Frank Coughlan – 2010 Accomplishments and Look Ahead.

February 16, 2011

I am very proud of how many chefs now contribute to this blog. Here is a post from Frank Coughlan – an executive chef at Wembley Stadium in London – on his favorite accomplishments from 2010.

The 2010 Wembley Stadium calendar was eventful and I can reflect proudly on what was undoubtedly another busy and successful year which saw us deliver 27 major bowl events of which twelve were Grade-A categorised.  This categorisation is determined by both the prestigious nature of the event and the volume of guests attending. To achieve this status, an event must sell-out all 90,000 available tickets. Impressively, these 12 events took only 1,560 chef shifts, an overall total of 12,480 hours! This efficiency was achieved through careful event analysis and meticulous planning, and we were also able to deliver more dining styles, variety and innovation to our clients adding real value to our overall operation at Wembley Stadium.

So, the question now is, how do we ensure we continue to deliver excellent food and implement innovation into the culinary experience at Wembley Stadium for every event in 2011? Research, analysis and planning are the key element to our success.

At the beginning of this new and exciting year, we analyse every aspect of our past events from sales-mix analysis to cost of goods. We also draw on the central points which are raised through our debriefing sessions, and we look to identify best practices, trends and demographics. This helps to reduce wastage but also ensures we are able to provide the most appropriate offering and service style to our guests – improving their overall experience.  Using this information, I am able to tailor our menus to the specific wants and needs of both our clients and our guests. For example, “Take That” requires sushi and salad style offers to suit the demographics and a concert such as “Oasis” will require a more substantial offering of gourmet burgers.  I work closely with both our purchasing team and our suppliers, motivated at all times to keep our food offer fresh, innovative and ahead of industry trends, meaning we are able to uphold our reputation as a market leader. This year I aim to maximise the use of seasonal ingredients, focusing more on sustainability and locally produced products so that we can proudly promote our British heritage.

In 2010, corporate clients needed to be more prudent with their spending and our task was to develop offers and create new options that added value and fun rather than just a cut-price solution.  In 2010, we successfully introduced themed menus to our box clients. Examples of these were ‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ specially created in theme with our Summertime Ball concert and ‘The All American Halloween Experience’ perfectly suited for our guests dining at the world-renowned NFL event. The take up of these menus was fantastic and we now have a platform to build up the level of anticipation and excitement for the customer who was created last year. We will enhance the theming and marketing to ensure maximum exposure and increased sales for all 2011 events.

My personal highlight of 2010 was the launch of the Steamship joint into our Club Wembley buffet restaurant. Taking the lead from our American colleagues, we worked with our nominated butcher and arranged to purchase raw, French trimmed joints, weighing in excess of 30kg. They took nearly 72 hours to prepare through the art of slow cooking but looked and tasted incredible! This added an element of theatre to our buffets as guests queued in anticipation of having their meat carved for them personally by a skilled chef who could talk through the history and cooking method of this spectacular piece of beef.

Looking forward to 2011

2011 looks set to be another exciting year with Wembley Stadium proudly hosting the Champions League Final in May, four England International Football Games and the “Take That” concerts which are due to make history over the summer when they play eight concerts here as part of their sold-out UK tour.

My main focus for 2011is to exceed the expectation of our guests and the key to this will be to continue the analysis, research and meticulous planning.  I will look to leverage best practice examples across all of our operations and provide options that are relevant to each event and audience.  We expect a high volume of repeat clientele at Wembley Stadium this year and I will work in conjunction with our clients and senior team to ensure we provide new flavours, styles, innovation and a fresh approach to the culinary experience.


Notes from the Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts GM Conference.

February 15, 2011

Matthew Barton is a Sous Chef at the Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He and Chef Brian Sterner recently hosted the Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts General Managers Conference. He told me that the event required him to work more hours and culinary events than ever before at the resort. I am grateful for his dedication and share with you his immediate thoughts after the conference below.

After great debate, it is confirmed that there are enough hours in the day for a chef. What is done with this time is clearly what separates the greatly trained from the greatly aspiring.

Plate concepts, flavors, aromas, shapes, colors and contrasts are all useful identifications in the kitchen. Still, true performance can be measured before one comes in contact with any food at all.

Planning thoughts, drawing maps, sketching ideas, brainstorming daily operations, assigning projects and collecting data are the practices that seem to be the difference, in my opinion, between absolute success and utter disappointment.

