Thomas Rhodes, Executive Head Chef, Twickenham Stadium

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th August 2018

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Thomas Rhodes started his career in the kitchen washing pots aged 15 at a small restaurant in Cheshire. He has since cooked in some of the biggest venues in the UK including Old Trafford and now he is the executive head chef at Twickenham.

He has also spent time at The Fat Duck and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, looking to be inspired ahead of developing his own menus for over 7,500 people on a match day.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Thomas about why he chose to go in to corporate dining, how he deals with the chef shortage when he is recruiting 200 chefs to cover a match day and why one day he would like to leave the big numbers behind and open his own restaurant.

Strawberry set cream, tarragon fluid gel, lemon curd meringue and hazelnut crumb

Strawberry set cream, tarragon fluid gel,

lemon curd meringue

and hazelnut crumb

Did you always want to be a chef?

I always wanted to be a footballer! I wanted to play for Manchester United. I was brought up on a dairy farm in Cheshire and my mother and grandmother used to spend a lot of time cooking so I was always in the kitchen throwing flour around!

I never really paid much attention to the catering world until I got a job in a small restaurant in Cheshire called the Yellow Broom.

I fell in love with cooking and creating food – understanding how something is prepared and the process it goes through before being put on the plate.

I enjoyed coming in to work and being massively in the proverbial!

Does your childhood still influence the way you cook?

My parents were really into food and growing up on the farm we obviously had a lot of vegetables, chicken, cows – everything was local and that love of great produce stems from there. I learned that if you get good produce, then you are winning.

And do you have a food style?

I’m sure people would argue with me but I don’t think I have a style. I do like simple looking dishes and I like every element of the dish to speak for itself. Anything I make, I want to be the best and I was always taught if you wouldn’t eat it yourself why would you serve it?

What was it like working in a kitchen catering for thousands?

When I got to Man United I thought ‘oh my god this kitchen is huge’ and then they told me they had over twenty kitchens! The first few months were a totally different world to what I had been used to. In the restaurant (Yellow Broom) I had done service every day, at Man United it was only on match days so it was bizarre to just be doing prep all week.

Once I became part of the kitchen team I started doing the day to day events and functions, and the service side became more regular. I really enjoyed it, I did six years there and for the last three years I was looking after the directors. This involved looking after 100 people, it was high quality food and the team of six chefs would go out together to eat in Michelin-starred restaurants looking for inspiration for the dishes to go on the director’s menu.

Rising stars 

Tom Brown, my favourite chef at the minute, and Cornerstone is my favourite restaurant to eat in currently!

Damien Wager, watching his pastry work is incredible.

Tommy banks, with the launch of roots restaurant I’m sure that will be equally as successful as the black swan, which is such a good concept, the local/home-grown produce is my ultimate dream.

Ollie Dabbous, not necessarily rising star, but with the opening of hide! I think he will be a huge hit!

Neil Rankin, I think the concept of Temper is amazing, and watching the chefs cooking it on open flames looks so impressive! I definitely think we will see more of them opening soon!

Guilty pleasures

Like most chefs, I love the high quality dinners, however, I also love a pizza and burgers! Fast food is my go to food! I especially enjoy Dip n Flip in Clapham.

Top 5 restaurants

Hand And Flowers

Cornerstone

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Core By Clare Smyth

L’Enclume 

Favourite cookbook (s)

White Heat By Marco Pierre White

Out of my tree by Daniel Clifford

The modernist cuisine

What would you say to young chefs thinking about a career in corporate dining?

A lot of chefs don’t realise that this side of the catering world exists. I think you learn a lot of different things about yourself, working as a team and looking after different departments in a stadium compared to what you do in hotels and restaurants. 

Goats Cheese%2C burnt fig%2C kalamata olives and caper berries 4 low res

Goats Cheese, burnt fig, kalamata olives

and caper berries 

There’s a new menu for every game so you’re always doing something different and you learn to upscale for mass catering – we were doing nearly five thousand covers at Manchester United.

Why did you make the move to Twickenham?

My Head Chef at Manchester United, Matt (Davies), moved to Twickenham Stadium as executive head chef and he offered me a job about six years ago, which I accepted. In between that move I did a six-week stage at The Fat Duck which was brilliant, I loved the fact it was so intense and I was working stupid hours.

Thomas Rhodes low res
Thomas Rhodes

I did it to add another branch to my tree and it was somewhere I’d always admired, the chemical side to cooking was something I hadn’t done and didn’t understand so it was a brilliant experience.

I started at Twickenham as a chef de partie to get my foot in the door, then became head chef in 2016 and then took on the executive head chef role in March 2018.

I’ve spent a lot of time at Twickenham developing the menus and doing different services. There is the match day business which currently caters for 7,500 hospitality guests and then non-match day business such as corporate events, dinners and conferences.

