University Challenge

I love my job.  Ok, I might not be Editor in Chief at Good Food magazine, or Head Taster for Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park, but my 9 to 5 still has its moments.

Because of my big mouth and the fact that I get ridiculously excited when anything remotely culinary is mentioned, it’s no secret in my workplace that I’m a bit of a foodie.  And the lovely people I work with are kind enough to think of me if anything food related is occuring, and remember to tell ‘that northen one who’s mad about food’.

It was thanks to good fortune like this that I ended up helping out in the annual ‘Inter-Chef Challenge’ at the University of Exeter. Now, when catering is mentioned in reference to an academic institution such as my place of work, the general public usually think of student slop not dissimilar to school dinners.  I can happily report, however, that things have changed. There are many talented, creative Chefs on University campuses across the country and Exeter is most definitely one of them.

So instead of assuming my usual position of slumping with horrendous posture over my desk, this particular afternoon I happily found myself helping out amongst a sea of a crisp, white aprons in one of the Halls of Residence.  I think the technical term for my job was ‘gopher’, but none the less, I played an essential part in helping my team by carrying, fetching and dribbling over the food…

Thai green curry pie

Thai green curry pie

Although the challenge is held in good humour – the aim being to generate new menu ideas and build on team spirit – these guys take it pretty seriously. So as the judges watched critically and prepared to tuck in, the white hats were wobbling furiously due to a combination of activity and nerves.  You really could cut the tension with a knife, but quite frankly I was more interested in cutting into the PIES! Yes, you read correctly, the first part of the competition was to produce a pie.  Well as you can imagine, I was in my element! As a Wigan girl, we’re known fondly (at least I hope fondly!) as ‘Pie-Eaters’. Although there is a historical reason for this related to the miners’ strikes way back, most people now assume the name refers to us northerners loving a good pie.  I’m afraid I can’t think of an argument against that and proceeded to reaffirm the stereotype by going on a mission to taste as many as possible.

The venison pie made by Team B looked particularly delicious, but to be supportive and prove my allegiance, I heroically offered to sample my team’s pastry delight – a Thai green curry pie, to be precise – which although sounds a little strange, really was a treat for the tastebuds.

The Bocadillo de chorizo (chorizo sandwich to us non-Spanish speakers) wasn’t half bad either as the ‘Gourmet Baguette’ leg of the challenge.  Who knew a sandwich could be so tasty?

Scallops on the barbeque

But it was when we moved up to the balcony to commence the BBQ challenge that it really hit home just how good an afternoon’s work this was.  The sun was cracking the flags (proper nothern term) and the aroma of the sizzling food really set my mouth watering.  All kinds of ingredients were getting a good grilling: halloumi, fresh scallops, trout, Cajun chicken, tuna steaks…I could go on.  It was a smoking hotbed of flavour befitting of the unseasonally glorious weather.

I basked in the Devon sunshine, sipping my glass of complimentary wine and hoovering up as much of the food as possible before anyone realised I wasn’t on the judging panel.  Actually, it’s a shame I wasn’t, as sadly my poor team didn’t win in any of the categories.  I can’t understand why, their dishes were very imaginative, well presented and I can vouch for the fact that they were tasty.  Ahh yes, come to think of it, perhaps it didn’t help that I was hovering over their dishes like a salivating hound.  I’m sure that can’t have given the judges much of an appetite when tasting the team’s efforts!  Oh well, there’s always next year.

So as I muttered words of consolation to my colleagues, feeling satisfactorily full whilst admiring the stunning view over the Exe valley, I couldn’t help but think there are worse jobs to be in.


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