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Palace chef explains how apprenticeship led to Mexican Day menu for Vieira

Features

If she couldn’t be an astronaut, Lauren Sinclair wanted to be a chef. 

There aren’t many – or any, as far as we can tell – astronauts born and raised in Croydon, so cooking was always the more probable path. That’s not to say Sinclair was disappointed: it had long been a passion of hers, growing up with her mother’s "English-Caribbean fusion" meals and discovering her own ability through food technology classes at school.

Indeed, where most teenagers bemoan late night searches for couscous or brown sugar and carrying bulging bags into school, Sinclair recalls her excitement at “experimenting, trying different flavours and dishes.”

So when she finished sixth form and needed a next step, her mother’s suggestion to start an apprenticeship within the food industry made sense.

Lauren Sinclair: Being a training ground chef

“I got an interview from Palace, which is right around the corner from my house,” Sinclair explains. “I got my apprenticeship as a commis chef. I did all my training here. I did one day at college and the rest of the week at the stadium doing catering, private catering, matchdays and learned my skills and experience from there… Once I finished my apprenticeship I was offered a full-time job at the stadium.”

Sinclair’s first job as a qualified Palace chef was to support the Palace Kitchen, an initiative that helped to distribute thousands of meals to south Londoners in need during lockdown. “It was a really nice thing to do,” she says. “It felt like giving back, especially in such a hard time.”

Soon after and with lockdown restrictions easing – allowing a larger kitchen staff for the growing demand of returning mouths – Sinclair moved to the Training Ground, having been offered a role as Demi Chef De Partie to the first-team.

From showing a flair for food tech four years before Sinclair was now cooking for some of the Premier League’s biggest names.

“At first before I met anyone and just came here it was really intimidating. Wow. I’m one of the only women here. But the boys are all friendly, caring, protective… they’re very friendly, well mannered, nice people. Always grateful and appreciative.

“Speaking to the players every day gave me the confidence to speak to people, whereas before I kind of didn’t have to interact with the people I’m serving or making the food for. Now it’s face to face every day.

“[Patrick Vieira] is great. Always comes in the kitchen to see what we’re doing. Always happy, smiling, lovely to work with.

“And because [my colleagues] have all got a lot more experience than me they’re always helpful, always patient and willing to teach me new skills or a better way to do things. They’re very supportive.”

Sinclair says she’s learned mostly about nutrition since starting at the Training Ground, having to adapt her meals and serving depending on each player, or time of the week.

She explains what the average considerations are: “What some of the players eat in a couple of days would feed me for the week… you’ve got to make sure they’re eating correctly, not over-eating, eating the right amounts, get their greens, carbs. The day before a match they need a lot of carbs, so pasta portions are much bigger than normal.

“We know all the players’ allergies and intolerances. You know: he’s got a dairy allergy, so he can’t have this today, but there’s this, or this, or this [instead]. When there are vegans there’s always a vegan option on offer. [There is] something on offer for everyone, no matter their allergies or intolerances.

“All the meat we get in is halal. We have the certificates from our butchers. That’s the main religious standard here. Everything is traceable; we know where it’s come from and the steps it’s taken to get here.

“Because some religions don’t eat pork, we don’t cook pork for lunch. The only time there is pork on offer is when there’s ham at breakfast, which is kept separate from the rest of the food.”

Having taken each of those issues into account, Sinclair and her colleagues can begin to plan and provide the menus. Still learning her trade, Sinclair has been assigned responsibility for one of the most key events: Mexican Day.

“I planned that menu and it’s been a success since. Mexican is one of my favourite menus to do. They get chicken fajitas, steak fajitas, tofu fajitas for any vegans, tortilla chips, guacamole, salsa; help yourself and make a wrap.

“Also I like mixing it with other cuisines. So instead of just chicken fajitas it’s jerk chicken fajitas instead. Fusion of different cuisines.

“It’s only positive feedback. It’s always nice when they do enjoy something and come and say: ‘That was nice, chef. When are you making this again?’ It’s good to hear and makes you feel like you’re doing a good job.

“When you get the good feedback and the players are happy and you see them all in the canteen smiling and enjoying their food it’s very fulfilling.”