West Stand low res
West Stand

How do you go about developing menus for somewhere as big as Twickenham?

On match days visitors are coming to the stadium for the game, and the hospitality side allows them to entertain business partners or guests, but for non-match day guests food is often a main focus and the stadium is just a bonus.

Our menus are developed based on my own dining experiences at restaurants I have both worked and dined at – we try to make our match day menu as high quality as we can. There are 200 chefs on site on a match day and our vision of the dishes must be captured by them all in order to deliver dishes at the right standard.

In reality on a match day, those clients really just want a nice cut of beef or lamb – so we source those ingredients from the best suppliers. Produce is still important to me, I massively push English produce as we are the home of England Rugby, and for example on a match day we’ll do 160 kilo of cheese but I make sure it’s all from a local supplier such as Tunworth which is 40 miles down the road. Because we use such high volume, I must plan everything in advance.

The menus are about produce and making sure guests are having something different compared to another venue. We spend a lot of time in the summer in our off season developing dishes.

How do you ensure those dishes are executed well when you have so many chefs working for you?

Twickenham is currently under development on the East Stand which will create another six kitchens to cater for the new restaurants – it will add another 6,000 hospitality guests to the 7,500 we already cater for on a match day.

We currently run nine different menus on those days which will go up to 14 when we open the new stand.

ham hock low res
ham hock

Maintaining the standard set in my head can be difficult when we are catering for such huge numbers. We do a lot of tastings to ensure we get it right, this summer we will do up to 10 in the lead up to the Autumn Internationals. It is challenging but we put every process in place, we create spec cards and it’s almost like paint by numbers.

We have a very strong full-time team of 20 chefs who run the 32 kitchens we have on site, I pin point areas for them to control as I can’t be everywhere for service.

Which chefs have influenced you over the years?

Different chefs have influenced me at different career stages, I eat out all the time and I like to see what everyone else is doing. I take pictures of everything I eat and if I really like it I’ll try to recreate it in a way which works for us here across all the different dining areas.

There are three restaurants I want to go to at the moment which are The Black Swan at Oldstead, Midsummer House and Paul Ainsworth. I’ve just read Daniel Clifford’s book, Marco Pierre White is my culinary idol, and I think Daniel’s book is up there with Marco’s White Heat.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role?

It is probably making sure that everybody else sees the dishes inside my head! I’ve got a strong team around me which is key. I create a summary for every dish and we have a sous chef in every kitchen who will run through everything and brief all of their chefs.

Presidents Suite low res
Caption

What sort of numbers are you dealing with in terms of produce?

The last International game which was England against Ireland on Paddy’s day, a popular match for Guinness! We were serving fillet of beef so I ordered 1.5 tonnes of beef fillet which is about 750 whole fillets of beef, for a major match we’ll go through 800 kilos of carrots. Our average milk usage per match day is around 1500 pints a day!

How do you deal with waste?

It’s a challenge. We are having a massive crack down on single waste plastic but in terms of food waste we try to monitor it as well as we can. We try and reduce it where possible but there is always going to be an element of waste when you are working on this scale.

If our plated menu is lamb for example then lamb will also appear on our buffet, as well as our bespoke menus. We try and keep everyone on the same meat, it may be a different cut but it’s more efficient for the farmers supplying the product and for us.

I spend enough time doing my orders and doing prep based on specs that we keep it to a minimum plus we ultimately must feed 4,000 members of staff on a match day so we utilise all the products to ensure the waste is kept to a minimum.

As a chef in charge of hundreds of staff what do you think about the chef shortage?

I currently have one apprentice from Compass Group and we use a college in Surrey called Brooklands College as well as working with the University of West London.

Lemon Confit Salmon%2C Charred cucumber%2C buttermilk and curried sour dough low res

Lemon Confit Salmon, Charred

cucumber, buttermilk and

curried sour dough

We go in and talk about what we do here and we try and recruit from there. Even if they only come in on a match day it’s an experience and the opportunity to inspire them into a different route in the catering world.

But I still think the chef shortage is the biggest issue in catering. I don’t know what the answer is to get more chefs through school and college but I do think TV hasn’t helped. It’s glamorised the industry and people start off wanting quick success. But that won’t happen when you start in a kitchen, you do have to do your graft and not everyone understands that.

You clearly still have a lot of exciting challenges ahead of you at Twickenham but what are your future plans?

I think the long-term aim would be to be a Regional Executive Chef across all the big venues, I would love all of my chefs to be running the stadium catering across England. I’ve also always wanted a restaurant, I don’t see me doing it any time soon but at some point I would like to give it a shot.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th August 2018

Thomas Rhodes, Executive Head Chef, Twickenham Stadium

IN ASSOCIATION WITH