If there’s one thing Adrian Brett-Chinnery has learnt how to handle in his 25-plus years working in the heat of the food industry, it’s pressure. Now the National Executive Chef of Compass Group’s operations in New Zealand, the British ex-pat spends any given day working on high-stakes multimillion-dollar contracts, puzzling out logistical operations that would challenge an army general and overseeing menus that will be enjoyed by countless people, old, young and every age in between.

Currently in his fifth year with Compass, Brett-Chinnery landed the leading role last October and immediately set about trying to find efficiencies and win new contracts for a company that, like so many others, had been hit by the pandemic.

And yet, having spent so many years as a chef, Brett-Chinnery concedes that this kind of stress comes with the territory. “I’ve worked in hotels, restaurants, and now at Compass: quite a broad range of things,” he says. “And every job comes with its own different pressures.” His level-headedness comes, perhaps, from beginning in kitchens so early.

He was just 14 when he began washing dishes at an up-market country club in his native UK: so young that he had to get approval from his school to work there. But once he’d got a start, he never looked back, realising that food was in his make-up thanks to foodie parents who had run a hotel and a bakery, and a step-brother who was a chef. Following a move to New Zealand in 2004 and a five-year stint heading the kitchen at Hotel du Vin in the Mangatawhiri Valley, the talented chef eventually wound up at award-winning fine-diner Bracu.

But it was the position he took in 2011 that would truly set him on the path to joining Compass six years later. As Group Development Chef at Tanoa Hotels based in Fiji, he helped reorganise the kitchens top to bottom, putting in place higher standards of hygiene, cheffing and output. The Fiji link made him a natural to head up Compass’s contract with Air New Zealand, having travelled with the airline frequently. “I had no idea how huge the contract would be. It was massive, and there was a lot of scope to do some really cool stuff,” he says.

“What really excited me was that 4.5 million people a year would be tasting your food, which is nearly the population of New Zealand.” In the exec role, Brett-Chinnery’s responsibilities have expanded to managing everything from Compass’s 80-plus retail and cafe contracts throughout New Zealand to supplying food for numerous district health boards.

Most recently he has been working on a project to provide 12,500 lunches for schoolkids in three lower socio-economic areas up and down the country later this year. “Logistically that’s been challenging, to put it mildly,” he laughs. “Not only have you got to make the lunches, and make them healthy, interesting, and in a way kids will actually eat them, you’ve then got to deliver them right to their classrooms.”

Unsurprisingly, Brett-Chinnery is taking it all in his stride. “You just want to make sure you’re utilising the money companies are paying in the best way and you’re making interesting, locally produced food that people are going to like,” he says.