In the Spotlight: University Catering
Kim Barnish is the sous chef at The Refectory at Keele University. She started there as an apprentice 14 years ago and has worked her way up to becoming an award-winning chef. She took Gold at the TUCO Competitions 2018 Campus Speed Cook Challenge, won Vegetarian Chef of the Year 2009 and Staffordshire Chef of Tomorrow in 2005.
Keele University has around 10,500 students and The Refectory, a large student dining area, is located at the heart of the campus. Serving breakfast, lunch and evening meals, as well as snacks and street food, it can serve up to 700 meals a day.
“We are open from 8am to 7.30pm, so we are constantly busy – especially between 11-11.30am when there is a rush on for a late breakfast!” says Kim.
The meals served at The Refectory are traditional, authentic home cooked dishes.
“We have a mixture of nationalities here at Keele University and their preference seems to be towards hearty, comforting food,” says Kim. “Most start their day with a full English followed by a proper meal like sausage and mash or shepherd’s pie for lunch then dinner, so we know they are eating well!”
The lunch and evening menus are the same each day with one meat dish that can be anything from lasagne, chicken chasseur or pie. They also have one vegetarian option; although this isn’t as popular. “Surprisingly, there isn’t a huge demand for vegetarian dishes at our campus, but we still make sure we cater for them with a couple of options,” says Kim.
The menu also includes a fish option. And as the catering team are working on a limited budget, the team has introduced hake as a good alternative to more expensive types of fish. “It’s not only cheap and versatile, but MSC certified so a good product to use,” says Kim. “We either batter it and serve it with chips and mushy peas or have an Asian twist on it.”
Despite the students’ preference for traditional British cuisine, global, spicy food is also popular, so Kim will be serving up her award-winning Lebanese dish for the new term. “After the success of my chargrilled chicken with fregola salad, flatbread and pepper dip that brought me gold in the TUCO Competitions 2018 we decided to feature it on our street food menu,” explains Kim. “Lebanese food is a personal favourite of mine because I love the flavours and spices, plus it was a quick dish to produce in 30 minutes so ideal for university catering when there is a lot of demand and pressure on us.”
As well as Kim’s chargrilled chicken, other dishes on their street food menu include nachos with spicy sausage, spring onions, jalapeños, grated cheese, salsa, sour cream and guacamole, beef brisket rendang and dirty fries – sweet potato fries or straw fries covered in cheese sauce, chilli and spring onions. “Basically, anything with cheese on will fly off the counter!” adds Kim.
Due to the healthy appetites of the students there is minimal waste – a topical subject and concern for the whole catering industry, as well as Kim and her team of five. “Our portions are generous, because that is what our students want and they always eat them,” says Kim. “Plus, we only make what we know will sell. For example, desserts are not something our students want so we never make them and anything that hasn’t been popular comes off the menu at the end of term, so thankfully waste isn’t something we have to worry about too much.”