17 Jan 2019
Icon - Industry Insight

Darren is top player at Rotherham Football Club

Food and football fan Darren Kelly has found his niche in large sports stadia catering but he’s also proud to be a league leader as a 2019 Sodexo Chef of the Year finalist.

It’s 20 years since Darren graduated from Sheffield College and, after a job-hopping early start to his catering career, he’s now settled in the conferences and banqueting arena.

Visitors to the AESSEAL New York Stadium, home of Rotherham United FC, are promised ‘you will never forget our delicious food and catering’ and head chef Darren and his Centerplate team keep hundreds of customers happy every week.

“I am an experienced chef who likes to create modern menus using innovative and classic techniques with fresh seasonal ingredients,” said Darren.

The New York stadium contract was one of 50 UK venues operated by Centerplate, which Sodexo acquired in November 2017, more than doubling its sports and leisure revenue.

Darren has worked at the stadium since it opened seven years ago. He says it’s purpose-built for conferences and banqueting, with all the partitioned matchday boxes able to be opened up to create one big restaurant space.

“Over Christmas we were doing events for 650 each night, and most matchdays we have 500,” he said. “On a busy day, there are nine chefs and four kitchen porters in the kitchen.

“I am well trained in pastry and we make all our own pastries. Everything is home-made and we’ve got a good reputation.”

At the Sodexo Chef of the Year contest, Darren will be serving up a starter of butternut squash tortellini, a main of seared rump of British lamb with glazed sweetbreads and pistachio, and a dessert of white chocolate cheesecake with variations of blood orange.

“People might not expect someone from little old Rotherham to be involved in the Sodexo Chef of the Year competition,” admitted Darren. “I started out feeling a bit nervous but the more I’ve seen, the more of an achievement I can see it is, and I’m really proud.”

Darren hit upon the idea of a career in catering while at school in Sheffield and, at 16, decided to train at Sheffield College. He gained his NVQ levels 2 and 3, and chef’s diploma and then moved to London to work at the Sheraton Hotel on Park Lane. “It was voted the best banqueting suite in the country, so it was great experience,” he said. “But after 10-11 months I wanted to move back to Sheffield to be closer to home.”

He worked in restaurants including Tankersley Manor Hotel, near Barnsley, as sous chef before switching to a Best Western hotel, the Charnwood at Blyth in Nottinghamshire, as second chef.

“It was while I was working in the hotels that I became more of a banqueting chef, enjoying the pressure of producing 400-500 meals at a time,” confessed Darren.

“An opportunity came up at Sheffield International Venues and that’s when I first got into sports venue catering.”

Darren stayed with them for eight-and-a-half years and worked at lots of different venues, like the Don Valley Stadium, Ponds Forge, Olympic Sports Village and Sheffield City Hall, before taking up his current role as head chef at Rotherham FC.

Although working at the home of The Millers, Darren is a Sheffield United fan so, when work permits, he goes to watch his beloved Blades.

The Sodexo Chef of the Year 2019 final takes place at 12.20pm on Tuesday 22 January. Follow the action live on Twitter using the hashtag #SodexoChef19.

Search our latest Chef vacancies here and be the next Sodexo Chef of the Year

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