Exploring Contract Catering

Continuing our series on what it’s like to work in various corners of hospitality, we spoke to Chef Andy Aston - Head of Wellness & Nutrition at BaxterStorey and Craft Guild of Chef’s wellness ambassador - about life in contract catering. 

Chef Andy’s 30 years in contract catering have led to some fantastic opportunities, from launching many new dining experiences here in the UK to leading a team in opening the Millennium Dome and feeding many well-known faces throughout the celebrations.

Here are Chef Andy’s five reasons to love contract catering:

1. It allows you to be curious and explore different roles to find what is right for you

It took me a while to find my place. To really see where I fitted in this industry, including some early restaurant jobs I just did not enjoy. One of the best things for me about contract catering has been the ability to keep moving, and I have been lucky to have worked in and been involved in the opening of so many exciting kitchens and businesses which has led to me having an incredible variety of roles. I love the excitement of something new.

2.  You have the opportunity to travel globally

Once you get into this side of the industry, jobs come up to open new contracts all over the world. And if you are part of a large company you can find yourself working in a global network. For me that meant regular trips to visit our kitchens in New York, even when I was UK-based.

3. There are so many chances for accolades and making a name for yourself

My first contract catering job put me through college. They invested so much time and money in giving me opportunities, sending me all over the place, to do stages in kitchens across London and I was also encouraged to enter culinary competitions. It was incredible. In this time, I have been lucky to be recognised by my peers, winning A Caterer & Hotelkeeper Acorn Award, Springboard Ambassador of the Year, Springboards ‘Chris Beaumont Special Award, Craft Guild of Chefs Chef of the Year & Cost Sector Chef of the year to name a few. I am also an Academician of The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts

4. Opening new contracts can allow you to design your own kitchen!

How often do you get given a huge budget and asked to design a perfect professional kitchen? Opening new contracts is not just about cooking, it is about designing, buying equipment, hiring, thinking through the vision and how a team will work together. There is the joy of creating amazing spaces to work in, but more than anything I learned about leadership. You can be the best cook in the world, but it is all about how much you invest in your team, how to get the best out of them, this brings collective success.

5. Opportunity to develop a wide range of skills that can open new doors

Leading in contract catering demands a range of skills above and beyond great cooking; from leadership and finances to logistics, people management and presenting. But the variety of roles has also taught me deeper skills. 

Being a consultant chef for a Harley Street hospital gave me a huge life lesson. Building a successful team that would be involved in cooking food that is all part of the healing process was very satisfying, when you are sick, food plays a huge part in our recovery and working with dieticians planning nutritious meals was something I never thought I would do, but it was fantastic and changed how I now eat and cook.

It took my food in a whole new plant-based direction and taught me a lot about empathy. If somebody wants something that is not your style of cooking and it’s doing them good then you make it work, you make it the best you possibly can. That experience moulded me in so many ways and took me to where I am today.

Chef Andy Aston