HEAD TO HEAD WITH JULIE BARKER, FOOD SERVICE EXPERT
Can you tell us a little more about how your hospitality career began, and where the journey has taken you?
I was very clear when I left school about my career aspirations, born in the Industrial heartlands of the North East my philosophy was; a career in food – we are always going to need food, I would always be in work. So I trained as a Chef, there began a journey of discovery that has taken me across the breadth of Industry from F&B, Hotels, Conferencing through to Security and FM, Public Houses, Restaurants, NHS, Care, Schools B&I and most recently Higher and Further Education.
You’ve been at the forefront of university catering in your roles at The University of Brighton and as TUCO chair. How have you seen the channel develop from a catering perspective?
Catering in the education sector has evolved hugely and I am not sure where it started. Was it Jamie Oliver’s influence on improving school food standards in the early noughties, the prevalence of ready meals and junk food? The lack of food education for children, the pace of life, international travel or the growth in the ‘coffee’ society and grab and go foods….? There has been so many influencing factors that have changed consumer behaviour, what is clear is that customer expectations have changed they demand better food at great prices and when they want it! We just have to be fleet of foot, understand the trends and marketplace and keep up.
In terms of trends, we imagine that the student market are very early adopters when it comes to food and drink. What’s shaping menus at the moment?
High Street trends are always popular – you need to be on trend with food provision. Vegan food and the growth in flexitarian eating is very much coming through, and to be honest is an area the sector has seen growing for a number of years. Trendy food, healthy foods, trendy ingredients with International flavours and styles replicates the demographics and needs of the client base. Environmental consciousness across the business is also very important including the F&B provision.
Across your career you’ve been awarded many prestigious accolades, what’s been your proudest career moment to date?
I do not have one single proud moment, there have been many moments that have made me proud. Recently I encouraged a team (not within the education sector) to put in a nomination for a national award – they were doing such great work that needed to be recognised – they won, I was thrilled, there is so much fantastic work going on in the Industry that goes unseen, not just in the Education Sector. Breaking boundaries and applying fresh thinking and innovation – encouraging teams to do so makes me smile. Being together on the same stage with Michel Roux (Jnr) and meeting so many other great chefs and personalities within the industry would also be on the list.
Finally, as a trained chef yourself, what recipe for success would you share with students looking to enter the hospitality industry?
We have such a huge and diverse industry with fantastic opportunities, you can start at the bottom and work your way up quite quickly - find your niche! It may be front of house it may be back of house, it could be in B&I, hospital or prison catering, pubs and bars, Michelin-star restaurants or hotels from budget to luxury, to name but a few. Like anything in life, work hard, play hard and smile - you only get out of it what you put into it!