Fresh from a record-breaking Christmas campaign, the New Year is starting just as brightly for Sandy Park head chef Denis Turner and his kitchen team.
Having served up over 4,000 festive meals during the month of December, a new record for the award-winning Exeter venue, now attentions have switched to an equally busy period ahead.
As well as coping with the daily demands of the ever-popular Conference & Banqueting facility, the Scouse chef is also responsible for overseeing the daily food demands for top rugby side Exeter Chiefs and, of course, crowds of over 10,000 spectators for match-days.
It’s a hectic time for one and all but, as they say, ‘if you can’t handle the heat, then get out the kitchen.’
At home behind the plethora of ovens, grills and cooking hobs, Denis is happy to oversee his dedicated legion of chefs and catering staff, who shortly will be preparing to line-up alongside renowned Michelin-star chef, Michael Caines MBE, for the second Gourmet Evening in aid of the Exeter Foundation on Thursday, March 10 at Sandy Park.
Building on the success of last year’s event, which helped to raise £3,000 for the Foundation, both Denis and Michael have devised a seasonal four-course menu, which will bring together not only their proven talents, but at the same time showcase the very best produce the region has to offer.
“It’s something different to what we are normally used to,” explains Denis. “Working alongside someone like Michael is great, not just for myself, but also for my team and also the young students who come in from Michael’s very own Academy.
“It’s a chance for all of us to show off a little bit with some great local produce, as well as put on an evening that people will remember for a long time. I think the fact we’re able to raise funds for such a worthwhile charity at the same time merely adds to the whole occasion.”
Such are the demands of the busy Sandy Park kitchen that never is there a quiet moment. Following the multi-million pound expansion of the stadium back in the summer of 2014, increased numbers for match-days, events, conferences and meetings mean there is no time to rest on your laurels.
“It’s hard at times,” explains Denis. “If you take December for example, not only did we have our busiest Christmas period ever, but we also had two very big match-days to contend with as well.
“It puts pressure on you to deliver every time, but it’s just the same for say the Chiefs players every time they take to the field. What I like about it all is that we can inject some real passion into what we do.
“Feeding 50 strapping rugby guys is a challenge in itself, just because of the amount they eat each day, but at the same time we’ve got so many other things going on. That’s why when we have the chance to try other things, like the Gourmet Evening coming up, that we get excited about it and really look to pull out all the stops.”
Like Denis, Michael – who recently announced he is to leave Gidleigh Park after 21 years to oversee the redevelopment of Courtlands, a Grade II listed Georgian mansion near Lympstone into a luxury country house hotel – is equally excited about the duo’s upcoming event.
Michael said: “I’m looking forward to returning to Sandy Park and working with Chef Turner again.
“The fact that the evening is in aid of the Exeter Foundation makes it more special, as this is a cause I feel very strongly about and thoroughly enjoy being a trustee and ambassador for.”
With places at the Gourmet Evening limited to just 100 people, demand to sample the culinary delights is sure to be high. Tickets for the evening cost £100 +VAT and can be purchased by contacting 01392 427427 or firstname.lastname@example.org