This is not to say however that the success will please you. And, while I received several “pats on the back” for a job well done during the Parks & Resorts GM conference, I often questioned the moves I made what I could have done better. A feeling of disappointment tens to arise when you sit back and watch yourself work twice as hard as you need to – to complete something that in hindsight appeared so simple.

After little argument, it turns out after all that that there are enough hours in the days. I am okay with knowing that I am one of those greatly aspiring individuals. And I am grateful to work with Chef Henin and others who are so greatly trained.

CIA Career Fair

February 13, 2011

I recently attended a career fair at the Culinary Institute of America on behalf of Delaware North Companies. Camille Jackson of our Human Resources Department attended, as well. She shares her thoughts on the event below.

I had a very pleasant experience visiting the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y. Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from Buffalo to Albany, so it made my travel much longer. My colleagues Chef Roland Henin and Chef Percy Whatley joined me at the Courtyard Marriott near the CIA.

When we arrived at the CIA, we were greeted by the friendly faces of the CIA staff which included Mary Lou DeSantis and her team. They were gracious and helpful. The facility was neat, clean and well-organized. The career fair items I shipped were waiting for us at our table, along with the television and DVR I requested. The space was a little crowded as the company tables were getting very close together which left little room to move around. It was great to see a large number of companies participating in the career fair.

Throughout the fair, the CIA provided endless beverages and flavorful food that was prepared by the students. It was a beautiful spread. The career fair had a continuous flow of students who were well-prepared and focused on their mission to secure an internship/externship. Throughout my years of participating in career fairs, students/participants typically are interested in company giveaways as opposed to talking to recruiters. With the CIA students, they were not interested in giveaways. They were much more interested in company information, internship/employment opportunities and Chef Roland. Many of the students were seeking externships, rather than internships and about 85 percent of the students that stopped at our table were baking/pastry students. Unfortunately, Delaware North does not have many baking/pastry internships or externships. We also met with quite a few alumni and soon-to-graduate candidates who were seeking regular employment. In speaking with students, I assessed that their salary expectations were not aligned with entry-level opportunities for which they qualify.  One recently graduated alumnus is seeking a salary of $60,000 minimum. Another student who is graduating in March 2011 is seeking $35,000, minimum – with no work experience and no management/supervisory experience. I’m not sure the CIA is setting their salary expectation or if they feel overwhelmed with their up-and-coming student loan bills.

The CIA is a beautiful campus. I toured the campus twice and had two totally different experiences. My second tour was hosted by a student named Jose. Jose was very professional, elaborated extensively on the history of the campus, curriculum, instructors, restaurants and everything about the CIA. I was very impressed. My colleagues and I had dinner at the Italian restaurant on campus. The food was magnificent, the service was stellar and the atmosphere was bravura.

I was inspired by the students’ tenacity in their education, as well as the facility in which they learn. Environment is key, and I think that adds value to a student’s learning experience. I’ve attended many college career fairs throughout my 17-year career in human resources. The CIA career fair is by far one of the best I’ve attended in terms of organization, professionalism, preparedness of students and a state-of-the-art learning facility.

Bumps On the Culinary Road.

February 11, 2011

This Wall Street Journal article by Bruce Palling deals with the challenges chefs face when they travel and have to operate in different kitchens with different ingredients. It is very relevant to the challenges our chefs face when they travel to help at new stadiums, parks or they compete in culinary competitions. I wanted to to add it to the blog. I encourage you to read it and share your thoughts below.

Australian Open 2011 – A Taste Of The Culinary Experience.

February 10, 2011

Chef Mark Szubeczak took his culinary talents to the Australian Open, (Delaware North Companies handles all food and beverage operations for the event) and made a major impact. Every report I’ve heard from the event is complimentary and suggests Chef Mark and his team did a commendable job. He was kind enough to send in the below photos and text for the blog. Thanks to all chefs who made the 2011 Australian Open a success.

Working together as a team we served 3000 meals in Sponsor Suites alone. 

The River Villa Sponsor Suites’ Happy Delaware North Companies Aussie Culinary Staff

We worked in portable, fully-equipped kitchens that were built just for the event with Rational Combi ovens, fryers and dish machines.

We served fresh canapes, salads, plated and buffet style meals. All desserts were house made supplied from Pastry Chefs from Etihad Stadium

We served  over 2,900 Fresh Meals in Sponsor Suites Area

In the end we had many satisfied guests and very exhausted Delaware North Staff.

Accomplishments from 2010 – Will Cunneen

February 9, 2011

I recently asked our company chefs to send in notes about their favorite or best accomplishment from 2010. Here is a note from Executive Chef Will Cunneen, PCII of  Red Bull Arena.

