Our latest Industry Insider is a Behind Sport first! We sat down with Motherwell’s Head Chef, Euan McInnes…
Tell us about yourself. What is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
I am Euan McInnes. I am the (performance) Head Chef at Motherwell Football Club, having joined in January 2019.
Over the years, I have worked in busy, fast-paced restaurants and hotels such as Thistle Hotels and one of the leading seafood restaurants in Glasgow city centre. Also, for a good eight years, I ran the catering operation in the government’s Department of International Development. This job led me to work at the Lord Mayors Banquet in London and cook for the Prime Minister and foreign visitors, such as the then Malawian President Hastings Banda.
I even had the chance to work one summer at Buckingham Place at the Queens Garden parties, but my wife was very close to giving birth, so I had to turn that opportunity down.
What do you do in your current role?
Around 70% of my time is spent working with/on the football side, providing daily meals around the team’s training and playing schedule for the first team, reserves, academy teams and coaching staff. I also provide food before and after games when needed.
I work on a menu with a strong nutritional balance of protein and carbohydrates based on the needs of modern-day football players. I work closely with Andy Boles, our excellent and experienced sports scientist, and Chris Lucketti, the assistant manager, keeping in contact with them for any tweaks or something to change or try.
It’s essential to keep tabs on the teams’ routines, as things can change at different times for different people. With Andy, we look at ways to maximise the nutritional offer to the team and teach and encourage the players to gain a sporting advantage through a good diet.
The other part of my role is to provide and serve the hospitality side of the business. Our corporate match day catering in different stands operates from six kitchens and is extremely busy, and on top of that, we’ll have other functions as well. Plus, I manage my small team of kitchen staff, constantly order provisions, manage food costs with suppliers and manage all hygiene and safety aspects of these areas. A lot of liaising is also done with colleagues in different departments like the media team, facilities staff and hospitality booking staff.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
Average? Wow. So many things can happen or change in a week that it can throw up more surprises than Surprise Surprise. If the week consists of an away game, it is usually straightforward, serving breakfast and lunch specific to each training day’s needs.
Training might be cancelled at short notice. The guys might get an extra day off. Then other ad hoc things might arise – like reserve matches – where the lunch service will be half food to takeaway, half the regular service, and at different times. That can throw things out, but we adapt, and it sometimes gives us the chance to catch up on things.
Sometimes, you’re off and then suddenly training is on! Or an impromptu meeting might need catering. This is what football is – it is unique. But this is where liaising with others becomes critical. Being “Chef Euan” really requires a sixth and seventh sense sometimes.
On a home match week, in addition to the football schedule, the planning for the catering for match day starts on the Monday or even the Friday before. Numbers will fluctuate, and you hope you’re informed of all dietary requirements in advance.
A matchday for me will start at 8am straight through to about 5 or 6pm, with next to no break and picking away as the day progresses. It’s a day-long battle. We will serve around 500 people with food, getting sent to all different areas around the ground. It really can be akin to one of those movies, such as the panic stations on a submarine or a ship’s engine room. An easy day does not exist in my kitchen. Even Jurgen Klopp would chuckle and say, “wow”.
As much as the football team needs to be fit, so does a chef. I can cover 10k on a matchday and at a quick pace.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
For this job at Motherwell, I just saw it advertised, applied and thankfully, my manager Suzanne took a leap of faith in me. The weird thing was that a couple of days before I saw the advert, I just said to myself: ‘It would be great if Motherwell needed a head chef,’ because I remember another job had come up a couple of months before that.
I’ve never had an inkling for working in sport. In previous jobs I’ve had, I’ve come across celebrities, football players, politicians and musicians. Liam Gallagher is a memorable one. There was an encounter where one night I kept him quiet and out of trouble up in Cameron House where Paul Gascoigne was lurking in the background too.
I always wondered what it would be like working in sport. When I worked in Glasgow a couple of years back, Bayern Munich were staying at the Radisson Hotel. Just seeing the grand immaculate bus parked outside at different times of the day and the players loading and unloading was cool to see. Now I’m part of it all and helped the team qualify for Europe the season before last. It was a great feeling.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
A cliché question for a chef, but it really must be the food. The focus is aiming for accuracy and consistency. The two go hand in hand in any order. The players need and deserve the best I can give them in food quality and variation as I try to help put a well-fuelled team on the park. But that comes while getting the best value for the money I spend on food, which to me is the fans’ cash, after all. The manager and Andy bestow a lot of trust in what I produce. My area of focus helps contribute to the overall direction for the team: to win games and get three points. On a Friday, as myself and Gaffer part ways, I say: “that’s it, Gaffer, nothing more I can do, it’s over to you guys.”
But also, on the hospitality side, accuracy and consistency in the food is the one focus too. This helps to drive income on matchdays and more, which ultimately feeds into the club overall. On a matchday, equally, like the players, I’m putting on a show. A bit like the Greatest Showman, you want the place to place “come alive!”.
It’s essential to have advertisements and staff pushing sales. But any food-led business that is poor doesn’t tend to fair well.
Lastly, food is a commodity that deserves respect and to be treated with care. Those hard-working farmers that rear cattle or grow various vegetables, or the fisherman out in the seas catching Cod or Langoustines, really are super.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
Being a chef, there are three golden rules. One, give yourself enough time to be ready. Two, have enough food. And three, have enough staff, especially when it comes to function work.
