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Behind the scenes of the colossal task of feeding thousands of hungry football fans

ndrew Draper, head chef at Cardiff City stadium, from catering partner Compass Cymru

The energy in the stadium will be high ahead of Wales’ World Cup play-off final on 5 June, and many supporters will be relying on their usual food and drink traditions to settle their nerves. A game day pie is the usual for many football fans, and those lucky enough to be in hospitality will be anticipating a multi-course meal before kick-off. But behind the scenes, making and serving all of those meals is a massive undertaking.

In the lead up to the big match, we talk to Andrew Draper, head chef at Cardiff City stadium, from catering partner Compass Cymru, about what it takes to cater for these crucial football games.

How many people will you cater for on a big match day?

On event days, our main service kitchen can serve 600 plated meals in one hour! To put this into context, an average-sized restaurant would have around 70 covers over a four-hour sitting. So it’s extremely busy in the kitchen on game day!

To give an idea of scale, we plate up nearly a thousand desserts and welsh cakes for corporate areas on a big event, and we get through around 50 kg of Pembrokeshire potatoes.

How do you manage these huge numbers of people?

The specialist skill for stadium catering and hospitality is knowing how to maintain high quality and consistency. This is our area of expertise, and our fantastic team thrives on the pressure and challenge of catering for large numbers.

We manage it through careful planning, rotational cooking, and using our experience to work out the numbers and the most appropriate menu. But the key thing for the day is timing.

What considerations go into the menu planning?

At Cardiff City Stadium – as with all Compass Group UK & Ireland sites – we champion seasonal, local produce, to reduce the carbon emissions that our food creates – in line with our Climate Net Zero by 2030 target. Seasonality is an absolute must, as it’s not only more sustainable, but it guarantees the best-tasting produce. We ensure that there are plenty of plant-based options and think about how we can keep waste to a minimum.

We use local suppliers and local produce wherever possible, so this factors into what food we include on the day. We love to use as much Welsh food and drink as we’re able to – we’re fortunate to have an incredible natural larder here in Wales, so it’s an obvious choice anyway, but it always gets a fantastic response from customers.

Of course, we also need to consider what items our guests will want to eat on the day, and how we can create the dishes at the quantity we need them.

How many people are on the team working behind the scenes in the kitchen?

I’m supported by sous chef, Penny Oates and kitchen admin manager, Julie Tabbott. On game day we can operate with as many as 14 chefs and six porters.

Do you have any superstitions or traditions when a big game is on?

We always have a special start to game day, to ensure the team is on their best form. Just as the players need to take care of themselves and prepare for the challenge ahead, so do the chefs.

To do this, we make sure that all the chefs get a hearty breakfast and take some time to just have a sit down and enjoy a cup of tea. It’s an intensive day ahead concentrating on creating amazing food, so it’s vital that they take time beforehand to think of themselves and make sure they’re fully ready for the day.

It starts the day off right and gets us game-ready!

Has football catering changed in recent years?

It has changed massively! Compass has always been an advocate of sustainable menus, so I’ve been trained from the beginning of my career to consider seasonality, but since the launch of Compass Cymru last year, we’ve increased the focus on local produce further. We’ve got some incredible suppliers that we use wherever we can, such as Fabulous Welshcakes and Castell Howell, which give an even more local feel to the menu.

We find that this goes down extremely well– people notice if we’re using Pembrokeshire potatoes and they love seeing the Welsh dragon appearing on the labelling. it’s also a fantastic way to promote our excellent Welsh produce to people coming in from outside the country.

We’re also increasing plant-based alternatives on our menus. 20 years ago, a vegetarian dining with us on game day would have been very unusual, yet we now have a huge number of clients and players that are either vegetarian, simply like a plant-based option or follow a vegan diet. We easily cater for over 100 vegetarian main meals at an average event.

For the last three years our Chairman’s Lounge has been zero meat, so we have a 100% vegetarian – and sometimes 100% vegan menu for both the board of directors and travelling opposition directors. This gives us the opportunity to put fruit and veg as the focus of the plate and try some really creative and innovative dishes.

Can you give us some examples of the dishes that you cook on game day?

We had a fantastic spread for the Cardiff City V Derby County game which took place on St David’s Day this year, which gives an idea of what our menu looks like.

We had a real Welsh flavour in honour of the special day. Starters included Glamorgan sausage bon bons with Welsh lady date & fig chutney; ‘Proper cheese on toast’ Welsh rarebit topped sourdough croutes, with homemade 1927 ale chutney, and herb crusted Welsh lamb lollipops, with minted llaeth yr lan yogurt.

The main courses featured a pan seared supreme of chicken, Carmarthen ham & leek farce, chicken crackling, Miser’s feast, seasonal vegetables and Cardiff jus, while the meat-free meal was delicious seasonal greens savoury Welsh cakes, charred baby leeks, green thunder & white wine sauce.

To finish, we had a choice of Penderyn crème brulee, Bara brith bread & butter puds with vanilla custard, white chocolate & Merlyn shot pots, amber pudding tarts, and of course Fantastically Fabulous Welsh cakes.

It was a very popular and delicious menu, which really showcased Welsh produce.