Anybody who has enjoyed a meal in the Colin Atkinson Pavilion at the Cooper Associates County Ground or in the hospitality boxes over the last three years has got Head Chef Mark Wanstall to thank for the high standard of their food.
Chatting with Mark you quickly realize that he is originally from the South East, where he was born in Tonbridge and grew up in Margate.
However, at the age of 16 he joined the army where he served for the next 23 years before opening the Tornedos Number One restaurant in Bridge Street, Taunton, which he ran for 10 years before joining Somerset County Cricket Club.
Mark talked a little more about his service career. “I did a junior apprenticeship as a chef for two years in the army before joining the man’s service in 1979,” he said. “I was involved in the first Iraq war and served in Kosovo and Bosnia and Macedonia in war situations. I have also been to many places in the world. As I went up the ranks I became a sergeant after 10 years which was pretty good and over my time I have cooked for Princess Diana, HM The Queen, HRH Prince Charles and a lot of MPs including John Major and Margaret Thatcher. I ended up as a Master Chef and my last posting was looking after an £8m contract on a defence corps medical training site.”
So what is it that Mark actually does at the Cooper Associates County Ground? “Essentially my role is second in command to Executive Chef Simon Safe,” he said. “When he isn’t here I take over and run things. I teach younger chefs and help to develop them and along with Simon do all of the ordering and generally look after the catering and hospitality at the Club.”
Anyone who has seen Mark at work will see quite clearly that he is happy with what he is doing, but exactly what is it about working for Somerset CCC that he likes? “In the army you have the camaraderie where you pull together and work for each other,” he said. “We’ve got that here at Somerset too. Everybody gels together and talks to each other. When we work, we work hard and when we play we play hard and have fun!
What does he enjoy most about the job he does? “I enjoy all aspects of the job to be quite honest. I love it when the remarks come back and people say how good the food was and it makes you feel proud about what you have achieved. We do big dinner nights at the Club and feed 300 people and when it goes well it’s a pat on the back and you feel chuffed that you have managed to do it.”
Mark picked out a specific function that he was pleased to be involved with at Somerset. “I was fortunate to be in charge the first year that St Austell Brewery held their business meetings here and they have re-booked for the last three years, before which they had never booked the same venue twice. They have already booked again for next year so they must be happy with what we are doing!”
Looking towards the new season when the new Somerset Pavilion will be in use Mark said: “We will have plenty of staff on board to cope with the challenges that the Somerset Pavilion will present us with but until we see it in use on match days we aren’t quite sure what these may be. However myself and Simon will be overseeing what goes on over there but my main role will be in the County Room and looking after all the boxes, which is what I have been doing for the last three years.”
How does he feel when he walks out of the kitchen at the end of the day? “I am proud to be working at Somerset. It’s a big club and last season we were voted the best cricket club for hospitality out of all the clubs in England so that gives you a real sense of achievement.”