Serving for the championship: the chef behind Wimbledon

The  Staff Canteen

A brigade of 280 chefs, a total team of 1,800 staff covering 31 restaurants and serving around 38,000 customers a day. Who’d want the job of running that kind of operation? The Staff Canteen caught up with the man who does: Gary Parsons, Executive Chef of Wimbledon.

How many restaurants are there at Wimbledon?

Can you take us through all the different food outlets you run there through the championships?Gary Parsons

We’ve got 31 restaurants in total and that includes the Royal Room, the competitors, the media, the public and debenture holders as well and that will vary hugely, from the players who love their pasta to the Royal Room and debentures where it’s very fine dining.

Then we have the retail offer – we do roughly 40,000 portions of fish and chips over the fortnight, 13,000 burgers, that’s a thousand a day. We’ve also got 32 chalets and suites where you’ve got Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Philips, Evian, Robinsons – and all the main sponsors, so it’s a big old site!

Wimbledon: the stats
30,000 kgs of strawberries
7,000 litres of cream
300,000 glasses of Pimms
400,000 portions of fish and chips
13,000 burgers
280 chefs
1,800 catering staff
31 restaurants
500, 000 visitors (38,000 / day)
1,000 press
1,000 players and entourages

Which is the biggest single operation?

The biggest restaurants I’ve got are the Court Side and The Terrace and that all comes out of one big kitchen with around 22 chefs.

The Court Side is more fine dining and The Terrace is more salads and your cold proteins like lobster and salmon. The Court Side seats 350-400 and The Terrace seats about the same and there you can see from 80 to 625 covers in one go.

A typical day for a Wimbledon chef

What would be a typical day for you during Wimbledon?

On average I’m doing 17 hours a day. I start at five o’clock in the morning and catch up with the night production team which is working from six in the evening until six in the morning. After that I go and check the stores, then I have an area chef meeting at around half seven, then I have breakfast and walk the sites. We have a morning prayer at half nine where we have a debrief of the last day’s performance, then I walk the site again. Lunch service starts at half eleven and they have to be on court by quarter to one so there’s a very small window, especially for the larger restaurants – they’ve got to push all those numbers through in just 45 minutes so it’s pretty intense.

I’ll help out on the service in some of the restaurants but obviously I can’t get too involved because my phone’s always going so I usually just get the lovely pleasure of wiping the plates! After lunch I’ll have another quick whizz around to make sure that everyone’s all right for afternoon tea, which starts at half four or earlier depending on the weather;sometimes a match finishes early so we have to have one eye on the matches, especially the retail chefs because you can have 38,000 people descending on you all of a sudden.

Baked Cod with Mussels Around half six I meet with the area chefs just to see if they’ve had any opportunities or issues then I go and sit with the Food and Beverages Manager, Amanda Broughton and her team and just go through to see if there’s anything that could catch us out in the morning. At about nine o’clock I have a steak and chips then I have one more final walk around the site, check all the fridges and make sure that everything’s happening that should be happening, then I grab some sushi and head home ready to start at five o’clock again.

I’m tired just thinking about it!

It is long hours but the adrenalin keeps you going. The atmosphere’s just fantastic. Everybody’s in the same boat; everybody’s suffering, everybody’s in pain but everybody helps each other along, especially when the weather’s good; it’s a wonderful place to be.

When Andy Murray won Wimbledon

How was the atmosphere last year with Andy Murray winning?

The most memorable moment I had of that year was on the Friday when we had the members’ cocktail barbecue for 700 members. Murray was playing Del Potro in the semis. When Murray won the winning point you could hear the roar from centre court then literally five minutes later Andy Murray walked past and the members all clapped and he stood there and threw his hands up in the air and it was just a very special moment. We were part of history last year and no one can take that away from us. Wimbledon

Wimbledon signature dishes

Everybody knows about strawberries and cream but what are the other signature Wimbledon dishes?

Coronation chicken is a must; we just try and put different twists on it each year; smoked salmon is another big important thing here; so you’ve got to do a starter with that but showing innovation and different ideas; there’s asparagus as well – everything we use is at the height of the season which is another thing which is incredibly important to us.

>>> smoked salmon recipes

Is there one day which is busier than any other in terms of catering?

Yes that’s the Sunday before it starts. The head chefs arrive on Saturday and do all their organisation then the rest of the guys rock up on the Sunday. So Sunday from 12 o’clock until eight o’clock I’m literally just tasting and going through menus. I’ve got to cover everywhere because all the guys who come here have never seen the menu before, never done any of the dishes before so that’s pretty full on. And then Monday is just mad; that’s the day that we find that certain things haven’t been done properly or something. For the first three days firefighting is pretty much all I do then after that I can start to enjoy the tournament a bit.

What is the most challenging part of your job? Pan Fried Seabass,Chive Butter Leeks

The biggest challenge is making sure all the food is on site for that first day; you’ve got 38,000 people chomping at the bit to come into Wimbledon and one of our promises to the club is that whatever we say will be on the menu is on the menu and we try to go beyond that. We’ve got about 1,800 products coming in and because it’s a big site, things get lost or some chefs might think they like something and take it even if it’s not on their menu!

And what’s the biggest high for you?

It’s the atmosphere. We’re serving 11,500 people a day so in one fell swoop you can make 11,000 people happy or the opposite, so you all rely on each other. It’s one big team. They’re all good people and they’re all as passionate as yourself and, at the end of the day, they all want to do a good job.

>>> find executive chefs jobs on our jobs board

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th June 2014

Serving for the championship: the chef behind Wimbledon