You'd expect things to be big and fast when you visit the Silverstone circuit, but not even Jenson Button could keep up with Clinton Smith, who walks four miles a day as the executive head chef of the racing circuit's new hospitality wing. Diane Lane went for a test drive
The sheer size of the hospitality operation at the Silverstone circuit near Towcester, Northamptonshire, means that the executive head chef's position, responsible for turning out top-notch food for some 50,000 hospitality meals throughout the year, is not one for the faint-hearted.
Fortunately, Aspire's Clinton Smith takes it all in his stride. Lots of strides as it happens - the new Silverstone Wing, which officially opened in May 2011, measures 390 metres in length and Smith estimates he walks about four miles a day in carrying out his duties. Consequently, two-way radios are essential for communication among the team.
The Grand Prix Circuit is in operation 361 days a year hosting over 40 race meetings and events attracting over 750,000 visitors. The Wing houses corporate hospitality for the Silverstone calendar, which includes events such as British Super Bikes, Silverstone Classic, MOTO GP and the Formula 1 British Grand Prix. Its extensive facilities include two exhibition halls, a banqueting hall with mezzanine area overlooking the circuit, a media centre with cafe, plus a conference centre and auditorium.
Aspire Hospitality, co-owned by managing director Sean Valentine and creative director Steven Saunders, had already held the contract for five years when a further nine-year contact valued at £4.5m turnover per annum was signed earlier this year. During Aspire's tenure so far there has been an upsurge in client satisfaction to over 90%, according to Richard Phillips, managing director of Silverstone Holdings.
Aspire recently invested £1m in new kitchen facilities including a central production kitchen measuring 5,500 sq ft and a further two regeneration kitchens bringing the total kitchen space to 10,000 square feet overall.
Catering Design Group, members of the Catering Equipment Distributors Association (CESA), were chosen as design consultants and to supply and install the kitchen equipment. The brief was to provide a catering facility for 4,000 covers to accommodate the busy hospitality timetable and various functions, such as meetings, conferences, product launches, weddings and Christmas parties. It was imperative that storage facilities could accommodate a significant amount of fresh produce and prep areas had to be sizeable enough to cope with the large numbers.
Together, Smith and Saunders produce creative menus of restaurant-style food using fresh, seasonal and regional produce encompassing the latest food trends. Main courses for plated service include dishes such as fillet of Hereford beef with a wild mushroom tatin, pea and celeriac crush and hollandaise, and wild mushroom and goats' cheese strudel with a light tarragon cream sauce.
Meanwhile, a grazing buffet includes mini bowls of food for quick and easy eating during events. Desserts range from comforting old fashioned puddings to contemporary mini desserts served in shot glasses - such as chocolate shots with popping candy - or laid out on platters.
Besides the Wing, Aspire also operates various other sites across the estate including the British Racing Drivers' Club, the Paddock Cafe, a visitor centre coffee shop and temporary structures, such as Stowe Lakeside, which alone delivered over 5,000 covers during the Grand Prix in July. Staff numbers vary depending on the event with the core 34 staff members swelling to include up to 180 chefs for the Grand Prix.
Having worked at venues such as the O2, Earls Court and ExCel, Smith had plenty to contribute to the design of the new central production kitchen. "Given the sort of numbers we do here organisation and flow of the kitchen is key," he says.
All goods in come via a lift from the delivery point below. Everything is unpacked into plastic containers ready for storage and there are recycling bins for all packaging.
In the nearby dry stores, Smith asked for the racks to be suspended from the ceiling to give easy access below for cleaning. Each rack is dedicated to one type of product - sauces; pasta and noodles; spices such as mustard seeds, cumin and fennel seeds, which are bought in whole and ground on site.
Cold prep area
For storing the huge quantity of fresh produce there's a network of interlocking coldrooms by Foster Refrigerator plus a freezer. Slide doors and ramps feature throughout for ease of transporting goods-laden trolleys.
Stainless steel prep tables stretch all the way from the storage area to the hot kitchen and to one side there's a further self-contained chilled prep room which backs onto a further cold room for holding and a walk-in blast chiller.
