Chef Appreciation Week: Q&A with Executive Head Chef, Thomas Rhodes
Our Executive Head Chef, Thomas Rhodes, is one of the names behind the food at Twickenham Stadium, providing exceptional food experiences for our guests. Since it's Chef Appreciation Week, Tom sits in the hot seat to answer some questions.
Name: Thomas Rhodes
Position: Executive Head Chef
Venue: Twickenham Stadium
Length of Service: 10.5 years
What is your background?
Having trained at a small independent French restaurant called the Yellow Broom, in the heart of Cheshire from the age of fifteen to eighteen, I decided to venture south to expand my knowledge and experience, so I shipped myself to study hospitality management at Portsmouth University. Whilst living on the south coast I continued to work at the Yellow broom, travelling back and forth at weekends and non-term time.
After spending three years living in Portsmouth, I moved back to Manchester to work for Manchester United, where I spent six years catering for the directors and their guests. During my time in Manchester I became responsible for managing the kitchen on many major events including the 2012 Olympics.
I have always believed that you will never stop learning as a chef, so I took the opportunity to stage at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, where I spent six weeks unpaid in order to gain more knowledge and understanding of how a three Michelin kitchen operated and serviced the guests.
I moved to Twickenham in 2012 working as a chef de partie, where I learnt more and gained further experience, earning promotions through hard work, to eventually becoming head chef in 2016. This now includes the management of 32 different kitchens on site, all food production and service.
In 2016 I furthered my skills and knowledge by working at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay for a two week learning experience.
My more recent claim to fame was hosting the semi-finals of MasterChef Professionals at Twickenham and dining as a guest to help judge the food alongside some other well-known rugby stars.
What made you want to be a chef?
Growing up on a farm, my mother and grandmother were constantly cooking and I soon gained a growing passion for food. My passion for cooking continued to grow the older I was getting, and I started talking an interest in restaurants and cookbooks. Aged fifteen I read Marco Pierre White's autobiography, which pushed my motivation to work hard and become a chef.
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 love the English food seasons, and everything seasonal always tastes amazing if cooked right!! 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?
How do you go about developing menus for somewhere as big as Twickenham?
Our menus are developed based on my own dining experiences at restaurants I have both worked and dined at. Our match day menus are designed to an exceptionally high quality. 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.
Produce is so important to me, I massively passionate about English produce and drive everything around that, whether it be the herbs, vegetables, meat or fish, I like to know where everything comes from and how it was treated. The menus are about produce and making sure our guests are having something different compared to another venue. We spend a lot of time in the summer in our off-season developing dishes to ensure they are exceptional.
How do you deal with waste?
It is a challenge, we operate a circular waste strategy which is about planning to try to maximise the use of every ingredient. In some instances, we can reuse the wastage and utilise in stocks and sauces. A good example of this is the use of a celeriac, which we peel, bake in salt and serve as a plant-based dish. The peelings of the vegetable are ground down with the excess salt to create a veggie salt for other dishes; the offcuts are used for a jus on a different part of the menu; and anything else left over we reuse in stocks and soups. That means you could have four dishes using the same ingredient in four different ways.
We are also committed to reducing food miles and sourcing as many products as locally as possible.
What is your favourite food?
Roast beef lunch, for me a roast beef lunch is perfection, dripping roast potatoes, far too much veg and a pool of thick gravy, topped with a Yorkshire pudding.
What is your greatest culinary achievement to date?
Personally, I would be how we rebuilt the team post Covid and have pushed our food to knew levels and in different directions. Following on building a new team, short staffed and supplier issues, we have overcome them and now as a team we are working towards the levels we want to be achieving!
Tell us about the work you are doing within your local community and previous work you have done.
In 2006 I became an ambassador for Springboard UK, which is a charity that is designed to aid the young, unemployed and disadvantaged people within the hospitality industry. We regularly donate food to local food banks and charities. During the pandemic, we donated a lot of food to local charities, which would have otherwise gone to waste.
If you could prepare a meal for anyone, who would it be and what would you make?
I have had the privilege to cook for a lot of high profile guests over my career but I would have loved have cooked for The Queen, however that never happened. I would of created her a Dover sole in butter with capers and caviar.
What can't you live without in the kitchen, and why?
Has to be a Maryse spatula. I use it when I cook everything, and its great for making sure that every last drop of food is out the bowl or pan!
Who is your favourite celebrity chef, and why?
It would have to be Gordon Ramsay. Not only for his superb cooking knowledge, food knowledge and skill sets. But also how he has developed his menus and styles over the years to maintain three Michelin stars for over twenty years!!
Do you prefer to use local, seasonal ingredients in your dishes?
Where possible, which is the vast majority of the time, I love local/seasonal. The less the food has travelled, means the better its going to taste! Food seasons are there for a reason, it's when that product is going to taste the best and when it's got the most nutrients in it, so of course seasonal products are the best thing to use. We are blessed in England to have some of the best produce in the world grown here and I love to make visits to different farms and suppliers to see the process from planting to eating!
What kind of foods do you like to cook?
This changes constantly, some weeks I love to cook fish due to the complexity of it. Some weeks I love to cook vegetables, due to the variety of styles to do it! However, I am currently cooking a lot on the barbecue, trying different things out, adjusting the coals and tempering the grills to make different hot spots and cooking zones!
Why not have a look at our hospitality packages for the Guinness Six Nations 2024 here.