Q&A with Executive Head Chef

Our Executive Head Chef, Thomas Rhodes, is the name behind the food at Twickenham Stadium, providing exceptional food experiences for our guests. Thomas sits in the hot seat to answer some questions.

Name: Thomas Rhodes
Position: Executive Head Chef
Venue: Twickenham Stadium
Length of Service: 7 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 do like simple looking dishes and I like every element of the dish to speak for itself. 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 still important to me, I massively push English produce as we are the home of England Rugby. 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, but a lot of it is about the 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-first option. 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. During the past 2 years, I have been eating a significantly larger amount of plant-based food, I actually went 14 months only eating plant based food, so I could experience different things.

What is your greatest culinary achievement to date?

It would have to be successfully aiding in the planning, preparation, production and service for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Helping Matthew Davies, the then Executive Head Chef, with menu ideas, numerous tastings, presentations and specifications of all the dishes and finalizing recipes and methods. To see the event run smoothly, with such a high level of customer satisfaction and seeing our team succeed on the world stage, was my greatest culinary achievement to date.

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?

Alive; Queen Elizabeth II, whatever she wants… she is the Queen! But I would image something along the lines of a Beef Wellington, something classic.

Dead; Henry VIII, Tomahawk Steak, duck fat fried chips, BĂ©arnaise sauce.

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