The executive chef at Ascot Racecourse for Sodexo, who was shortlisted for a Foodservice Catey last year, talks to Katey Pigden
How did it feel to be shortlisted for a Foodservice Catey?
It was a great honour and personal achievement to be shortlisted in such a prestigious and competitive field. I have always aspired to reach the height of being named as a Foodservice Catey nominee, and I can proudly say I have now achieved that.
What does your day job as executive chef at Ascot Racecourse for Sodexo involve?
Anything and everything to do with the food and beverage offer at Ascot Racecourse: tending to the client's needs and developing innovative and creative menus and concepts to offer to our wide array of clients and customers.
How long have you been working for the company, and what attracted you to it?
I have worked for the company for almost 20 years, with 20 Royal Ascots under my belt. The initial attraction to the company was its core values, team spirit and passion for investing in its people.
What was your first role in hospitality?
My first role in the hospitality industry was working as commis chef at the members' restaurants at various racecourses across the south of the UK. I worked in the role for a year before I progressed to chef de partie, then to head chef, and I recently acquired the role of executive chef. This was all down to the support and investment from Sodexo.
Was it an enjoyable experience? What did you learn from it?
I learnt what the demands and needs are for working in a high-pace and demanding business sector. I have been privileged enough to work with Michelin-starred chefs, developing my skill-set and being allowed to create my own vision, which I am now able to implement into our menus. I am very passionate about my role and the career I have enjoyed, being able to develop myself as an individual and the teams that I have worked with throughout my 20-year stint in the company.
Did you have a different career path in mind originally?
I trained as a pastry chef, and originally intended to continue down this path to become a head pastry chef, but after a year of working within the event sector, I decided that my vision and passion was to be an executive chef and lead an outstanding team.
What would you change about the contract catering industry or hospitality industry as a whole? And what do you dislike about it?
I would like to change people's mindsets with regard to how they stereotype contract catering as being based on high-volume, low-quality menus and ingredients. The contract catering industry has seen a huge step change in recent years, with innovation and quality at the forefront of menu design and concepts that we deliver across our retail, fine dining and conference banqueting businesses.
Who or what inspires you?
My menu inspiration comes from the natural ingredients we can source from our local area, with a focus on provenance and sustainability. With regard to my day-to-day work, my team are a great inspiration. They are consistently driven to produce the best results and work extensively long hours under high pressure. I have worked closely with my team to make sure we come to work with a smile on our faces and we are able to enjoy every day.
What are your plans for 2017?
Next year will see further innovation and improvement in our menus. A big focus for us will be to develop our retail offer and introduce new grab and go offers that are on-trend, sustainable and high-quality. We will continue to expand our team and our offers at Ascot. Change is an exciting concept as we will be able to distribute our vision across a wider spectrum.