Interview with Professional Sports Chef: Charlotte Kemp


In this article we are putting aside the thoughts and research of Sports Nutrition and going to someone who actually prepares the daily meals for professional athletes, a chef! Charlotte Kemp was trained in the world of fine dining and Michelin stars but now finds herself preparing meals for professional footballers and educating the next generation. She talks about these two different worlds and how her career has been influenced by her mentors, travels around the world and her own interests as a sportswoman.

Career path so far…

Having wanted to be a chef for as long as I can remember I studied at Westminster Kingsway College straight from school. After achieving a Professional Chef Diploma I started my career at Le Gavroche. I continued to work in this Michelin environment and then onto fine dinning restaurants. Whilst working full time I returned to Westminster Kingsway and took on a culinary degree in the science of food. I then took a year out starting my own private catering business alongside teaching karate. At 23 years of age, I was recruited by Nick Broad (Chelsea Nutritionist) to take on my first Head Chef role at the Chelsea Academy, and within 1 year progressed to the First Team Head Chef and Chef Manager of the whole unit.

These roles at the Chelsea Training Ground completely changed my perception of food for professional athletes, increasing my knowledge and engaging me in something I was personally passionate about. After 4 years in this role I took a 6 month sabbatical to travel the world, gaining knowledge of food culture and opening my eyes and passion for food in a new direction. Returning from this sabbatical left me hungry for innovation.  I wanted to implement what I had learnt on my journey into the business I worked in so I developed an innovation role working across the Compass network within the professional athlete environment. I was also inspired to start a food blog about both food and the experience of travelling ( I am currently in the process of moving to lead the new in-house catering at a different football club, and am very much looking forward to the challenge ahead taking my experience and that of mentors such as Michel Roux Jnr, Nick Broad and Neil Bath (Chelsea FC Academy Manager) with me.

More on Le Gavroche…

My time spent at Le Gavroche is without any doubt the most valuable and influential professional experience I will have. Working under Michel Roux Jr set the foundations for my career to date. As every chef knows working in a Michelin star restaurant environment is not an easy task; the hours, the endurance it takes for both your body and mind to cope with such daily demands, I still cannot quite fathom. You have to be passionate about the food to make it in this career. Michel Roux Jr taught me how a professional kitchen should run though discipline, process, structure, knowledge of French food, sustainability, the importance of produce and respecting every single movement of it; from a dirty carrot pulled from the ground of a seasonal farm to the perfect thin slice of white truffle so delicately finishing off a dish in all its grandeur. His influence grounded me in my passion for food. There is certainly a fulfillment of achieving every day whilst working at Le Gavroche.

The transition from Michelin star to Professional Football…

After years of working in fine dining restaurants creating food bursting with rich flavours, creamy butter sauces and endless beautiful cheeses, it was certainly a big transition to work in an elite professional football environment. I felt lucky to be working with an equally experienced man in this field, Nick Broad, Chelsea FC Nutritionist at the time and later the Head of Sport Science. Now the individual influence was not for rich French cooking but for the nutritional content of food and the passion for understanding what food gives to the body. Quality of produce and seasonality became two of the most important attributes to the food I was now using, whilst understanding its value to the body. Being a sportswoman myself only ignited my interest and passion further in this new direction for my career path. We were still creating food with passion, flavour and quality; it is simply adapting – adapting not to the traditional perceptions of footballers’ food (plain chicken and pasta) but to variety, cooking methods, creating what you would in a restaurant with replacements more suited to the athletic population. Now it was about understanding what this plate of food will give an athlete to last a 60 minute training session or recovery after a game of 90 minutes. I’ve found this difference in approach to food a life changing choice for myself. I live by what I’ve learnt from Nick and now teach this in any format I can with the professional athletes I work with. His influence and high standards and attention to detail will remain with us not only at Chelsea but where I may continue to work throughout my career. I often have a voice in my head “Would Nick approve of this” not just regarding cooking but work methods also. I hope to continue Nick’s legacy in the form of educating professional athletes on food nutrition and the utmost importance of it.

