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Man City head chef hails Coleg Menai tutors as ‘life coaches’

Dylan Owens has risen to the top as Manchester City’s head chef of hospitality - and said he couldn’t have done it without Coleg Menai.

Dylan and his culinary team played their part in sporting history recently, helping fuel Man City towards a Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup treble.

But he has never forgotten the lessons he learned when he started his catering journey as a student at Coleg Menai - and says his former tutors are like “life coaches”.

Dylan, from Porthmadog, recently returned to the Llangefni campus to give a speech at the college’s annual Further Education Achievers Awards ceremony.

He was at the college from 2004 to 2007, completing the NVQ Level 1,2 & 3 in Food Preparation & Cookery, as well as NVQ Level 1 & 2 in Food Service.

Dylan went on to work at the Chester Grosvenor’s Michelin Star restaurant, the Lanesborough Hotel in London and also for an outside catering company whose clients included rock legends Iron Maiden.

In 2018, he was appointed head chef at Manchester City’s ‘Tunnel Club’ - a restaurant just inside the players’ entrance at the Etihad Stadium where supporters get to see manager Pep Guardiola and his team arrive on matchdays.

Just a year later, Dylan was promoted to head chef of hospitality for the stadium - a high-pressure job in which he oversees the catering for the managers, players and coaching staff as well as matchgoing fans.

He oversees the running of 13 restaurants and 18 kitchens, with a brigade of 122 passionate chefs and 160 kitchen porters.

“It’s a challenging place to work,” he said. “On a matchday we’ll be cooking for the press and a post-match meal for the players, the coaching staff and the backroom team.”

With City manager Guardiola known for leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit of sporting perfection, an important part of Dylan’s job is making sure City’s players get the right nutrition.

“There’s a head chef for the players who travels with them, and I’ll liaise with him,” he said.

“Some players will train hard after the match and some will train easier so we have to take that into account.

“It’s a difficult job, but the rewards outweigh that - and difficult isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t know what I’m going into each day, so it keeps me on my toes and means it’s impossible for me to stagnate in my job.”

Dylan has become a City fan through his job, adding: “I’m definitely a Pep Guardiola fan. I can’t emphasise enough how influential somebody like Pep is.

“During the pandemic I used to meet him at the bottom of the tunnel near his dressing room and take the food for the players. He knows what he wants and what the players need. As he’s from Catalonia, food is a big part of their culture.”

On matchdays, Dylan oversees a feast that has to cater for the varied tastes of City’s international stars.

He said: “You look at the players’ culture, where they’re from, and the spread they have has to cater for everything and everyone, so you might have burritos, cured meat - the spread is so versatile and so widespread that they’re happy, but it’s got to be the best quality.”

He says a lot of his time is devoted to sourcing the best local ingredients, adding: “That’s my everything. Saffron, for example, grows in Afghanistan and Iran. When you buy it in the UK it’s probably 12 months old. But we found a local supplier who grows it in Frodsham.

“The pies in the stadium are from a local father-and-son business, and we tell them what we need. If we get cheese from our supplier in Garstang, we’ll also get our milk and butter from there. And when we buy meat we’ll use different cuts of the meat in the different restaurants in the stadium, so nothing goes to waste and it’s all about sustainability.”

Dylan has represented Wales in the Culinary Olympics in the past, and still enters competitions when he can, although he has less time to do so these days.

“It’s good for me to do competitions because it allows me to be who I was when I first started,” he said. “The more I become a manager, the less I get to cook!

“When I was a commis chef I wanted to be the guy in charge in the office, but now I’m the guy in the office, sometimes I look at the commis chefs and think, I want to be doing what they’re doing.

“So if I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be to enjoy it more - embrace more and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s all about learning and improving, and it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake because that’s how you learn.”

Dylan still remembers his first lesson at Coleg Menai, and says his former tutors are now friends who are always at the end of the phone.

He said: “Coleg Menai was amazing. I was lucky because I always knew I wanted to be a chef, that was my inspiration. But Coleg Menai helped me and guided me to become what I wanted to become.

“I remember Roger, my tutor, put two marks on each end of the whiteboard. He said, ‘This is the iceberg - how much of it do you think I know?’ He then put a line right next to the first line and said that was how much he knew.

“He was telling us that it’s your path, and how far you want to take it is up to you.

“Ian Drummond was my main tutor and he’s now a dear friend, and all the tutors helped me become who I am today. I don’t think I’d be where I am now if it wasn’t for Coleg Menai, and I can’t thank the college enough.

“Cath Skipp, Ian Drummond, Gerallt and all the tutors have all impacted me in so many ways. They gave me the foundation, and they helped me build on that foundation so I owe them a lot. They’ve guided me, and I know that if I have any questions or concerns even now I can pick up the phone to them. They’re like life coaches!”

Although Dylan is a chef, he said his Food Service qualification was just as important as Food Preparation & Cookery.

“It was an integral part of what I did at college,” he said. “You’ve got to have an understanding of how it’s going to look when it goes to the customer, and by doing that you get to understand the wider picture.”