No prawn cocktail
By Matthew White, Chair of the University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) and Director of Catering, Hotel and Conferencing at The University of Reading
Treat staff like human beings, encourage them to learn new things, and no prawn cocktail…
… this is the analysis of TV judge and Quo Vadis chef proprietor Jeremey Lee, during a panel discussion at my recent TUCO chairman’s dinner. Now in its second year, the black-tie event, hosted at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, opened with a celebrity debate on the responsibility of university caterers.
Led by Don Sloan, chair of the Oxford Cultural Collective, an institute dedicated to food and cultural projects worldwide, we were asked to consider if we take our relationship with food too seriously, and how can we inject fun into our relationship with food.
Eminent food writer and author of First Bite Bee Wilson, suggested university caterers have an enormous responsibility as taste influencers, because we meet students at one of only two ‘flavour windows’ in their life.
Fussy eating in adults is a huge phenomenon and Bee believes, as do TUCO too, that university caterers have a unique opportunity to shape the narrative and play a pivotal role in broadening people’s tastes
She elaborated: “The first flavour window is found in babies between four and seven months, in which there is a chance to influence and introduce a multitude of tastes. After that we essentially become fussy eaters. The second flavour window is when people leave home, where once again we become receptive to new experiences and tastes.”
Fussy eating in adults is a huge phenomenon and Bee believes, as do TUCO too, that university caterers have a unique opportunity to shape the narrative and play a pivotal role in broadening people’s tastes.
The final member of our panel was former Guardian food and drink editor and Great British Menu TV judge Matthew Fort. Endearingly nicknamed ‘a greedy bloke living the dream’, Matthew noted we live in a two-tiered food nation; ‘Those that get gastronomy and those that don’t have either the time, or the money to look after themselves nutritionally’.
He was extremely excited by a recent observation the UK was the only nation in recent times where the food culture was getting better. A point supported by Jeremey Lee who noted when he first started courgettes were considered glamourous! We can all acknowledge and recognise we have come a long way since then.
After a lively debate, the panel were all in agreement that joy should be at the heart of food. As university caterers we couldn’t agree more.
For more information on TUCO please visit www.tuco.ac.uk