The influence of being an international sportswoman yourself…

Competing at such a high level of karate trains your mind. Karate consists of both personal and team goals but in order to achieve these you need to gain a personal discipline regarding nutrition and additional training outside of the karate regime. It is important to understand this but it was not particularly easy with limited resources and without a team nutritionist or guidance in this field. Before my career working in a professional athlete environment my knowledge of food and performance was limited, as with most people down the gym working out. My changing career path completely altered my view on food whilst training or competing, as I started to understand what my body needed for endurance or for fast bursts of energy, giving my trained muscles what they needed and even when needing to lose body fat. I realised this is part of training. However, even to this day this information on food for training is limited to the general public – at squad training sessions I find myself talking to fellow team members, giving them advice on balanced meals and what they need for training.

Educating Academy footballers…

I feel this is extremely important. As I said in the previous answer this is part of training, food for fuel is part of our lives. Food should not be a diet or a fad but simply a way of life and once you understand food in this way that is exactly what it becomes. Teaching our academy players trains their brains to think this way. What is this food doing? How does what I eat affect my recovery from an injury? In the academy environment we are fortunate enough to be able to reinforce ground rules, such as providing only brown/granary bread in place of white bread. We have not thought up these ideas for punishment, it is for a reason and we try to teach why. It is for your professional and personal gain. You need to become a professional yourself through the decisions you make, especially when you leave specific environments. When they are at home thinking of eating four slices of white toast for breakfast I would be proud to think they would hear me in their ear “why are you eating that”? This then becomes normal to the young athletes and they understand the reasoning behind daily food choices. If we can encourage such nutritional knowledge at a young age half the work will have been achieved before they may reach a professional level. What’s the saying ‘pay it forward’? Let’s do so with our knowledge learned from influential people in our lives.

The influence of travelling…

Travelling the world was the most invaluable personal experience in my life to date. It opened up my eyes not just to cultures or sights I had seen but as a chef showing me a whole new culinary world. We rarely think of how food brings us together but in every culture in its own way, I watched different families rejoice over their food. Vietnam especially changed my views on food. Coming from the culinary experience working with the highest quality foods in Michelin starred restaurants I found myself now falling in love with street food. Without pretense, good simple food, fresh from the markets to the street vendor consumed by not only the tourists but also the family themselves, so content happy huddled around a table sitting on the floor eating together. Food does not need to be a certain way; it comes in many forms, textures and method of eating. I spoke about this in length on my blog. Eating with our hands, wrapping our food ourselves in lettuce leaves compiling a dish ourselves so we can eat it and then the experience of eating. Not to rush food down our throats without noticing but as we bite into a lettuce wrap and feel the soft crunch on lettuce, a crisp bite of prawn spring roll and the sweet pickled vegetables and then dip it into a sweet peanut sauce… tantalising inside my mouth with one single bite. It has made a huge impact on me and my approach to cooking. A newfound respect for food, as if I didn’t love food beforehand I now love how it brings people together in whichever way it chooses. I now use these cooking methods at work. The athletes I work with have tasted Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, lettuce wraps or bruschetta from Barcelona. Now everywhere I travel becomes a learning experience for food that I will then share with whomever I cook for. We are always learning.

Aspirations for the future…

To experience, learn as much as I can whenever I travel and spread this though my cooking. I don’t think the answer can be this simple. I have a personal dream of owning my own establishment, not a restaurant where we do not interact but a place where people love food and interact with the chefs who are not behind closed doors. This for me is invaluable. How important it is when we do meet people, what we learned, have we made an impact on someone’s life. I would like my food to do this, teach people as I do so. To not conform to what is already out there is extremely appealing. I’ve given myself a target to reach this aspiration. In the mean time I will continue in professional sporting environments teaching them the impact that good quality food can have on their careers. Timing is everything in life.

Charlotte Kemp can be found on her blog, Twitter (@Lottie_Gumption) and LinkedIn.


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