With the news that the Leicester Tigers 1880 suite had the highest customer experience score across comparable hospitality offerings and the club placing third in the Stadium Events & Hospitality Awards 2023, we sat down with Levy Head Chef Matt Whiteman to talk about the Tigers hospitality experience, how he creates the menus and his culinary journey.
Leicester Tigers: So, firstly, how long have you been in hospitality and with Levy?
Matt Whiteman: I’ve spent four years with Levy UK + Ireland and 15 years in catering, working across the Midlands. I’ve worked at Aston Villa, at Northampton Saints, Wolves and I was a sous chef over at Leicester City before joining the team at Tigers.
As a fan it’s nice to work in these sorts of places and see both sides of it, to go behind the scenes at huge stadiums. I came to Tigers a few times as a kid with my Dad and now to be able to work here is very cool.
I worked for two years in Scotland but other than that I grew up in north Leicester, I now live in North Leicester; if someone would have offered me the chance to work here growing up I’d have had their arm off!
LT: So, you began here at a similar time to Levy’s introduction to the club as catering partners.
MW: Yes, around that time. The progression we’ve had from when Levy first took over at Tigers to where we are now is stark. When you look at the plans for the decoration in the Prem suite, the additional offerings in the concourses, the development of the 502 lounge, the building of the new Chairman’s lounge.
You feel like every season that passes, there are new avenues being opened up and to be a part of that process over the last few years keeps you excited.
LT: Is there any area you’re particularly proud of in your time here?
MW: For me, it’s always tough in hospitality, we’re always looking out for new chefs as fewer and fewer are joining the industry. So, for us to continue to deliver at such a high-level for events and to have retained 90% of the same people over several years is a huge achievement for us and testament to the working environment we create here.
LT: Is there anything in particular that inspired you to become a chef?
MW: As cliché as it sounds, it was actually watching Jamie Oliver on TV! From there I went on to Leicester College and then up to Scotland and my career was underway.
LT: How do you go about preparing a menu?
MW: Being part of Levy, there’s a great network of other chefs you can pull inspiration from which is very helpful. Leicester has a rich cultural diversity with a huge range of brilliant restaurants which help to inspire us.
At Levy we have a ‘food philosophy’ which sets us different sustainability targets as a kitchen team each year. This year’s target sees us aim to serve only plant-based desserts, with the goal being that all our desserts will be plant-based going forward without compromising on quality or flavour.
In line with our net zero ambitions, another objective is to reduce red meat on menus; we have to be clever with how we use certain cuts and exactly how we put together our dishes.
LT: Is there a big emphasis on local ingredients in your cooking?
MW: The traceability of all of the products we serve, from farm to plate, is paramount to us as an organisation.
Wherever possible, we like to support local suppliers and we are surrounded by some of the very best. We have strong links with ‘the veg man’ who is nearby at the vegetable market, who can tell us the exact farm in Tamworth our strawberries come from. We also ensure none of our fruit and vegetables are shipped by air freight.
The change over the last few years from mass-produced items to source-ability and local stuff means the customers can have a deeper appreciation for exactly what they’re eating.
LT: How would you describe the experience at the 1880 club?
MW: The 1880 club is our top-end, en masse dining experience.
We like to diversify the menu offer week by week, dependent on seasonality and a specific fixture; for instance, if we’re playing a European team we’re able to branch out into French cuisine or for the Harlequins game last season we had a King’s Coronation theme, as it fell on the same day.
With the likes of the Stormers venturing to Mattioli Woods Welford Road next year, the chance to look at a South African menu will be very cool.
LT: Do you have any particular favourite restaurants in the local area?
MW: Absolutely, Sapori in Antsey. It’s an Italian restaurant, the two owners took over an old working men’s club around 10 years ago and the development they’ve done and the food they serve is amazing.
Ahead of the 2023/24 campaign, seasonal hospitality at Mattioli Woods Welford Road is proving extremely popular, with only limited spaces available in the 1880 Club and The Chairman’s Lounge and all other offerings sold out.
To enjoy your matchdays in style in the 1880 Club, find out more online, contact the Commercial Team on 0116 217 1215 or email [email protected].