Gary Foakes is the executive head chef at the London Stadium, operated by Delaware North. He speaks to Lisa Jenkins about his extensive hospitality experience and how the contract catering sector has changed
What does your role involve?
As executive head chef, I manage the food production for the London Stadium for match and event days. I am accountable for the day-to-day running of all produced food locations and outlets, meeting clients, developing the team and colleagues and ultimately managing planned food and labour costs.
What is your background in hospitality?
I worked in hotels, pubs and restaurants in my local area from the age of 14. I loved the pace and the people, which inspired me to get into the industry. I worked part-time at Heythrop Park in Oxfordshire while attending North Oxfordshire College in the early nineties. After college I started out working in Oxford full-time and then moved to Sheffield.
Three years later I ventured into London and worked with some highly established chefs. This led me to four years with Roux Fine Dining, working at the BAFTA club on Piccadilly.
I moved into contract catering with Sodexo (Directors Table) in 2002 and enjoyed eight years working at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in Parliament Square and at HBOS for the London accounts.
I moved to Aramark in 2008 and spent more than 10 years working at JPMorgan Chase, progressing to regional executive head chef for London, which developed into London and the south east.
During this time, I was seconded to the culinary team that delivered the athletes' dining for the London Olympics in 2012, working as senior executive head chef. Following the London Olympics, I was approached by Delaware North to make the move to the London stadium.
Would you recommend your sector to other chefs?
Having worked in many sectors, I've seen contract catering change over the years. When I first joined the sector, people's perceptions and its reputation were poor – it was deemed ‘just canteen food' – but the food being produced and delivered now would challenge most sectors of the industry.
There is a great opportunity for young chefs to flourish under the correct leadership, developing their skills and careers, and the hours are far more sociable.
There is a great opportunity for young chefs to flourish under the correct leadership, developing their skills and careers, and usually the hours are far more sociable
How is Delaware North responding to the skills shortage?
Here at the London Stadium we invest heavily in developing our teams, not only by providing them with the appropriate skills and tools to do the job, but also ensuring there is a clear career development plan in place. We host taster days for local schools and colleges here, too. The students attend in groups, and we offer an insight into the industry through our delivery at the London Stadium.
Both my deputy and I are involved in Springboard Future Chef through judging and mentoring. This is a fantastic platform for the next generation of chefs to gain recognition and a great opportunity for them to be involved in the industry. Last year I mentored Ray Gardner, who was the competition runner-up.
We also actively encourage work experience placements, and usually have a student working alongside the team each week, which is proving to be a huge success.
What events have you managed at the London Stadium?
The IAAF World Championship Athletics in 2017 was the first big consecutive day event we held at the stadium, incorporating 11 full days of operations, with hospitality open for all day and evening sessions, along with the busy concourse operations.
Last year we hosted the Major League Baseball New York Yankees vs Boston Red Socks – a huge two-day event during which we served 11 times more food than our core football matches. We were recognised with a couple of industry awards for this event, which was superb.
We also host and sponsor The Caterer's Product Excellence Awards – showcasing our credentials to industry suppliers and operators every December.
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