There was a time in my past on a busy Saturday night that I never prepared well enough for service. One of those nights, we sold way more than we thought. Steaks, fillets, ribeyes, the lot. Plus everything that nobody ever really ordered. Duck breasts, lamb shanks, even the veggie options in the days when they weren’t as possible. The 8pm bookings got congested with the 7.30pm and 8.30pm bookings. In minutes, the night was like an a la carte function for over 100 people with a couple of large tables chucked in for good measure.
The team and I struggled and suffered big time. It would be ages before starters would be sent. The main courses looked a mess the whole night. It was ugly. What did I learn? To be ready. Have extra, and as mentioned, expect surprises and get every piece of detail about who, when and how many. This stands me in good stead even today.
In this job, yes, sometimes things have not gone to plan. Sometimes they’ve been on the edge of going wrong. But I’ve got through it. I have not let this team down.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
For the moment in the remnants of Covid, it has to be the return of fans. I think on the park, we missed the encouragement the team needed. Football finances have proven the game is nothing without the fans.
Motherwell FC fans really are great. Buying season tickets, Well Society memberships, doing what they can to help. I’m not sure how far that went into saving jobs during Covid. But I’m very humbled and thankful for it. You would not see people put money into local gyms or other business types just to help it out with not expecting anything back.
I’m also excited by Scottish sport. We now have a rugby team that wins. And the football team? Stevie Clarke has been excellent.
Lastly, it is exciting that the [erformance chef role has become a more seriously taken function within football and sport, where the job is being split between the sport side and hospitality side. This opens up new and different types of jobs to chefs that understand nutrition and superfoods.
If you could change one thing about your industry, what would you change?
As I’m a chef, this one is from that side. As if FIFA and UEFA would listen to my ideas on footy. But a World Cup at Christmas in Qatar? Nah.
Change is slowly starting to come in terms of how valued and respected chefs are. For too long, the perception of a chef has not been respected or recognised enough. From what the job entailed 20 years ago to now has evolved so much. We now have so much more knowledge. Knowledge of different diets, allergen knowledge, calorie knowledge, and differing international cuisines.
Add in the usual stuff of extreme heat, cold, early starts, late finishes, cuts, burns, high pain thresholds, long physical weeks, volatile, unpredictable staff. The list goes on before we’ve even chopped a carrot or switched on a gas. Employers want guys with this skill, knowledge and endurance. But there’s still some way to go for it to be where it needs to be.
The mental stress is hard to bear at times. There are moments where you question everything and even rare moments where you want to throw the towel in.But a true chef does not want to let down their fellow chefs. And at times, you need to have bravery and balls of steel for the level of task you accept.
The treatment during Covid to hospitality workers has been deplorable in many cases, but some feel they are entitled to be like that. This is where the added pressure is. Like a footballer or other sports person, we have a standard or performance level to achieve and aspire to every day.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
In some part, you don’t really switch off. Definitely as a team chef anyway. Though Covid has taught many that there must be more to life than a job.
Just in the spring there, I got involved with my boy’s rugby team as a coach. I played rugby in my younger years. I have just completed the SRU equivalent of the UKCC level 1 coaching and World Rugby Laws of the game exam. I love it.
It is very rewarding to give time to others. I think post-Covid, anybody that can at some point in their life should try and help others now rather than just always do solitary individual stuff. The kids have suffered the most and lost out on so much. So, in my view, let’s try and get them back on track and share our skills, knowledge and experience. Seeing a kid understanding learning and developing in something is quite special.
Like many, Covid made me a Netflix fanatic too. I love the German series Dark, The Ozarks. I like Ricky Gervais’ stuff like Derek and Afterlife.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
The advice I would give someone wishing to work in sport is. Go and seek it out. Previously I would not have known how to get into this as an industry choice. But there are websites out there that advertise such jobs. Uksportsjobs is one website. You can browse many types of jobs, coaching, media, admin, catering. Loads of stuff. Some of the jobs can be at regional level too. See what they are looking for or fancy doing. Check what qualifications they want and work towards it. You may already have relevant or transferrable skills. Put in some honest graft, the will to win and, importantly, be yourself.
Though in honesty, I would emphasise it is better to start somewhat young if you can. Definitely be prepared to travel, possibly relocate. Lastly, if you’re in a relationship, how strong is it? My wonderful wife Shirley definitely picks up a lot of the slack at home with the housework and kids because of my schedule. She is a massive support.
It’s a wonderful experience that I’m enjoying. I have a lot of time and fondness for those I work with. One week of working in sport will give you more stories than 10 years in a call centre.
How to connect with Euan McInnes…
I started my own YouTube page called Dudeoffood. I’ve been asked so many times how to make so many different foods. I decided to sort a channel as a way to show people.
It is in its infancy, but it’s a cooking channel aimed at people who are not confident or cannot cook. It takes and shows supermarket ingredients and how to bring it all together in a quality restaurant-style without too much fuss. I’m building it up slowly.
Thanks for reading our Industry Insider with Euan McInnes! If you want to read more from the series, you can do so by clicking here.