The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) announced winners of its annual skills competitions. Held at the University of Warwick on 26th-27th March, more than 100 competitors battled it out to win gold at the prestigious event.

Matt White, Chair of TUCO said:

“Our annual skills competitions have evolved year on year. The talent and skills shown by all competitors was fantastic. I was delighted to see the support. The atmosphere across all competitions was great. It’s exciting to see competitors deliver extraordinary breadth and range of hospitality skills. Congratulations to all of the winners.”

TUCO Competitions gives opportunity for college and university caterers to showcase their range of talents and skills, giving delegates a chance to see them live in action. Whether it be during the live cookery competitions or live on stage creating unique beverages.

Competitions included Barista and bar skills challenges, a chef’s challenge, cook & serve challenge, Salon Culinaire, and new for 2019, a photography challenge and grab & go competition.

Philippa Page from University of Kent (pictured above), gold award winner of the new photography challenge said, “It’s the first this year so I don’t know what to expect”. Participating in the competition, she said she’d be thinking about, “Composition. Trying to capture the essence of the TUCO competitions and the chefs.”

The first day of competitions saw the Barista competitors battle it out in the Barista skills competition. Each competitor had to produce and present their specialty coffee to a row of four judges. Gold was awarded to Flavia Zago from Imperial College London.

Flavia Zago said, “I love being a part of the TUCO Competitions. The preparations are hard but when we are here everything is amazing, and you just want to do it again and again.”

In the same arena as the Barista competitions saw the bar skills competitions. Winner of last year’s bar skills competition, Jack Wallis from Royal Holloway, University of London returned to the TUCO Competitions to judge this competition. He said, “I loved it last year. As nerve-racking as it was to be up on-stage, it was good fun. And to come back and be on the other side of the stage is really nice, interesting and a bit different.

We’re not just looking for the flavours or what it looks like, we’re really interested in the techniques they’re using. It’s nice to hear a background story about the reasons why the cocktails are done the way they are.”

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This year, TUCO introduced a new and exciting twist to its bar skills competition. A crowd-pleasing, timed challenge whereby all bar skills competitors lined up to create as many gin and tonics in one minute as possible. Sophie Knights from University of Sheffield (pictured left) was awarded gold in the overall bar skills competition.

Many of the hot cookery competitions took place in the live theatre, where there were a range of cooking competitions including chefs challenge, salon culinaire, cook & serve challenge and the new, grab & go challenge.

Peter Griffiths, head of the chef’s panel of judges said:

“The judges are looking for the flavour of the food and the presentation because we eat with our eyes as well. And the way that the chefs work in the kitchen. We look for the overall balance throughout the courses. So that the starter, main and sweet work together. And that they harmonise with flavours and make it a pleasant experience for the customer.

TUCO Competitions are fantastic. I’ve been involved with this for more than 20 years and they’ve always excited me. I’m proud to be involved. I’ve seen it evolve and I’ve seen the standards increase year on year. Long may it continue.”

Gold winners for the chefs and service competitions included Karol Zelek, Ross Wilson and Liga Boyd from the University of Edinburgh for the cook & serve challenge; Mark Donovan and Douglas Shewan from University of Aberdeen for the chefs challenge, and Kim Barnish from Keele University who won gold in the new grab & go challenge. 

Richard Bakaity from Royal Holloway University, competitor in this year’s chefs challenge said, “I really appreciate these events. Before I worked in a university, I was never given the opportunity to compete against chefs across the UK. Last year, we won the cook & serve challenge. Our prize was to attend TUCO’s study tour to Rotterdam. That was amazing! We learned and experienced a lot.

I think it’s absolutely fantastic that this organisation exists because it gives a chance for university caterers to continue to grow. I think it’s great that we are able to build for our future through events like this.”

This year, the salon culinaire had eight classes including classes such as cookie challenge, novelty decorated cake and restaurant plated dessert. Best in class gold winners included Jackie Rowlands from University of Chester for her novelty decorated cake, Rob Eddington from Oxford Said Business School for his tray bake, and Hannah Argyle from University of York for the cookie challenge.

TUCO Competitions award winners 2019:        

Bar skills competition, best signature drink: Tonii D'astoldo, University of Reading        

Bar skills competition: Sophie Knights, University of Sheffield

Photography challenge: Philippa Page, University of Kent     

Grab & go challenge: Kim Barnish, Keele University

Barista skills: Flavia Zago, Imperial College London

Cook & serve challenge: Karol Zelek, Ross Wilson and Liga Boyd, University of Edinburgh

Chefs challenge: Mark Donovan and Douglas Shewan, University of Aberdeen

Salon culinaire, best in salon: Rob Eddington, Oxford Said Business School

Salon culinaire afternoon tea: Rob Eddington, Oxford Said Business School     

Salon culinaire coffee shop style sponge cake: Douglas Shewan, University of Aberdeen      

Salon culinaire cookie challenge: Hannah Argyle, University of York             

Salon culinaire decorative exhibit: Rachel Meikle, University of Edinburgh               

Salon culinaire novelty decorated cake: Jackie Rowlands, University of Chester        

Salon culinaire restaurant plated dessert: Rob Hattersley, University of Sheffield

Salon culinaire tray bake: Rob Eddington, Oxford Said Business School         

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