Over the last year, I have reviewed and experienced many restaurants with their respected chefs around the globe. What I am discovering is that these talented chefs like to branch out on their own and team up with other organisations for different eating experiences. I have noticed with Michelin inspired star chefs a new, trend is forming, to make the experience as accessible as possible.
At England Rugby this week, it is all about serving food that is rustic, authentic, well presented and not intimidating for the customer, let alone a Rugby fan the standard is as equal to a Michelin experience.
What is the relationship between food and sport? How can your choice of meal enhance the experience? What impact does the environment, sound and smell have on the way you taste food or remember an event? What is the best food for sports fans and why?
For years we’ve seen the diets of top sportspeople analysed and dissected to improve performance, but no-one has ever looked at which food best enhances the experience of the sports fan. I was one of the first to taste some of the dishes that have been developed by Executive Head Chef, Thomas Rhodes specifically to enhance the matchday experience in Twickenham’s new East Stand venues. Tom with England Rugby, teamed up with help of a sensory expert, Professor Barry Smith, who created dishes for the new East Stand menus.
The experiment began in the England Rugby changing rooms, move onto the hallowed Twickenham turf and finished in the President’s Room.
My Eating Background As A Fan
I grew up in rural Australian with Italian parents. They combined their food culture with an Ozzie one. The two became a fabulous growing up experience, which was priceless. I also grew up with some of the finest athletes in Australia. The game I watched was always amazing but when it came to the food experience, I would always pack my mum’s dishes. This resulted in me being forced to swap and I end up eating average food and my other mates enjoying my authentic Italian food. Fans don’t need to do courses in cooking to understand and appreciate brilliant hearty, tasty food.
My two friends I grew up with, were one of the best AFL footballers out there. They shot to fame and I was a witness to that. I end up cooking for them on a casual basis. One ended up being an AFL superstar, all I cooked was a simple pasta dish. He scoffed it down like a man that never ate for years. In my culture, we sound like we are arguing over dinner, but the reality is we are just loving the food we have just made, it’s a lifestyle after all.
My food better be as good as an AFL game let alone an England Rugby match. If it’s not, it’s going to end up in carnage off the field.
It was so inspirational to have met Maggie Alfonsi who gave us a brilliant insight to the World of England Rugby. An unexpected way to be greeted into the world of Rugby by a woman. Take the time to listen to why women too should embrace Rugby.
Margaret “Maggie” Alphonsi MBE, is a former English rugby union player who played as a flanker for Saracens W.R.F.C. and England before retiring in 2014.
When I got invited to sporting events, I always pack my own food. The reason is, I have always wanted the eating experience to match my day by watching brilliant matches. The reality is that the food served at sporting venues was average in both presentation and taste. So when I got invited to Twickenham Stadium in south-west London where the England Rugby is played, I was super keen to see what I was going to be presented.
When I heard I was going to be given a Scottish Egg or a Pork Pie, I will be honest in saying. I was ready to tackle Master Chef Tom Rhodes! These are the two least favourite England dishes for me, end of!
Tom Rhodes is the Executive Head Chef at Twickenham Stadium in south-west London, which bears the responsibility of managing 32 different kitchens on site. For me cooking at this level, is like playing one hell of a cooking match when it comes to fan food experiences. To be able to produce mass food at a high level, with a pace equal to any rugby player, is a challenge that requires the utmost skill. It comes to no surprise that it’s taken him over a year to perfect the following cuisines he presented.
It makes perfect sense to dish up steak and chunky chips. I grew up on a beef farm so nothing better than eating steak sourced from the finest farms in England. A good steak is important when watching an England Rugby match. The steak, was yummy, juicy and tender. The chunky chips were cooked to perfection.
My heart was racing when I saw this Scottish Egg. Equal to that feeling before a match in the changing rooms, ready to take on England, naturally I represent Australia on this occasion. My history with Scottish Eggs, is they are really cold, the crumbs are nasty and the egg has been laid by the oldest chicken out there. The verdict, was a pleasant surprise and the nicest Scottish Egg, I have ever tasted. Might be down to Tom, being Welsh!
There is nothing worse to be given a Pork Pie, that is so hard, I could knock out the whole England Rugby team. Historically the crust is super hard, crumbles in my hands and the pork mix itself is just simply nasty in texture and taste. Once again it is the best Pork Pie eating experience I have ever had. I could have eaten loads.
Now I have just come back from South East Asia, I have been out there for four months, the seafood there was amazing. The eating experience is second to none. I was very intrigued to see and taste what Tom could produce here. I love how he is supporting local food industry within the UK as a whole. For me this is the key to a successful recipe in itself. Once again, I could tackle the England Rugby team for this particular dish, super yummy.
It’s the worse drink you could ever serve me at a match, I never liked the drink and as far as I am concerned, I never will. Until I was given one here at Twickenham Stadium. Really yummy, spot-on regarding the adrenaline pre-match drink. Don’t worry they serve non-alcoholic ones too.
Get my dessert wrong, it’s over and out for any chef. Here it was beautifully presented and tasted amazing. I call this the feel-good factor dessert. That even if England lost to Australia, this dessert would soothe the soul.
Overall Fan Experience
This was an amazing way to experience food as a fan. There will also be other cultural dishes to match the fans from abroad too. Which is if you are coming from South Africa, you will be greeted to some familiar dishes with an English twist. The skill thought process that has gone into making this food is down to many factors. A lot of scientific research has gone into these dishes, reassuring fans and those that are not fans to come and try the food here at Twickenham Stadium. From a spectators point of view, it is like no other, I have tasted. Thanks to Tom Rhodes, and sensory expert Professor Barry Smith, who created dishes for the new East Stand menus.
Well done to, RFU, England Rugby who has understood that food for fans, is just as important as the match.
Rugby, after all, is a lifestyle.