The cold prep area is a hive of activity for a few days before an event - many of which take place over two or three days - with chefs prepping entire palettes of raw ingredients. From there the food passes into the hot kitchen for cooking before entering the blast chiller. The flow is such that no food goes back into a warm area on its way to the holding room.
"Every box is ticked for good working practices," says Smith, explaining his routine.
The hot kitchen is furnished with seriously heavy duty kit designed to be hardwearing enough to cope with the requirements of up to 4,000 covers per day.
Two 40-grid gas-powered Rational SelfCookingCenters are key to such a large operation and are linked to a computer where the cooking process is registered every hour and can be viewed remotely, for instance to keep a check on items being slow-cooked overnight.
A modular island suite incorporates two Premium-Line 850 Vitro-Express induction boiling tables by Kuppersbusch, each with four cooking zones and an open cupboard base.
A 1,520mm charbroiler from Hobart gets plenty of use - a chef can spend four hours chargrilling 600 chicken breasts and veg for platters - and a thermostatically controlled electric Chieftain Heavy Duty Dual Fryer provides 19-litres capacity per pan.
Also by Hobart, two electric salamanders finish off dishes such as gratinated gnocci, Dauphinoise potatoes, pizza, eggs Benedict and are also used for flashing for plated service.
Unsurprisingly, there are several items of bulk cooking equipment. Two 80-litre Hobart gas bratt pans are used for searing all joints of meat prior to roasting in the combi ovens or for searing off 600 portions for a plated meal, in addition to preparing large quantities of wet dishes such as bolognese and curry.
Sauces and mash
A 151-litre Vario Mixer Kettle, also by Kuppersbusch, is both stirred and motor-tilting making easy work of sauces and mashed potatoes. Recipes can be programmed in so that all the ingredients are listed on a panel together with temperature and mixing speed and it will stir constantly and even take down the temperature to 26°C ready for blast chilling.
Service gantries to the far end of the hot kitchen are used to send dishes for plated service and bowl food for the banqueting hall. A line of three Victor banqueting carts are sent loaded to the buffet points to make replenishing quick and easy.
Sited in a corner off the main prep area and away from the heat is a pastry kitchen. Equipment here includes another Kuppersbusch induction boiling table and Rational combi oven, an Electrolux mixer for choux pastry, cookie mix and bread and a granite-topped Foster refrigerated counter.
A separate wash-up area has a Meiko K200 rack dishwasher with a capacity of 100/150 racks per hour, and a Meiko DV200 pass-through machine takes care of pots, Gastronorm trays and chopping boards. Glassware has it's own separate wash room, for health and safety reasons, furnished with another Meiko pass-through machine.
A further phase of development of the site, due for completion in early 2012, is the Steven Saunders Training Academy, a finishing school for catering graduates, and a 400-cover restaurant also bearing Saunders' name.
Given the iconic motorsport location, you might expect some petrol heads among the staff but Smith insists he doesn't fall into that category, although he adds, "If I was offered a DB V9 as a company car I wouldn't turn it down".
One side of the modular cooking suite incorporates two Kuppersbusch induction boiling tables with glass ceramic hobs each divided into four cooking zones, while two 800mm Hobart manual tilt bratt pans take up much of the other side.
Producing large quantities of mash takes just two hours in the Kuppersbusch boiling kettle. The potatoes and water go in to cook, then the water is drained out and the paddle mashes them.
The 100mm insulated Foster coldrooms ensure enough storage for the vast amount of fresh produce, while the Foster refrigerated counter is topped with a granite slab which stays chilled and is therefore perfect for pastry work.
Two Hobart electric salamander grills each feature an adjustable height grilling shelf and Incoloy heating elements.
The prep area stretches almost the entire length of the kitchen and plenty of stainless steel benches, provide adequate workspace for all the prep required for an event.
Aspire Hospitality 0118 989 2177
Catering Design Group 01327 314860
http://www.ceda.co.uk" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">www.ceda.co.uk
Electrolux 0800 988 2809
Foster Refrigerator 0843 216 8800
Hobart 0844 888 7777
Rational 0800 389 2944
Victor 01274 722125