Mark Reynolds, Levy UK + Ireland: ‘I think the perception of contract catering chefs was that everything was premade, everything was bought in, but, it's definitely changing’

The  Staff Canteen

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Spotlight: Mark Reynolds, regional executive head chef for London, Levy UK + Ireland

Since his dad bought a pub in the 80s Mark Reynolds was always going to be a chef and even joined the army as a chef.

However, military life wasn’t for Mark, and he left. Eventually, he began a job working as a chef at Wembley stadium. This was during the time that Tottenham Hotspur was building their stadium and using Wembley for their home matches.

Because of this, the team at Tottenham asked Mark if he would like to join them at their new stadium. This is where his Compass journey started when he began working for their sports and leisure arm, Levy UK + Ireland.

Career with Levy UK + Ireland

During our conversation, Mark described how it had always been a dream of his to see Wembley and getting to work there as a chef was a ‘dream come true’.

He said: “I suppose the biggest thing with Levy UK+I was the opening night that we did at Tottenham. The anticipation was so huge to get it right. Unfortunately, we had a lot of delays with the stadium, and, in the end, we were given 10 days to switch it on. 

“So, at that point, we didn't have any chefs booked, we didn't have any supplies in the building. We had 10 days to become a fully functioning catering space, but as I say it was a real team effort we all came together, worked long hours and we got it organised, we got it delivered.”

He added: “The atmosphere on the opening night was amazing. The fans were just so happy to be back in their home. It was a fantastic night.”

Since then, he has continued to grow in his Compass career,  and was recently made regional executive head chef for London, putting him in charge of Levy UK + Ireland’s operations in 10 sites, including The O2, Wembley Arena and the National Theatre.

Regarding this role, he said: “It’s driving the process, so we're all working to the same hymn sheet and, for me, it's really nice, it's a chance to start mentoring some younger people. Within the 10 sites, you've got different characters and it's great to be able to bring them together as one team.”

Along with that, he talked about how much support the business has given him even outside of his role in the company and said: “For me Compass is great - I'm vice chairman of the Craft Guild as well - they support me in that. I've just done some mental health awareness training, which was something I'd never been exposed to before. Doing the mental health training certainly opened my eyes to how I approach people.

“The stigma needs to be broken down and I’m really working hard on that. I’ll have an open door – whether you’re a chef, a porter or a waiter my door’s always open – if you’re struggling, need to talk then the door will be open. I know we all talk about mental health but, I think we need to speak about it a little bit more.”

Why Contact catering?

Mark admitted that along with the work-life balance he achieved with contract catering, he was also drawn to it because of the thrill of doing big events. Big events such as catering for a Lady Gaga concert.

When asked if contract catering was comparable to restaurant work, he said, “Nah, it's leagues and leagues above. I mean, I run 18 restaurants now rather than one. I'm very lucky, sometimes I have to pinch myself and look back at where I've come from to where I am now.”

However, despite his positive opinion of this section of the industry, he didn’t shy away from the fact that, especially with traditional restaurant chefs, there was some amount of looking down at those that worked in contract catering.

He said: “I think the perception of contract catering chefs was that everything was pre-made, everything was bought in. But, for me, it's definitely changing. Here at Tottenham - and other clubs we work with - we're working with a lot of guest chef partnerships, and they're quite in awe of the scale of what we do and the quality that we deliver. 

“We've worked with guys like Tom Booton, we're working with Tom Sellars at the moment, and these guys are coming into our environment now to work in our world.”

Along with that, he described how Levy UK + Ireland and the Compass family as a whole, was forward thinking and supported his ethos of “bringing young people into the industry.” As well as also trying to push the industry to be more sustainable.

He said: “I'm very passionate about using local suppliers wherever I can and that's been a huge thing for us for a while now. Sustainability, using local suppliers and cutting down on food miles. We do that for the right reasons, but that's always been a passion of mine.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th September 2022

Mark Reynolds, Levy UK + Ireland: ‘I think the perception of contract catering chefs was that everything was premade, everything was bought in, but, it's definitely changing’

IN ASSOCIATION WITH