Andrew Wood, The University of York's chef aims to feed young minds

PUBLISHED: 17:28 30 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:38 20 February 2013

Andrew Wood, The University of York's chef aims to feed young minds

Andrew Wood, The University of York's chef aims to feed young minds

The executive chef of a prestigious Yorkshire university tells Jo Haywood how he helps to feed young minds every day

Feeding the five thousand is regarded as a miracle by most people, but for Andrew Wood its an everyday occurrence.

As executive chef at the University of York he heads a hefty brigade of 40 chefs providing hot meals, sandwiches, handmade cakes and snacks for the 15,000 or so students and staff. About 5,000 of them pull up a chair expecting to be fed every day - and a fish finger sandwich just wont cut it.

The students are very food aware and they like cooking, so we have had to up our game to compete, said Andrew. They are actively interested in what they are eating and are very aware of the environmental impact of the food on their plates. This means we have to be aware of things like air miles and provenance.

At the end of the day, we pride ourselves on providing fresh, quality, healthy meals. If someone wants a burger or a roast, it will be homemade and of the highest quality - our meat comes from the same suppliers as the best restaurants in town.

Andrew has worked at the university for ten years. He was born in Singapore - his father was in the RAF - and spent his school days in York. He was apprenticed to York City FC, but gave up football for his real passion - cooking.

I always loved cooking, he said. When I was a kid Id go round to my mates house with my Be-Ro recipe book under my arm and cook for them. I thought I might be a baker as I was really passionate about bread, but I wasnt so passionate about the 3.30am starts.

Instead he took up a trainee position at Ristorante Bari in York, where he came home with about 35 a week and spent an inordinate amount of time gutting and cleaning squid. He then went to the Abbey Park - now the Ramada Jarvis - before heading off to London.

Id only ever seen London on EastEnders before so I had no idea what to expect, said Andrew. I got off the train and immediately went to The Savoy with my CV. I ended up at The Ritz and was completely blown away by the place. It was a classic five-star establishment.

He worked in Germany for a while before returning to York as sous chef at Middlethorpe Hall. He left to take on a job at the Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath, but returned to Middlethorpe when the head chef position became available.

He stayed there for five years and won numerous accolades. But his career took a completely different turn when he put in a call to York College.

We were crying out for trainees, but we never heard a peep out of them, said Andrew. I asked why they never sent us any students, a dialogue started and I ended up teaching at the college.

He loved teaching but missed the buzz of a busy kitchen. So when the University of York announced it was looking for a new executive chef in 2001, he made a beeline for the Heslington campus.

This is such a diverse place, which means I have a very diverse job, said Andrew. I sometimes miss the buzz of working in a restaurant kitchen, but I never miss the 18-hour days.

Now he oversees all the universitys kitchens, creating wide-ranging menus to appeal to the 12,000 students who flock to Yorkshire from around the world. These include a high percentage of international students, with a particularly large Chinese contingent, which means Andrew and his team have to come up with varied dishes to appeal to their tastes and needs.

They dont want to be fed anglicised versions of their own food, he said. Just imagine if we went to China and they fed us fish and chips. It just wouldnt work because the nuances and details would be wrong.

We are all about adapting to different tastes and requirement, including halal food, and asking our customers what they want.

After a decade in the job, Andrew is still passionate about the challenges his role brings - from encouraging students to eat breakfast (theyre not massively keen on getting out of bed before lunchtime apparently) to creating a fine dining menu for visiting VIPs.

Its important to me that the university is known for its food, he said. I dont kid myself that someone is going to choose to come here purely for my menus, but I think the quality of the food has some bearing. If it was down to two universities, I like to think our food would swing the decision our way.

Making the grade - the development of the University of York

The university was founded on the principles of excellence, equality and opportunity for all. It open in 1963 with just 230 students.

It has gone on to become one of the top ten universities in the UK for teaching and research, and is ranked in the top 100 in the world. There are now more than 30 academic departments and research centres and the student body has expanded to more than 12,000.

Former students include John Witherow, editor of the Sunday Times; Greg Dyke, former director-general of the BBC; authors Jung Chang and Helen Dunmore; comedian Harry Enfield; and ten MPs.

Greg Dyke has since gone on to become chancellor of the university. He graduated in politics in 1974, was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1999 and became chancellor in 2004.

The university employs around 3,500 people directly, with a further 4,500 jobs in the pipeline.

The most recent assessment of the university's economic impact on the local community revealed it was contributing towards 5,700 jobs and 182 million in income.

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