University caterers triumph at TUCO Competitions

Mike Haslin, chief executive officer at TUCO, the University Caterers Organisation, explains why TUCO Competitions are a vital tool for chefs looking to grow their careers

TUCO Competitions is one of our biggest annual events, and last year celebrated its 25th anniversary. Since it was established in 1993, each year more than 150 entrants from across the UK take part in the competitions. It’s an opportunity for college and university caterers to showcase their extraordinary breadth and range of hospitality skills.

Derived from our TUCO banner –Learn – TUCO Competitions is organised by our award-winning TUCO Academy and supported by our partners and members. Our reputable competitions include the popular bar skills competition, barista skills challenge, chefs’ challenge, cook and serve challenge and the exclusive salon culinaire. Each year, we present challenges relating to the current student eating and drinking habits.

Hospitality, in the further and higher education market, is an innovative and diverse environment. One which delivers not just student food but also best-in-class fine dining to corporations and VIPs. Our competitions are a real opportunity for caterers to present distinctive menu ideas and produce dishes with fine dining qualities.

This year, to promote diversity and variety, we introduced two brand-new competitions. The first, a photography challenge for the Instagram savvy competitor. And the second, a grab and go challenge. This competition was introduced in response to students’ busy lifestyles, which have led to an explosion in the popularity of grab and go meals and snacks.

With more and more consumers looking for healthy, fast food options, the new grab and go challenge saw competitors share their creative side. In line with our sustainability values, competitors could only use sustainable or disposable containers and wrappers for this challenge. Delegates were presented with a variety of inspiring dishes which were all suitable for a university grab and go outlet.

Our Global Food and Beverage Trends Report 2018 found nearly six in ten (58 per cent) of consumers aged 18-34 said they like to take pictures to share on social media. The new photography challenge enabled photographers with a good eye for natural, colourful food, the opportunity to express their passion in food photography. They did this by capturing images of chefs in action during the cook and serve challenge and captured still life shots of beautifully plated dishes.

For many entrants, TUCO Competitions is a completely new experience. A unique platform to share innovative ideas and learn from industry influencers. Our carefully selected panel of competition judges are a significant part of our objective to give competitors valuable feedback, whether it be positive or negative. From this, competitors acquire new, or modify existing, knowledge, skills and preferences.

A view from the judge’s panel
“The main objective of starting the Competitions all those years ago was to help show off the calibre of staff working in the university sector and to give the chefs the opportunity to network and develop their skills. The competition continues to grow, helping to keep chefs abreast of food trends and where the industry is at today. One of the results of this has been that talented chefs from within the industry have successfully moved over into the university sector, which in turn has helped to lift standards and aspirations even higher.” Peter Griffiths, president of the British Culinary Federation and head of the chef’s panel of judges

“The Craft Guild of Chefs believe that competitions are key to the development of skills and careers. This sector is producing some great chefs and it is fitting that many institutions are at the forefront of industry events throughout the year. We hope to see university chefs competing in the Craft Guild of Chefs National Chef of the Year in the coming years.” Andrew Bennet, chairman of the Craft Guild of Chefs and chef’s competitions judge


To help support chefs thinking about choosing a career in higher education, TUCO has developed an interactive career map, which is free to use and available on our website at www.tuco.ac.uk/learn/career-map. For more information about TUCO visit www.tuco.ac.uk