There were several achievements in 2010 that give me pride. I started out the year in January by accepting my first Executive Chef position and opening Red Bull Arena, a beautiful 25,000-seat soccer specific stadium and home to the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, NJ. The year ended with me receiving my ProChef II certification in December on my 29th birthday. Now, I am very proud of those accomplishments, which were probably two of the hardest things I’ve ever done. However, it’s what happened here at the stadium during the season that I can say gave me the most satisfaction.

We started our season as most stadiums do – hectic, going 100 mph and hiring most anyone that walked in the door. As the season progressed, associates started understanding their roles and developed their skills. I always believed the role of a manager is also that of a teacher and if your associates aren’t learning then they will get bored. If one of my crew members isn’t engage in what they’re doing, if they don’t know why they’re doing it or don’t care…then why stick around? Money? In a seasonal arena environment most of my kitchen staff works 15-20 hours every other week. Sure I can get a bunch of bodies to fill slots, but if you want quality personnel that you can count on month after month – you have to offer more than just a paycheck.

I believe I did that. I had several externs pass through my doors, several more that decided to attend culinary school this year after some encouragement and the experiences they had at Red Bull. There were even others who are industry veterans who have managed to shake off some of their old habits and embrace Delaware North’s commitment to quality. I believe the best way to judge a manager is by his or her staff – just as we are a reflection of our regional chefs and Chef Roland Henin. If one looks bad, we all look bad. If one looks good, we all look good. If through my actions, I have made Chef Kevin Doherty and Chef Henin see that I am “getting it” that’s my greatest accomplishment.

Good Enough To Steal

Here’s how you really know you’ve done a decent job with your staff. As the soccer season continued through August and into September, football season started for another new stadium up the street from Red Bull called New Meadowlands Stadium (Maybe you’ve heard of it?).

Anyway, when NMS opened, naturally we at Red Bull went up to assist. Now, I’m not saying we were small fish in a big pond, but you can fit three Red Bull Arenas in one New Meadowlands. Nevertheless, me and my small band of 20 or so cooks, preps and utility workers made our way over to NMS to lend assistance to various clubs, suite kitchens and concession areas. Our help was well received and we made ourselves useful. Little did I know how useful…


In the following weeks many of my employees (including myself) went back and forth between both stadiums and some started to be requested by name. By football’s midseason, several of my employees were working at NMS more than Red Bull. Don’t get me wrong, I encouraged any chance for my employees to work more and learn and grow within the company and was very proud that any associate I sent to assist represented my kitchen well.

Just like some secret recipe or a new trend, if other people want it —  you must be doing something right.

Share Your Best Achievements

February 7, 2011

I recently sent this out to chefs across our company. I wanted to post it here as well.

In the first couple issues of our internal newsletter in 2011, I posted a story asking all Delaware North chefs to think about and put together a piece that focuses on what each chef considers his or her best accomplishment from 2010. I would like to feature these accomplishments on this blog. If you are not reading the blog regularly, you should be. I and other chefs post regularly about the culinary happenings in our company. You are all welcome to post anytime as long as you have a relevant topic. Simply contact us.

I would like you to take time to think about your best accomplishment from 2010 and begin by sending that in for the blog. Our chefs do many great things from certification to major events – and we need to tell that story. We have special stories from times when we have to do extra work due to short staffs, or how we respond to things that go wrong or not quite as planned and end up saving the day. We’ve also undertaken great initiatives like the “Move To School” program sponsored by Michelle Obama. Maybe you just want to share your updates on how you’re handling composting at your facility, even though others said it wasn’t worthwhile and too expensive. Please help us tell the story by contributing to the blog.

As chefs, we are nurturers and we accomplish so much an a daily basis that we think that it’s “all part of the day’s work.” We always make things happen and always deliver… no matter the circumstances. I’m not asking you to brag about it and get too proud. Just tell it like it is, in a nice way. State the facts and let people know about the great, hard work we’re doing.

That’s all I’m asking for – an honest view and reflection on what you might think is normal, but in truth is really exceptional. Just think, that as a company we are around 80 percent professionally certified and moving toward 100 percent with all our salaried and sous chefs. That is incredible and mind-boggling and I’m pretty confident that no other company in the world has its chefs certified to that level.

You are also welcome to comment on what you are looking forward to accomplishing in 2011 in your blog post. This is focused on salaried chefs and sous chefs, but any chef in the company can qualify if they submit interesting stories.

Thank you for all your hard work.

In Good Cooking Always,

Chef Roland Henin, CMC