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Everton chef thrives on ‘inspirational’ Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot 2018 saw some of Sodexo's top chefs join the on-site team, and Michelin-starred names, to deliver a world-class experience for race-goers.

Gareth Billington, executive chef at Goodison Park, home of Everton Football Club, explains why it’s an unbeatable way to showcase the calibre of Sodexo chefs, and a hotbed of creative culinary ideas.

“If I could sum up the experience of working at Royal Ascot in one word, it would simply be ‘inspirational’,” admits Gareth, who is a regular face in a team of Sodexo professionals seconded to support his Sodexo Sports & Leisure colleagues during the busy summer events season.

Sodexo partners with a team of Michelin-starred chefs including Raymond Blanc OBE and Phil Howard to design a la carte menus for all fine-dining hospitality restaurants in the historic Royal Enclosure, Queen Anne Enclosure and Village Enclosure.

Gareth is confident that there’s no better way for a chef to prove their talent than to accept the challenge of cooking alongside the best in the business. He and his head chef Ciaran Symonds took a team of 12 to Royal Ascot this year, and despite the 6.30am starts and long working days, he says they thrive on the pressure.

“Being involved at Royal Ascot focuses and refreshes us as chefs; we can talk with our peers about what’s currently inspiring them in the world of food, and come away with lot of good ideas,” says Gareth, who worked as part of a team serving 500 covers a day at the White’s Club and Turfs Restaurant, inside the Royal Enclosure.

Because of the event’s reputation for excellence, the restaurant teams are always looking to produce food that gets clients, commentators and customers talking.

“Royal Ascot acts as a showcase for new techniques and the best produce money can buy and we take huge inspiration from that when planning our own menus at the stadium,” adds Gareth.

“For instance, we introduced a new dish smoked over hay which is a technique we’d seen used at Ascot a few years ago. Some of the a la carte dishes can be a little too fussy for our customers but we pick up elements we like, then adjust and refine them to suit our menus.

“We’ve only been back from Royal Ascot for a few days but you can already see that the team is energised by what they’ve seen and learnt, just in the way they’re presenting things differently on their plates for example.”

High quality ingredients and provenance are essential elements of Sodexo’s Prestige Venues and Events business, which caters for a full summer season that includes Royal Ascot, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, The Open golf championships and Henley Royal Regatta.

Highlights at Royal Ascot this year were fresh water rainbow trout from Hampshire streams and a bespoke cheese made with Somerset sheep’s milk, named ‘Dutamor’ after Ascot chefs Gemma Amor and Ben Dutson. Sodexo served 5,000 of the finest steaks and 3,500 fresh lobsters in just six days.

“This is another advantage to being at Royal Ascot - you can make contact with some of the best food producers to source fantastic quality ingredients for your own menus,” admits Gareth.

“That could cover anything from produce for our fine dining hospitality menus to ensuring we have the best beef burgers on offer in our match day retail outlets.”

It’s this commitment to quality that has seen Gareth build a world-class reputation for food at Goodison Park, and the 32-strong chef team at the stadium has won a host of industry awards during his 13-year spell at the club.

Earlier in 2018 they took home the Best Match Day Hospitality - Medium Stadium award, silver in the Chef Team of the Year category and bronze for Overall Match Day Hospitality at the Stadium Experience and Hospitality Awards 2018.

He’s also revered with the industry for his passion for developing the UK’s star chefs of the future, through Springboard’s FutureChef initiative.

FutureChef helps young people learn cookery skills and train for careers in hospitality, and Gareth has mentored five finalists and three winners, including 2016 winner Bethan Disley-Jones.

“It’s a great way for promising people to get into the industry,” says Gareth who also offers work experience places for local youngsters to train in the Goodison Park kitchen.

“We have had over 60 young people here for work experience and many have gone on to work in prestigious hotels and restaurants countrywide. It’s a big part of our ethos to encourage and coach budding young talent.”

March 28, 2019

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