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Catering director Martin Joyce discusses The history of Afternoon Tea at Wimbledon

June 12, 2017

Wimbledon Afternoon Tea is a hugely popular quintessential English tradition using only the freshest ingredients. We caught up with Martin Joyce, catering director at The Championships, Wimbledon to discuss how this convention has changed over the years and what the future might hold.  

How long have you been working at Wimbledon?
I've been doing this for 30 years! I was just a boy when I started, Wimbledon has evolved beyond all imagination in that time. It’s been great to see the progression of catering, the setup is now very sophisticated with clients’ needs and expectations having moved along, as indeed have the players. 

Describe a typical day for you at Wimbledon during The Championships
I start the day at 8am, with a debrief taking place at 9am and any actions put in place straight after. This could be a multitude of things from staffing issues to looking at how we display food, making sure the whole team is ready for the day to come. Lunch service needs to finish early enough to allow our VIP guests to get on court for the tennis at 1pm. The following couple of hours enables our team to take on refreshments and have a bit of a break. It’s really important that we look after our staff because it’s a long day at Wimbledon! We start the afternoon teas from 3.30pm onwards and my day carries on through a whole myriad of restaurant services before coming to an end at 10pm. Hopefully by that time Centre Court is finished, show courts are over and everybody’s had a great day!

Do you have any good stories from your time at Wimbledon?
I’ve got lots but I can’t repeat them! I don’t get to watch the tennis, but many years ago we had a final on a 3rd Monday, meaning only Centre Court was in operation and there wasn’t a huge amount of work to do. The chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club asked me if I wanted to watch a bit of tennis, to which I replied yes. What I hadn’t realised is he was offering me a place in the Royal Box. Arriving at my seat, I found myself sitting next to Jack Nicholson! It was a really great experience and by far my most relaxing day I’ve had at Wimbledon.

What’s behind the history of afternoon tea?
Afternoon tea has been a tradition in this country and Wimbledon for many years. My involvement in The Championships through FMC Catering started because we were the caterers to the Queen for the Royal Garden parties. These historically took place directly after Wimbledon. In those days the afternoon tea catering requirements were quite simple. Beverages included a cup of tea or iced coffee as an alternative. Food wise, there would be a mixture of open bread sandwiches with a mousse spread, a selection of cakes from handmade gateaux’s, Swiss rolls and drop scones with bread and butter also available in those days.

Tell us more about the Strawberries at Wimbledon
Well, if you go back 30 years you never saw a strawberry before Wimbledon, but now they are grown under special conditions they start the season in April and run through to September. All our strawberries are grown in Kent, and the quality is consistently fantastic. The strawberries are picked early each morning and are with us here at Wimbledon by 11am, in time for lunch service.

How has afternoon tea changed over the years?
Afternoon tea has become a lot more sophisticated and a popular activity for people making trips into London experiencing various package offerings at 5 star hotels. That has given us the inspiration to take Wimbledon’s afternoon tea to a new level. We have a superb ability to produce what I would call, ‘classical French‘, handmade pastries in different colours, styles and cuts. The last 10 years has seen a dramatic improvement in technique and clever innovation. The big change has been in the drinks provided, where before you’d have a couple of teas, we now have multiple infusions with at least 10 different varieties as a standard offer.  Dietary requirements, with gluten free and special milks have also become a prominent feature. We work much harder these days on the supply chain to guarantee quality, safety, ethical sourcing of ingredients and timings to meet these demands.  

Wimbledon afternoon tea

What’s your favourite afternoon tea?
I love strawberries, and I adore scones. Give me a bowl of strawberries, a lovely, freshly baked scone and a really strong cup of tea, dash of milk, and no sugar. Fantastic.

Do the staff get to indulge?

Because we have so much choice, there is always something left for the staff so they definitely see and eat lot of afternoon tea! It certainly keeps the staff coming back each year.

How do you think Afternoon tea will change in the future?
I expect to see smaller portions in afternoon tea, less sugar and I think we’ll see clever savoury items making their way into the offering. No doubt we’ll see a super food in the mix as well.

If you could compare Andy Murray to an afternoon tea, what would he be and why?
We’ve recently seen an influx of macaroons with the purple and green colours working very well - and that’s how I see Andy Murray, crunchy on the outside, but a bit of a softie in the middle, really! 

Finally, describe afternoon tea at Wimbledon in 3 words.
A real luxury.

Experience the luxury of afternoon tea at The Championships, Wimbledon with award winning official hospitality.

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