Bee Wilson finds university caterers responsible for ‘flavour window’

Speaking at the second chairman’s dinner for The University Caterers Organisation, TUCO, author of First Bite and eminent food writer Bee Wilson, found university caterers have a pivotal role to play in influencing healthy eating.

“Fussy eating in adults is a huge phenomenon” notes Wilson before continuing;

“University caterers have an enormous responsibility, and unique opportunity to shape the food narrative for this demographic. There is no doubt they play a pivotal role in broadening people’s tastes.”

The first flavour window is found in babies between four and seven months, in which there is a small but powerful chance to influence healthy eating and introduce a multitude of tastes. After that we essentially become fussy eaters.

The second opportunity, and probably the last flavour window we experience, is when people leave home for the first time. This is a critical opportunity to reach people at a time when they are extremely receptive to new experiences and tastes.”


Wilson went on to note the first language of food is too often focused on whether or not it is good for us, not about enjoyment; “Food should be a fun feast, and the greatest joy in the world but sadly it often isn’t. How did we get to the point where the very thing that is meant to be giving us nutrition is killing us?”

Panel lead Don Sloan, chair of the Oxford Cultural Collective agreed, adding;

“Sadly for many many people, their relationship with food is destructive.”

Wilson set out a plea for both the nation and university caterers to stop polarising food into two groups; comfort food (bad) and nutritious food (good). Arguing instead to bring these groups together which she believed would help solve many of the nation’s food problems.


(L to R) Jeremey Lee, Bee Wilson, Don Sloan and Matthew Fort

In addition to speaking on healthy eating, Wilson also highlighted the enormous social responsibility she believes university caterers have, a position supported by Matthew White, chair of TUCO and director of catering, hotel and conferencing at

The University of Reading:

“We are constantly bombarded by the stampede for new ingredients and new trends but what should underpin our approach is ensuring that food is fun, accessible and appetising.

We continue to innovate and educate both our staff and students, encouraging experiential learning and delivering a breadth of food and drink that can helpbroaden horizons and flavour experiences.”

White went on to thank university caterers for their dedication and passion in providing a thriving student culinary experience of which he was; ‘extremely proud’. Former Guardian food and drink editor and Great British Menu TV judge Matthew Fort, partook in the panel debate, adding;

“All human activities meet on the plate. It represents all of our emotions. Yet we live in a two-tiered food nation. Those that get gastronomy and those that don’t have either the time or the money to look after themselves nutritionally. On the positive side, it’s an exciting time, as the UK is the only nation in recent times where the food culture is improving”


A point reinforced by fellow panellist and Quo Vadis chef proprietor Jeremey Lee who commented;

“When I first started in the industry, courgettes were considered glamourous! We have certainly come a long way. But ultimately it is imperative to treat staff like human beings, encourage them to learn new things and definitely don’t serve prawn cocktail.”

A recent food and beverage report commissioned by TUCO; TUCO Intelligence Q1 2018, supported the idea it had been a challenging 12 months, finding food and drink prices rising and food inflation at its highest for many years. The event was held at Cutty Sark, Greenwich London, on Thursday 15th February 2018 and was attended by more than 100 TUCO members.

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