TUCO 2017 – health, wealth and wellbeing

Hundreds of caterers from the FE/HE sectors gather at Nottingham for the TUCO Annual Conference, writes UB Editor Rebecca Paddick

Members of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) travelled from across the UK in July for the association’s annual conference, exhibition and dinner. 

The three-day event, designed to drive learning, development and product innovation, is TUCO’s largest annual gathering, and was this year held at the University of Nottingham, and focused on the theme of ‘Health, Wealth and Wellbeing.’ 

I kicked off my conference experience with a tour of the University of Nottingham’s key catering and bar outlets, and both front and back of house. As we visited the various outlets, dining halls and restaurants across the vast campus, trends such as international cuisine and special diets were clearly apparent… topics which would reappear throughout the conference. 

The panel of high-profile speakers included award-winning food blogger, Deliciously Ella; five-time Olympic Champion, Sir Steve Redgrave; and Thomasina Miers, Co-Founder of Wahaca, it was diverse and exciting programme. 

 I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s conference. I thought the venue was excellent and the social programme, as always, was a big hit. The Goose Fair kept it very ‘Nottingham’ and the gala dinner was a triumph in quality and service. It was lovely to meet some new people, and as always this is a fantastic networking and learning opportunity for all in attendance. The speakers were very interesting, and I particularly enjoyed the keynote speakers, as well as the talk on Brexit from Prof Casson and the session on customer service from Linda Moir. As always, it was sad to leave and already I am looking forward to the TUCO conference in 2018!

– Alan Riddell, Deputy Director, Residential and Business Services, University of St Andrews

Special diets 

Having decided to go vegan for July (I clearly missed the boat for Veganuary!) I was interested to hear the talk from keynote speaker Ella Mills, founder of ‘clean eating’ brand Deliciously Ella. The young entrepreneur gave a very personal account of her health struggles and how educating herself about natural foods was instrumental in regaining full health. Interestingly, despite all of the Deliciously Ella products being vegan, none of them are labelled so. “This is to create that normal and accessible feeling,” she explained. This was something I could relate to and appreciate during my short time experimenting with the animal-free diet, and IT made me think of the barriers students may face when it comes to catering to their own special dietary requirements.

Pictured: Deliciously Ella

Ella’s talk highlighted the need for universities, and in particularly university caterers, to support students on their quest to become heathier. “Students are definitely a big part of our market, which is very exciting and encouraging,” she added. “So one of our focus areas is to continue to produce, quick, easy, practical, yet exciting, interesting and delicious recipes for young people with busy lives.”

After Ella’s keynote I headed to the exhibition hall where more than 80 suppliers displayed their product ranges for us delegates to sample. I was of course very limited on what I could try this year, but the likes of Brakes Linda McCartney, and Tiffin Sandwiches kept me fuelled with their meat- and dairy-free snacks. Well-known brands such as Bidfood, Café Direct and Love Joes, among many others, had lots to offer.

Each year the TUCO conference gets bigger and better.  This year’s line-up of speakers and workshops delivered refreshing, inspirational knowledge and development you would expect as a delegate at a quality conference. Additionally, this year the large exhibition provided the opportunity to discuss and explore the latest technological advances with exhibitors and taste the latest on-trend and emerging foods and drink from all over the world.  The conference was excellent, a credit to the TUCO team.

 – Philip Rees-Jones, Deputy Director, Commercial, Estates and Campus Facilities, Cardiff University

Perception of flavour 

A personal highlight was a breakout session on day two from Jozef Youssef, founder of Kitchen Theory – an experimental gastronomy design studio. 

Chef Jozef’s talk explained the fascinating field of gastrophysics; the emerging science of understanding how our senses can alter our perception of flavour.

Another interesting talk came from Mark Casson, economics professor from the University of Reading. Mark spoke on the very latest facts about Brexit, and how this could affect the UK food service industry and UK universities. 

Speaking at the conference, Mike Haslin, TUCO CEO, said: “We had more than 200 delegates at our 2017 event in Exeter, which was our biggest ever conference, but this year in Nottingham we’ve beaten that record with 227 delegates, more than 80 exhibitors and the strongest speaker programme that we’ve ever put together.”

“We are continuing to grow our members, to develop our academy, and to expand our competitions. Our vision is to become the first-choice training providers for our members, and we are well on track to accomplishing that. In 2016/17 we delivered over 30 courses to more than 300 people, and we are constantly looking to develop and improve on these.”

The TUCO team always put a great deal of effort and creativity into its evening social programme, and this year they certainly didn’t disappoint. Monday evening saw the recreation of Nottingham’s famous Goose Fair, complete with barbeques, fairground rides, and, of course, the geese! On Tuesday, guests were treated to the Nottingham City Experience Dinner – where the evening was spent enjoying great food, drink and company in a beautiful church converted into one of the city’s most popular pubs, Pitcher and Piano. By the time the final night came, guests were ready for the Masquerade ball and gala dinner, this year modelled on the Phantom of the Opera. The carefully conceived four-course menu catered to all tastes (yes, even mine) and was followed by the very first TUCO Awards. 

“Each year, at the annual conference, our ambition is to not only inspire members but also share first-class knowledge so that they can incorporate new, up-to-date ideas into their own catering methods,” said Matt White, Chair of TUCO.

He added: “I am delighted to say that this year’s packed events schedule didn’t fail to impress, with guests treated to a line-up of outstanding speakers providing an array of inspirational, thought-provoking, and fun sessions. Attendees had the chance to learn about everything from gastrophysics and multi-sensory dining to how to unleash potential through laughter and the key principles of brain food.”

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