Meet the Christmas Party Team: The Chefs
There is now less than one month to go until the Cooper Associates County Ground hosts its first Christmas Party Night of the year.
With this in mind we thought we would introduce you to the people who will be making sure that you enjoy a perfect party experience.
Over the course of eight nights Somerset County Cricket Club’s Catering Department will be hosting around 4000 party-goers across three separate venues within the ground.
Let’s meet the people responsible for the food.
We recently caught up with Executive Chef Simon Safe and Head Chef Mark Wanstall to find out whether they are ready for the festive period.
What stage are you currently at ahead of the Christmas Party Nights?
Simon: “The menus are all sorted and we are currently ordering the turkeys. We did over 200 turkeys last year so we need to make sure that they are ready to go. We’re also just getting all of the ingredients together to make sure that the party nights go with a bang.
Mark: “This time of year means that we are about to start putting together our 5000 chipolata pigs in blankets and the stuffing. If the party night is on a Friday, we will start prepping for it on the Wednesday. We’ll be peeling all the veg, cutting up the potatoes ready for the roasties and we’ll have the gravy and sauces ready to go as well. Then we’ll do the same on the Thursday for Saturday’s party.”
What will be on the menu this year?
Simon: “In the past we’ve toyed with the idea of moving away from the traditional turkey meal and serving roast beef but the overwhelming feedback from our customers is that they want the traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings. We pride ourselves in the fact that we allow our customers to choose what they want to eat on the night. That can be a massive challenge but we want people to be able to treat us like a restaurant rather than having to order three months in advance. People can come on the night and order what they want from the menu. That can be quite a task for my team but we pride ourselves on not disappointing anybody.
“We also cater for any dietary requirements, but we do need to know these in advance and that is where the office team come in. If we get the information beforehand we can make sure that all such needs are met and that everyone has a great meal and a great night. Sometimes you don’t find out until the night that there is a dietary requirement on a particular table. That can be hard to cater for in the middle of service for 400 people but we will do everything in our power to make sure that everyone enjoys the evening because you don’t want to upset anyone.”
Mark: “We’ve always managed to not let anyone down and we’ve always been able to cater for what people have ordered on the night. It’s a challenge but because of the experience that we have in the team, we always manage to pull it off!”
Is it a real team effort?
Simon: “It really is and I’ll let you know how good the team are on the 23rd of December! A few chefs have left since last year and a few of the new chefs will be experiencing their first Christmas season with us but I always try to find chefs who have experience. I love it when they chip in with their own ideas and things like that because that’s what makes it work. It’s not about one chef. It’s a team effort. Everyone has to be on their game though in order for the night to work well. There are a lot of cogs in the wheel but we’ve got each other’s backs and we’ll make sure that everyone has a great night.”
Mark: “We’ve all come from different areas, have different experiences and areas of expertise. That works really well for us. It’s not just us in the kitchen though. It’s the front-of-house team that makes the whole thing tick as well. The logistics for them are as challenging as they are for us on the night and everyone does a great job. We get a lot of repeat business and the reason for that is because we are good at what we do.”
It sounds very challenging but is it rewarding at the same time?
Simon: “There’s a great sense of achievement at the end of each night because it’s a tremendous team effort across the board. When the last party night is done and dusted and we can put our feet up, there is a massive sense of accomplishment. It’s a fantastic challenge and I get a real buzz from it. To look back and realise that you’ve done around 5000 meals over the course of a few days is pretty special.”
Mark: “If you didn’t enjoy a challenge like this then you wouldn’t be doing the job. It’s no good coming in to work with a negative attitude. I love coming in to work and I’ve been doing this sort of thing for over 30 years. You never know what might happen when you’re catering for so many people and the fact that you can order on the night adds a little bit more excitement to it. You could be doing 200 soups on the Friday but then 200 salmon on the Saturday. Although every night we are roughly doing the same thing, every night is actually really different.”