Being a foodie in a five-star Michelin city

NEC Group

Being a foodie in Birmingham at the moment is exciting; an amazing scene has grown up over the past few years and if you love food it’s never hard finding somewhere amazing to eat. We have grown from just being known as the home of the ‘Balti Belt’; the city now boasts five Michelin starred restaurants which is the highest number outside London.

From classic British to Argentinian you can dine like a king and experience every continent. The Indian influence that has thrived in the city for decades has now given rise to a Michelin star in the shape of Indian restaurant, Opheem which is the first Indian restaurant to gain a Michelin star outside London. Opheem is owned by chef, Aktar Islam whose most recent collaboration is now taking place at Craft Dining Rooms, a creative and inspiring restaurant on the ICC Canalside. Craft Dining Rooms recently opened to critical acclaim under Head Chef, Andy Sheriden and now Craft English Garden will sit alongside the dining room to offer a beautiful mix of restaurant theatre, with its botanical themed décor and private dining pods.

It is so inspiring to watch a place like Craft come together in the city and doubly inspiring to watch it grow next door to the venue that I’m lucky enough to work in. It is this kind of inspiration that always keeps my ideas flowing and being part of a food scene like this is a career highlight for me. I work for a multi award-winning caterer, Amadeus; within a multi award-winning venue, the ICC which is now within a multi award-winning city; when I first became a chef, I could only have dreamed of a job like this.

At the ICC, with our award winning caterer Amadeus, we deliver all forms of world-class catering to venues and event organisers who want to provide their visitors with a great food experience; I think food really is at the heart of a successful event. As we are part of, and some would say pivotal in a thriving city with a thriving culinary reputation, this means we are constantly being challenged to deliver food that is of the highest standard; when people visit the city, they are now expecting wow! Of course, we always delivered that which is how Amadeus has won over 650 industry awards, but I think delegate and visitor expectations have increased alongside the growth of Birmingham itself. Where once I think we set the standard, it is now great to be part of and still contributing to something bigger that is being recognised.

Amadeus has been developing and evolving for forty years. Our wide-ranging portfolio sees us serving ten million visitors per year at five world-class NEC Group venues including the ICC as well as top external events, including six major international sporting tournaments, and venues, including Cadbury World, Compton Verney, Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre and Stratford Racecourse. So, when I stepped into the head chef role, I knew I had to carry on pushing boundaries and keep delivering. We can be catering for three or 8000 on any given day and for me the standard must remain exactly the same. The way we do this is to insist on standards that never, ever drop which means investing in innovation, creativity and sustainability.

For example, we are just celebrating after retaining Food for the Brain accreditation for a third consecutive year. The ICC became the first conference centre in the UK to gain the accreditation back in 2017 from educational charity Food for the Brain. My team took the progressive step of introducing a new conference menu designed to keep delegates alert and productive during long days. This innovative menu was recognised at the 2018 Catey Awards, winning gongs for health and nutrition.

Wherever possible, we are always looking for ways to set standards. We are proud of our food miles – approximately 80% of our suppliers are located within a 30-mile radius of the catering base. Where seasons allow, we aim to showcase British produce and the team work with trusted suppliers to ensure quality and the freshest ingredients. We have also just signed up to the European Chicken Commitment, helping to set animal welfare standards and in 2019 we posted our best food waste figures to date via our focus on sustainability. We are now utilising cutting-edge AI technology to reduce food waste at the ICC by a third and have installed software that monitors both the type and amount of food being disposed of. In addition, we have also just made a pledge to focus on our vegan menus across the NEC Group in 2020.

I do feel passionately that this clear and unashamed focus on all aspects of catering pays off in the quality of our food and that the ICC has definitely earned its place over the years as a jewel in the crown of Birmingham, setting and maintaining standards that are imperative in a world-class foodie city.

Simon Hellier
Executive Chef
The ICC and Amadeus (part of the NEC Group)