May 11, 2022
Luxuria Lifestyle speaks with Club Wembley’s Head of Culinary Harry Lomas
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, including your where you are today, professionally, and what got you here?
Born in Lancashire, I’ve always been interested in what was going on in the kitchen and am inspired by hearty traditional comfort food from the north of England as a result.
I started my chef career by gaining qualifications in a two-year catering apprenticeship with the Army. I owe my thirst for knowledge to some great postings and meeting some brilliant people around the world, from Master Chef with the Parachute Regiment to the United Nations in Cyprus.
I’m now a key player in the senior management team at Club Wembley and we’re the team responsible for delivering the food and hospitality at all levels throughout Wembley Stadium. I have responsibility for five full-time head chefs, 10 back of house and all the front-of-house staff who work alongside us.
On matchday, up to 250 chefs will also come in from various pools and agencies to assist us. We work with eight main restaurants, 600 main food outlets across the stadium and work in 98 kitchens, delivering around 5,000 hospitality meals, over 2,000 on buffets and over 6,000 at concessions so it’s a very busy place to operate.
Q. What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Originally it was my Mum as she was a cook at Woolworths.
Q. Who has been your biggest influence to get you to where you are today?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have many mentors throughout my career and of course, my 34 years in the Army Catering Corps have made me the man I am today, as they say. Born in Lancashire, Made in the Army so to speak.
Q. What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
There are several important considerations we have front of mind when curating our menus:
• Time – when the event is and what the lead time is
• Location – What facilities are available at the location and the position of the kitchen in relation to the service point
• Costs – including food supplies, manpower, transport, equipment, and ancillaries on the day(s)
• Time of year – seasonality and time of day the event is being held at
• Staff availability and food location
Q. Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
The spring menus have always been a favourite of mine because of the new produce that comes into season, including spring lamb and asparagus. It must be said that the autumn season brings some cracking dishes too, ideal for those comfort food dishes such as Sunday roasts and hearty casseroles.
Q. What is your favourite ingredient to create with?
I particularly enjoy working with fish and chicken – both are ideal from a spend perspective and they provide a multitude of different ways of cooking. Some of the classical dishes and sauces are also a delight to create with, especially when we’re working with our younger apprentices.
Q. What do you think is the most over-hyped food trend?
Naturally, there is a lot of hype around vegan and vegetarian options, but it is important to remember that just because someone enjoys a nice salad, it doesn’t mean they’re a fully-fledged vegetarian. It’s all about providing options and at Wembley stadium, we cater for all needs – from Halal to Jainism, veganism to pescatarians – we ensure we have something for everyone, provided we have some advanced warning of course.
Q. What differences do you find working with local produce as opposed to non-local produce in terms of what you can create and flavour?
Wherever possible, we will endeavour to use local produce, predominantly because of the environmental benefits of doing so but most importantly, so we can fully understand the field to fork story behind the produce we source. I replicate this in my life away from Wembley too, always buying local if and when I can. Unfortunately, due to the vast amounts of food we work with at Wembley for each event, lots of local suppliers cannot fulfil the deliveries and so we tend to go down the national route to ensure we’re getting the best quality produce possible and on time.
Q. How do you go about menu planning? What’s the process from picking the ingredients to getting them fresh into the kitchen and into dishes?
The years of experience I have behind me, in combination with the incredible team I work alongside who all have an input into menus and recipes, ensures that each event has new and exciting dishes available for our guests. As mentioned previously however, our menus are very much dependent on the event we’re catering for and the time of year which are both integral to the menu planning process.
We’re always looking to do something a little different, especially with world foods which work particularly well with the many international football fixtures we host at the stadium. Once the dishes are curated, we then work closely with the FA Team to ensure they have full input in the planning process, deciding which dishes work best and for Club Wembley restaurant for example.
Q. How would you describe the food you create to someone who’s never experienced Club Wembley/What is the USP of Club Wembley?
The food at Wembley is constantly evolving depending on the event, from football fixtures to concerts and everything in-between, we have a team of development Chefs who work closely with Clients to push the boundaries of the food and styles we serve at each event. We also work alongside some fantastic suppliers that bring the freshest and most vibrant food available to ensure our guests have a memorable dining experience.
I’ve always been keen on reinventing the classics by adding my own twist, whilst also inventing new dishes to keep customers engaged. This, matched with the unrivalled atmosphere of a matchday makes it an unforgettable experience. There’s nothing quite like being at Wembley Stadium – the stillness of 90,000 held breaths, the electric feel of hope in the air in the final minutes, the deafening roar of victory, watching heroes in the making in the knowledge that you are about to witness legends being made.
Q. If you could describe Club Wembley in three words, what would they be?
Exciting, Sensational and Electrifying
Q. Looking after one’s mental health is a big topic within the hospitality industry. How do you find the right work-life balance and how do you support your team to do the same?
This has always been a taboo subject in the hospitality sector. The long, unsociable working hours, often poor wages, and lack of appreciation for chefs can make it a very tough environment for chefs of all ages.
One of the many reasons I recently took a training course to become a mental health first aider was to better understand the mental stresses and strains my team are under. What’s clear is chefs are not any better or worse these days, but rather the challenges they face are different.
It’s therefore given me a different perspective on working with my team. Coming from a Military background, I was always keen to deliver at any expense and sometimes, this was to the detriment of the team. Not everyone is able to work at the pace I’ve set myself, so I now take a much more liberal approach and look after the team. The work-life balance cannot be underestimated and I’m always encouraging my team to pursue their hobbies and pastimes outside of work to ensure they get this balance right.
If we are to keep the next generation of chefs going, then we need to show them more appreciation.
W: Club Wembley