Leanne Turk, Compass Group UK and Ireland: 'We've got the power to instruct change - we already are'

The Staff Canteen


Leanne Turk grew up in her parents' pub, and becoming a chef was the first thing she ever wanted to do. 

"It was very much the Jamie Oliver era, where he worked at his parents' pub in Essex, and I was like, 'that's what I want to do,'" she chuckled.

Ever since she decided that this would be her career, however, the lead development chef for Compass Group UK and Ireland, also the co-chair of the company's Women In Food programme, has always set her sights high.

After completing a three-year professional chefs' career course at Westminster Kingsway College, she went to work at (now closed) Gordon Ramsay's 3-AA Rosette Boxwood Cafe at the London Berkeley Hotel. 

At this point, "I didn't have a specific niche or something that I really wanted to do, I wanted to challenge myself so I dipped in and out of everything to see what I enjoyed most," she said. 

After leaving Gordon Ramsay Holdings, she went to work for British Airways with Compass Group; then went to work for another contract caterer who had the tender on fine dining and hospitality for Goldman Sachs.

From Fleet Street, she moved to Wiltshire to be a sous-chef at The Red Lion, then moved onto hospitality training provider Babcock International and obtained a qualification to be an NVQ assessor in professional cookery.

After four years, the chef missed the buzz of the kitchen and the hubbub of the city, so moved back to London to rejoin Compass, first working as a development chef for the company's educational sector, Chartwells. Soon afterwards, she was named lead development chef for primary and secondary schools nationwide.

Finally, she progressed into her current role, overseeing development across all sectors at Compass across the UK and Ireland.

"My scope is very broad, we're the heart of innovation for the business and I love being able to influence our food offer," she explained.

Sustainability at scale

As well as being the co-chair of Women in Food, the company's initiative to to attract, retain and develop female talent within Compass through a range of programmes from mentoring to supporting women into leadership positions, as the development lead, Leanne is one of the frontrunners of the company's sustainability programme.

Working closely with the company's supply chain, ingredient-owners and cross-sector recipe managers, she has overseen the development of plant-forward recipes, with the aim of meeting Compass UK's goal for net zero in 2030.

While Compass Group is aiming to be net zero globally by 2050, the UK and Ireland subsidiary is committed to meeting that target twenty years earlier.

"We're already ahead in a lot of things," the chef explained, from the widespread use of sustainable packaging and the stringent rules placed on their supply chains.

"We've banned air freight to focus on seasonal produce. We can't physically get things like green beans, pomegranates, we physically can't get them into the business unless they in season and coming by boat, train or however else," she said. 

"That's something that hadn't been done in the industry."

Through adapting how things are done across the company, and using its influence and buying power, Leanne believes that real changes can be made.

"We're working with specialists, scientists who are supporting us in every aspect of what we do ensuring our sustainable strategies are aligned - making sure we're using the right farmers, following the correct protocols and practices, like checking their soil regularly, etc."

all encompassing

Though Compass is massive in scale of output, for Leanne and her team, efforts have to be focused on the detail.

"No detail is too small. We look at everything from a recipe perspective - so we're looking at grams of protein, where we can incorporate plant-based ingredients, looking at cost, origin, who we're working with," only working with suppliers that they are proud to support.

Another important aspect of their work is to educate clients to promote better behaviour beyond their own remit, and have done so, among other things, through the introduction of meat-free Mondays and more plant-focused food on offer. 

Leading the charge for sustainability as part of Compass, Leanne feels that "we've got the power to instruct change - we already are."

For instance, with food at head office, their entire teams are fed meatless meals every Monday, "so there is literally only vegan or vegetarian, anything retail, sandwiches, there's nothing that goes out that has meat in it." 

"We're all about educating people about what that meat-free Monday means across the whole business, where we're feeding 60,000 people a day, what impact that is having on climate change and on our supply chain."

Health and nutrition are also tied into the efforts, "so if we have something that's plant-based or plant-forward, the nutrition team won't sign it off if it's deep-fried." 

And as we are all increasingly aware, physical health is only one aspect of the bigger picture.

"After everything that's happened with Covid, we try to link food to mental health," Leanne explained, with the use of what she calls 'mood foods,' promoting the virtues of nutritious, sustainable - but always tasty - food.


The chef lectures school children at a Junior Chefs' Academy, where plant-forward and vegan cooking has been included in the ten-week curriculum, "just referencing the way that we eat is changing. In 20 years is going to be completely different to what we do now - reducing the meat in our spaghetti Bolognese and incorporating more veggies, lentils and other proteins will be second nature." 

The fact that even fast-food chains are adapting their offer, for Leanne, is a sign that "things are changing. The industry is changing, the way that we eat is changing and everything that we do at Compass incorporates that." 

Priority no 1 

As a chef and a purveyor of hospitality, it is important not to lose sight of what people seek out when they choose to eat outside of home, and Leanne is conscious of this needing to remain at the heart of everything she and her team develop.

"We still want people to eat with us, to be excited and create food memories," she said.

"It's incorporating everything so that the end product is sustainable, healthy and nutritious, but it's something they'll remember for the right reasons - because of flavour and taste." 

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th November 2021

Leanne Turk, Compass Group UK and Ireland: 'We've got the power to instruct change - we already are'