Catering for champions in Munich

The extraordinary Allianz Arena football stadium features numerous restaurants and fast-food outlets. Michael Jones met with executive head chef Thomas Muhr to talk football, food and fans

The 71,000 capacity Allianz Arena, designed and built by Herzog & de Meuron and ArupSport, is a magnificent sight to behold. Since opening in May 2005 at a cost of €340m it has hosted a UEFA Champions League final (in 2012), was one of the venues for the 2006 FIFA World Cup and is home to two German soccer teams with their own great histories, FC Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 München.

The clubs may have experienced mixed fortunes since the stadium opened (1860 currently reside in Germany’s Second Division while all-conquering Bayern are the most successful football club in Germany, having won a record 23 national titles and 16 national cups) but the Allianz Arena itself has consistently garnered accolades for the standard of its intelligent hospitality and high-quality cuisine.

History is everywhere inside the stadium

The stadium boasts a large Italian bistro and a vast array of buffets and snack outlets, with a main production kitchen supplemented by nine other smaller finishing kitchens servicing fans, VIPs, corporate boxes, players, officials and the media. Approximately 7,000 kilos of food (including 1,000 kilos of meat and 500 kilos of fish), is prepared by 65 kitchen staff on the day of a game.

Away from match days, the stadium has recently catered lavish dinners for President Barack Obama, Arabian princes and other royal dignitaries and hosts a variety of corporate clients throughout each week. “Hotels would be happy to have our business”, says the Arena’s executive head chef Thomas Muhr as we discuss the arena’s foodservice operations after a stadium tour, organised by manufacturer Rational AG. “It’s all about logistics. It runs smoothly,” he says.

Muhr’s background has taken in varied chef roles in both the UK and the US. Before joining the Allianz Arena he worked in the early 1990s for Camp Counselors youth camps in the summer months, and worked aboard luxury cruise ships for Crystal Cruises in the winter, travelling all over the world (“Everywhere except but Antarctica. I still need to go there!”). In the mid-1990s he moved to New Zealand for three years, working in various restaurants before joining Disney Cruise lines in Orlando, Florida and having responsibility for over 200 chefs and stewards in 14 different restaurants.

In 1999 Muhr came back to Germany and eventually joined the team at the Allianz Arena – his experience of catering for large numbers and organising big teams proving invaluable. When his boss left after three years, Muhr became executive head chef, a position he has held for five years now. “You can call me ‘circus director’, or whatever”, laughs Muhr. “Most of the time I’m sitting in my office looking at numbers, making sure that the money comes in.”

When I ask him what a typical match day is like, Muhr says: “We always try to set ourselves up for success. I like to know what to expect, so that we can be prepared, but one thing’s for sure – nothing is like it was before and nothing happens twice. I have had about 350 games here but no two have been the same. There are so many open ends here, it’s either the weather or the traffic. But I haven’t run out of anything yet and we always have a plan. A plan B is important in this business.

“One thing we are always looking for is energy efficiency”, says Muhr. “Because of the amount of food we use we try to produce as little waste as possible. We try to recycle and minimise garbage.” But in terms of cutting down energy use Muhr says that his team face a significant challenge to make further cuts. “That’s really hard. If I put everything on [in the kitchen] at the same time all the lights go out in Munich! Actually the reason we use Rational’s Frima oven is because it uses less power. It gives you more power at the beginning but uses less during the run of the day.”

When pushed, Muhr cites the 2012 UEFA Champions League final as the moment he is most proud of professionally. “That night we had 120 chefs here instead of 65. But my greatest achievement is every match day!” he laughs. “I trust the people working for me and I don’t get nervous.” With Bayern Munich now once again the kings of Europe, having won the UEFA Champions League final in May 2013, those match days will carry even more prestige and excitement. Muhr and his team, one suspects, will be more than ready for the challenge.

Michael Jones

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