Careers in Hospitality – an interview with chef Mark Reynolds
“When I started, I had to look in a recipe book to learn how to make a poached egg…I went from that to the film industry, cooking for stars such as Liam Neeson and Wesley Snipes.”
Key job attributes:
- Willing to constantly learn
- Number of covers per game: 8,500 hospitality covers and also the concession operation.
- Number of chefs in brigade on a match day: 225 chefs and 90 kitchen porters.
- Number of restaurants: 16
- Number of bars: 45
Q: Mark, you’ve been in this industry for more than 30 years – what was your journey?
Mark Reynolds: My father had a pub and I started working in the kitchen when I was 15 years old. I was cooking mainly breakfast and trying to learn all the basics. I remember once I had to look in the recipe book and learn how to make a poached egg.
After I joined the army, I decided that my place is in the kitchen, so I took an apprenticeship at the Hilton and worked my way up. I also worked for a private hospital where I learned more about special dietary needs, and after that I found myself in the film industry and cooking for Liam Neeson and Wesley Snipes.
There was a period when I travelled a lot and saw the world, but at one point I missed the kitchen buzz and the brigade. I opened the new Emirates stadium – extremely intense work, worked as an executive head chef at the Wembley Stadium and then moved to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
Q: What are your biggest challenges as an executive head chef?
Mark Reynolds: We are a big team, around 225 chefs and we do more than 8,500 hospitality covers. We have to be well-organised, and it’s all about planning, precision and being thorough.
We always have five checks, to make sure everything is in place and ready to go. Currently, Covid-19 is challenging and disruptive. I’ve been at Tottenham for three seasons and I haven’t completed a full season yet. I also love being in the kitchen and cooking a lot, so it’s been quite difficult to spend more time in the office, as an executive head chef.
Q: Could you tell us more about running a large operation?
Mark Reynolds: We sell around 19,000 pastry items, 5,500 burgers and 2,000 pizzas. Dependent on menu, we could use as much as 1.2 tons of beef and for our in-house pie production even 5,000 pints of milk, 2 tons of flour and 400 kg of butter, a week. We cook for both concessions, hospitality, staff and players; therefore, we are feeding around 58,000 people per game.
Q: What do you do when you have ordered and had delivered all the food and the match gets cancelled on the day?
Mark Reynolds: Thankfully, it doesn’t happen very often but when it does, we try and protect as much stock as we can. We also work closely with a couple of charities which are Compassion for London and the Felix Project, because even on a daily basis there is some waste like sandwiches and cakes from our on-site café which are donated.
Q: What is your career highlight?
Mark Reynolds: I would say cooking dinner for the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards in 2012, at Wembley Stadium. It was the year of the London Olympics and I remember being inspired by so many respected chefs in the industry and aspiring to be one of them.
Q: How do you manage a work-life balance and tense situations?
Mark Reynolds: I’ve improved my work-life balance throughout the years and how to manage tense situations in a better way. Personally, during a stressful moment I walk away, think and then discuss. I am not an angry chef and I think communication in a team is vital.
It’s important to leave work issues at the door. That’s why, when I drive home, I reflect on the day and spend quality time with my family without thinking or discussing work issues.
Q: How important is mental health at work and how is it tackled at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club?
Mark Reynolds: It’s crucial, which is why I became a wellbeing ambassador at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club - an unusual move for a chef. I practice small things such as saying ‘hello’ to everyone in the morning, checking on their progress throughout the day, and making sure their pay is right and on time. I even have a sofa in my office, and I encourage everyone to come and have a chat.
Alternatively, they can write down their problems, but what matters is to get the problems off their chest. I also like to rotate my team members and give them different tasks, to keep them motivated. I am trying to break barriers and be supportive of my brigade.
Q: What should young aspiring chefs do during lockdown and what advice would you give to those pursuing a career in hospitality during Covid-19?
Mark Reynolds: Stay positive. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It will take some time, but the industry will bounce back. Try to keep busy and brush up on your skills. Learn more, cook more, experiment. Watch food documentaries or cooking shows – I was personally amazed by Cowspiracy on Netflix, a real eye-opener. My only piece of advice is 'always treat someone that way you’d like to be treated'. You need your entire team to be successful.
Q: On apprenticeships, culinary schools and mentorship - how should young chefs start in this industry?
Mark Reynolds: It should be a combination. It’s important to know the basics and a culinary school or a course helps. Eventually, you’d need to get in the kitchen and start cooking. You need to start from the bottom, work hard and climb up the ladder. There are now many opportunities and support in the kitchen. I benefitted from having a mentor and I’d recommend it.
Q: What projects are in your pipeline now?
Mark Reynolds: I am developing a six-week cooking programme where we will teach basic culinary skills to children from foster homes, like making an omelette or a simple sauce.
On the other side, at Tottenham Hotspur we’re developing a mentoring programme and encourage more chefs to lead training programmes and gain recognition. Currently, it’s about raising awareness about mental health and giving back.
Q: Lastly, Mark, imagine you have four famous chefs at your dinner table tonight and you need to prepare a meal. What would you make and who would you invite?
Mark Reynolds: I would keep it simple and tasty with a basic meal - sausage and mash. Imagine good quality sausages, lots of butter in the mash, gravy and maybe some baked beans – what is better than this? It’s comforting and heart-warming. On my list it would definitely be Gordon Ramsay, Angela Hartnett, Atul Kochhar and Paul Gayler.