Interview with an Innovator

Elior UK’s Peter Joyner: ‘We are going to look at making things easier for our customers to track their food intake’

The food development director talks to Tom Gatehouse about his unique role at the contract catering firm, his early years conducting the kitchen at the Royal Albert Hall and his predictions for major food trends in 2020.

8 November 2019
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Joyner on paper

  • Started his career in pastry, working at Southampton’s Chilworth Manor, before becoming head chef of the Royal Albert Hall in West London
  • Joined Sodexo as a development chef and chef trainer, staying for 20 years.
  • Moved to Elior UK to fill the position of food development director

Brought up on a farm in Oxfordshire, Peter Joyner first got the cooking bug while baking with his mum in the kitchen. At first, he joined her there to avoid “going out in the mud and wet to count sheep!”

But, as so often is the case, it initiated a love for cooking, which developed into a career in pastry.

“It was the start of my career in contract catering,” Joyner says. “I eventually found it quite limiting in terms of what I wanted to achieve, but I still run courses on chocolate from time to time.”

Teaching is Joyner’s main area of expertise, first at Sodexo and now Elior UK, with over 30 years as a chef trainer and food developer under his belt. He’s no stranger to the awards scene either as, during his time at the former, Joyner was named Competition Chef of the Year at the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards 2002 – an organisation he’s gone on to be a judge for in the National Chef of the Year category, being the only representative from contract catering on the judging team.

A member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, previously a training manager and international judge for WorldSkills and a member of the Scottish national culinary team under Bruce Sangster, Joyner’s CV is as deep as it is varied, with a unique role at Elior UK centred on increasing standards, helping innovation and inspiring chefs all in the day to day now for the industry veteran.

Here, Joyner takes Tom Gatehouse through the ins and outs of his current role, which he’s had for over 10 years, while also detailing the many schemes and initiatives he leads at Elior UK and explaining the process of ingredient innovation across the company’s portfolio of sites. 

 

I was the head chef at the Royal Albert Hall [with Ring & Brymer, a division of Sodexo] for two years, and we would sometimes cater to sit down dinners for 5,000 people in the main auditorium. It was only my second or third head chef position and it was very varied. Some days we would cater for launch events, sometimes concerts and sometimes big birthdays with massive cakes.

I was at Sodexo for 20 years, working at the centre in Croydon and managing a team of six. There was lots of money being spent and we would bring people in for training days. I received my service award for the two decades I spent there but I figured I’ve got 20 more years in me and I wanted a new challenge. Sodexo were concentrating on selling additional services and I wanted to go back to focus solely on chefs and food.

I knew people at Elior and it was an easy transition and a breath of fresh air. We obviously want to keep chefs in the company, and to entice more to join us, encouraging them with opportunities for learning. Elior was a lot smaller than it is now when I joined, and I could often meet with the CEO and the leadership team. I felt that I could be involved in big decisions more than at Sodexo.

We often create competitions, lead hands-on training courses and take chefs on ingredient tours to increase their knowledge. We recently went foraging in the New Forest and to a watercress farm in Hampshire.

Mark Crowe is our menu manager and he creates fantastic menus for the sites that are fundamentally flexible and versatile. It helps to have that as all our different sites have different skill sets. Hundreds of chefs writing different menus doesn’t really work! And it isn’t the best use of their time.

We get quite a lot of chefs coming in from the restaurant and hotel industries. Some are quite burnt out from the job, some might have just had children, some are looking for different pay structures. Not all, but some. We can offer fine dining jobs, often in the city, but with more sociable hours and often with weekends off. It’s not the same pressure as, say, a top-level restaurant but the standards are just as high.

Indian BREAKfeast range from The Urban Rajah and Elior UK

We often go around the high-street for inspiration. We’ve visited Manchester, Leeds and plenty in London in the past few years. A few weeks ago, we went around Southeast London, including the Market Hall in Victoria, to see what people are doing. We’ve recently done Scandi bars and cakes. We do these four times a year and produce reports and recipes that can feature from anywhere between six to 12 months for our sites.

We take people from various areas of the company on them – from marketing, from purchasing, the social media team and, of course, chefs, and organise a combined route where everyone pitches in with different ideas from their various fields.

Veganism is obviously a huge trend and we’ve gone to see the best in London. We went to the vegan fish and chip shop in Hackney, for example, and now we have seitan, banana blossom and jackfruit as regularly featured ingredients.

We have a Dragon’s Den concept called The Big Idea where small companies come to us to pitch ideas. It’s hard for a small supplier to get on the supply chain and we want to give them opportunities. Small is quite big at the moment, if you know what I mean. They’re important and we look to put the best in touch with our own supply routes.

We’ve been doing quite a bit of work with The Urban Rajah, the blogger, on some great vegan food concepts. There is so much vegan innovation out there now and consumers who are trying to cut down on meat are particularly important to us.

Asian is a big area still and we’re working on Indian breakfast ideas – flatbreads with bacon, spiced tomatoes, etc. We’re looking at the everyday dishes and tweaking them.

Elior UK's 'Women of the Year Awards 2019' dessert

As a large company with many different types of kitchens, we wouldn’t get one ingredient in for just one dish. If there is an ingredient that’s trendy or that we just want to use, we think about using it in many different dishes and many different areas.

Contract catering is varied, interesting, great events and I feel very privileged. One recent highlight is when we catered for the 2019 Women of the Year awards and, in keeping with the event, we made a team of some of our female chefs [in collaboration with Claire Clark MBE] and created a dessert – a modern twist on the blackberry and apple crumble. It had a fig and lime sorbet, a shortbread crumble, apple and cassis purees, a powdered blackberry crumble and an amazing blackberry and apple ‘pebble.’ We served 480 portions of it to the likes of Teresa May and Lorraine Kelly.

Next year, I expect healthy eating to continue as a major trend. That would be the promotion of the best quality ingredients and their positive effects on health, rather than just making dishes low calorie but bland and boring. We are going to look at making things easier for our customers to track their food intake using tech apps.

I think there will be an evolution in grazing with changing work patterns, flexible working hours, student trends and food delivery innovation. I’m also predicting Portuguese and West African to be among the breakthrough cuisines, while sustainable snacking and avoiding single use plastic will also be key.

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