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Tom Allen, Food Development Director, Independents by Sodexo
“This week, eight intrepid chefs from independents by Sodexo will swap their usual pupil customers, for race-goers, at one of the world’s most famous social and sporting events. As part of their ongoing training, I’ll be taking a team of chefs from our schools to support celebrity chef James Tanner to prepare lunch for up to 600 race-goers at Royal Ascot each day.
Royal Ascot is one of the showcase events for Sodexo’s sports and leisure business. As the official hospitality partner to Ascot racecourse, our Sodexo teams operate more than 100 bars and food outlets and 225 private boxes. During Royal Ascot week, we run 39 professional kitchens, 25 in the Grandstand, plus one for every two boxes, and our regular 163 full-time employees are supported by more than 6,500 temporary staff. The logistics are staggering; during the five days of the Royal Meeting racegoers consume 240,000 hand-crafted afternoon tea cakes, 60,000 finger sandwiches and 3,500 fresh lobsters.
Swapping our usual dining halls and kitchens, we’ll be adding to those statistics working at the Queen Anne Kitchen, an á la carte restaurant, which offers an informal, al fresco dining experience. The menu, devised by James, is inspired by his connections in the West Country and Kent, and features signature dishes such as West Country crab salad with avocado and grapefruit and dark chocolate mousse with Kentish strawberries.
At Independents by Sodexo, we are passionate about great food and using seasonal and fresh ingredients to serve creative, healthy and delicious meals. For our chef scholars, who are generally a couple of years into working with us, working at Royal Ascot is an invaluable experience of cooking and serving delicious high-end food under considerable pressure. It takes our chefs out of their comfort zone, building incredible confidence and new skills. As a team we also get to network with Sodexo’s wider culinary team, which helps build our wider community.
Andy Voice, chef at Eton Dorney, who was part of the Ascot team commented; “It was fantastic to have the opportunity to work with James Tanner and to experience Ascot first-hand. Our hospitality operation there is vast and the pace is incredible. It’s given me a real respect for the chefs in that side of our business and made me ambitious to try different things and take some of the learnings back.”
Through our chef scholar programme we dedicate significant time and resource to building the skills of our chefs, offering them the chance to work at world-class events such as Royal Ascot or the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, as well as taking part in culinary company such as Hotelympia, where the team saw great success earlier this year. These experiences all help us achieve our ultimate goal; delivering innovative and inspiring school food.
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