working well. A number of caterers have relationships with colleges and are using students and lecturers to help both front and back of house.
At the moment we're doing all right. If you're on a gap year, where else would you rather be in 2012? So there are an awful lot of youngsters up for doing something during the games. The caterers are reporting great interest.
The Food Vision is quite stretching for caterers. Has everyone dealt with it as you'd expected? We set this out really early so that everyone knew what was coming. We spelt out what we needed them to do. A number of companies were doing part of it, more or less. But now all of the meat has to be Red Tractor assured, we specify Fairtrade tea and coffee, and we're looking for Freedom Food chicken and pork where possible.
The volumes are enormous and need to be available during a short period. Are there enough accredited products to cope? There are. The challenge with, say, the Freedom Food chicken is that there is a finite amount that can be supplied in the time frame, but we've found that there's enough. The likes of Sainsbury's sell significant amounts of Freedom Food chicken. Now we're asking for significant volumes and they are available.
Have you been working with accreditation bodies to ensure those that do meet requirements can are assessed? The accreditation bodies have also helped sourcing and have gone round on our behalf, validating that we are using the required products.
The only area where we have a challenge is that we need liquid coffee in the athletes village because of the volume (there are 7,500 athletes and we'll do about 4,000 cups of coffee each morning). We can't find Fairtrade liquid coffee so we're working with them to find what their view is on the best coffee we should use.
How have caterers been encouraged to work with smaller suppliers? We've held "meet the buyer" days. For instance, we've introduced a small company from the East End that makes sourdough to operators and it's now supplying a Michelin-starred restaurant. Also, a company that was formed by two homeless people who make great products is now supplying two major caterers.
Do you think there will be a legacy? From our perspective there's a legacy already. London has been established as the sustainable fish city off the back of the Food Vision for the Olympics. We said we wanted all MSC fish. That's legacy already.
You don't change the way you procure to the extent that these guys have if you're not going to do it longer term. What we do know is that government procurement for the police, army and hospitals are adopting the assurance standards we've got in the Food Vision. There's legacy there as well.
We've also got caterers who have committed to taking people on full-time after the games through the work they're doing with our human resources department. There are young people recruited from the five boroughs who, if they hit certain targets, are guaranteed a job.
Is there a new commitment in terms of the supply chain? We know that the number of catering butchers that have registered with Red Tractor has doubled since we put our vision out. There will now be a Red Tractor standard for salads and sandwiches, which there has never been before.
I think the big legacy is going to be that we provide the choice and diversity and have the chance to change opinions of British food.
How big has the task been? It's huge and sometimes because our heads are down getting on with it we forget the enormity of what has been achieved already and what we can look forward to in the industry afterwards.
The industry has worked together like never before. From the farmer to the plate, people have been talking. I think it will leave us in a really good place. It hasn't been easy, but this will really benefit UK Plc.
THE ARENA SAVOY LECTURE 2012
Hospitality's premier networking association, Arena, has been helping build relationships across the hospitality industry for nearly three decades. Arena events draw operators, suppliers and consultants, making them an excellent opportunity to broaden your professional network.
Past speakers have represented all aspects of hospitality. They include Lord Sebastian Coe, Booker chief executive Charles Wilson, Compass group chief executive Richard Cousins, TGI Friday's managing director Karen Forrester and Surinder Arora, chairman of the Arora International Hotel Group.
Jan Matthews will be delivering Arena's 2012 Savoy Lecture on Tuesday 20 March. Her theme will be "Catering for the 2012 Games: Myths, Legends and Legacies".
For further details, go to www.arena.org.uk
WORLD LARDER… FOOD QUANTITIES AT THE OLYMPIC VILLAGE
â- 14 million meals across the games
â- 25,000 loaves of bread
â- 232 tonnes of potatoes
â- More than 82 tonnes of seafood
â- 31 tonnes of poultry
â- More than 100 tonnes of meat
â- 75,000 litres of milk
â- 19 tonnes of eggs
â- 21 tonnes of cheese
â- 330 tonnes of fruit and vegetables