Head Chef Profile - Felan Hennigan
Where did I start?
During my University studies, I began working in a small bistro as a kitchen porter based in Lincoln. Within two years, I had worked my way up through the ranks to be Head Chef after a little self-teaching. After various Head Chef jobs at restaurants and hotels in Lincoln, I moved back to Coventry to take up a position as a Development Chef at the Ricoh Arena. Whilst in this position, I was responsible for all innovation for both matchday and conferencing offerings, including the opening of ‘The Jaguar Club’. This Club was the first fine dining in-stadia restaurant and I was named a chef at HEFF’s Diamond Award Dinner of the Decade alongside Adam Bennett and Andreas Antona.
I later moved to Dublin and started a new challenge as Senior Sous Chef at the newly opened Aviva Stadium in Dublin, home to the Irish National Football and Rugby teams. I had worked up to the position of Executive Chef in 18 months and as a venue we were awarded ‘Event Caterer of the Year’ in 2013 and 2014 at the Event Industry Awards. The foundations were also left in place for the venue to be awarded the same accolade the following year when I left Ireland to return to the Midlands and take up my role as Head Chef of The Hawthorns at West Bromwich Albion.
Notable individuals I have cooked for?
During my time in industry, I have cooked for various celebrity chef’s including Aldo Zilli, Neven Maguire and Matt Tebbutt. I have also cooked for Tom Hanks, U2, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Take That, Sir Ian McKellen and other various sporting figures.
How important is produce sourcing?
There are a number of factors intrinsic to menu planning and sourcing produce: provenance, food miles, sustainability, seasonality, pricing but above all, quality. I combine all of these factors when planning a menu but always have the quality of the produce at the forefront of my mind by working extremely closely with my suppliers. To give you an example, Seville Oranges have a very short season in January at their best, but a poor summer or harsh winter may mean that their quality is poor so we may look to replace with a Spanish Blood Orange. Likewise, a period of stormy weather may affect our availability for Wild Sea Bass and send prices soaring so we may switch to a farmed Sea Bass if the quality is sufficient.
What is the standard of other chef’s in your team at West Bromwich Albion?
I cannot speak highly enough of the team that I work with here at the Club. They are consummate professionals and share my passion for great produce and innovation. Many of our matchday chefs are lecturers at Birmingham College of Food working at the top of their game to ensure a high quality of chefs for the future. Some of our other chefs have worked at the highest level ensuring they keep ‘match fit’ in terms of a working kitchen. Working with such a talented team drives us to keep developing, innovating and raising the bar, generating healthy competition in the team.
We also commit to the Birmingham College of Food by taking many students each year on placements and getting involved in as many of their initiatives as possible. Many of these students go on to work for the Club on a matchday and there is a real sense of pride and achievement in watching them progress.
Any final words?
Our approach at the Albion bucks the trend of people’s typical perception of both chefs and kitchens. We passionately work as a team, everyone bringing their strengths to create menus and express their craft and skills in presentation. The days of a Head Chef governing with a rod of iron have long gone and although I have full responsibility for our food offering, the credit is certainly shared equally.