We all know that students live on burgers, kebabs, take-outs and baked beans when not in the student bar, right? Think again, as Melissa Blease questions some students who seriously challenge the stereotype
I’m a big fan of Japanese food; I love the different flavours and textures of each dish, and I like watching the Itamae at work – sushi making is a craft I can really appreciate.” “The shops in my neighbourhood sell loads of interesting produce like dragonfruit and plantain, which is great when you’re looking for new recipe inspiration.”
“Valentino’s Bellissimo in Twickenham do an amazing ravioli via condotti – it’s one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten.”
Reading thus far, you’d be forgiven for thinking that these are all random quotes taken from an interview with one of Bath’s best chefs, or a seasoned food writer, or the latest food-based social media influencer. But in fact, this is 20-year-old Matthew Locker – a sport management student who was born and raised in Bath – talking to us about life in the day-to-day student kitchen. Contrary to popular belief and multiple, weary urban myths, Matt – like many thousands of young people in his situation (time- and cash-poor, living away from home, etc) most definitely does not take the pizza delivery/Pot Noodle/late-night kebab route to satiation when it comes to pondering what to eat on any given day of his student year.Matthew Locker
According to a survey conducted late last year by the National Union of Students (NUS), students spend an average of just £24.32 per week (£3.47 per day) on food to eat at home – so not a penny of it can be allowed to go to waste. “Most students I know learnt to cook a few dishes pretty quickly when starting at university because the novelty of eating fast food every day wears off pretty fast,” says Matt, who shares a house with a group of fellow students. “But a good pasta dish is so quick and easy to throw together when you’re between lectures and can be customised to make a meal out of whatever is lurking in the back of the cupboard, so there’s very little waste.” So, has pasta taken over where baked beans on toast left off? Nope – we’re only at the start of the modern student food story.“Like many of our friends, we regularly cook for and with each other in our house,” says Matt. “A big favourite is a family recipe I have for chorizo bean stew – it can be made during the day and left to cook for a few hours, so we finally get some use out of the slow cookers we were all gifted with at the start of university. We make lots of curries, and the occasional Sunday lunch when we have the time.
“We recently invested in a barbecue for the garden, which has been good fun – it’s also great when we have friends over and want to eat and drink before a night out without wrecking the house. But even when we’re not cooking for one another we like to all make food at the same time and eat together – it’s much more sociable than sitting in your room alone, and helps us all maintain pretty good friendships with one another… even if we do all still fight over who has control of the TV remote!”
Those of us who can still remember 1980s Britcom The Young Ones will be thinking at this point that this is a very different scenario to the kind of hilariously bad ‘student life snapshot’ that we expect to encounter. The really funny thing is, though, that The Young Ones generation turned into the middle-aged ones who taught young people like Matt how to avoid turning into a Rick, a Neil or a Vyvyan.
“Being able to cook has helped me build relationships with my flatmates as well as helping me impress a girlfriend or two”
“I was encouraged to ‘help’ in the kitchen as soon as I was able to walk and talk, but I really started cooking regularly at around the start of secondary school when my parents divorced and it became a way of connecting with my family as well as a necessity when my parents were out at work,” Matt recalls.
“My dad Nigel has always loved cooking, and often, cooking for my sister and I was the only time he had free in the evening between trying to launch and run his own company and taking us to our various clubs and sports commitments. It was a really good way to connect with dad when he was so busy, and I loved learning about new dishes each week.
“For my sister and I, our love of cooking evolved from those days; we’ve inherited the same passion for cooking that dad has – and it comes as no surprise to us that his partner used to be a chef! But those early experiences with food impacted me massively; I feel very independent and able to look after myself, and being able to cook has helped me build relationships with my flatmates as well as helping me impress a girlfriend or two…”
Not all of Matt’s friends had the same experiences around food when they were growing up, and he can easily spot the difference between those that did, and those that didn’t. “Pav and Andrew make a lot of family dishes, with Pav’s samosas being a firm favourite, and Andrew’s Russian stews help us get through the winter and the last few days before our next student loan drops. At the other end of the scale, we have Neil who tried to microwave cans of soup on several occasions, and Perry who visited the chip shop for lunch every day during our first year until we taught him how to make tuna mayo pasta.”
All in all, however, they’re a very organised group who jointly pay for a supermarket grocery delivery once a week and instigated a shared ‘beer and burger’ fund for barbecue season. “We’re pretty good at sharing out the cost of ingredients equally, but there’ll always be one of us who’s ‘borrowed’ everyone else’s milk or left their dirty dishes in the sink for a fortnight,” says Matt. “Most of my flatmates play a regular sport for university and are hitting the gym a few times a week, so there’s usually plenty of grilled chicken, rice and peas to share. But we cook a whole host of dishes in between the more mundane meals that you rely on when you’re in a rush, or tired after a long day.”
As a result of all the at-home kitchen activity, Matt and his friends don’t eat out very often. If, however, he was in a position to blow the budget on something really special, the option of an endless buffet at Nando’s isn’t even in the running. “I’d love to have a truly special dining experience at one of the Michelin starred restaurants in London; The Araki in Mayfair, for example, is somewh
ere I’ve dreamt of visiting for a long time.”
At the start of another academic year, many adults could learn a lot from today’s students.
STUDENTS IN BATH: HOW AND WHERE THE COOL KIDS EAT
“I absolutely love The Peking on Kingsmead Square. I always eat in rather than getting a takeaway as it’s really good value for money for really good, fresh food – and we don’t have to do any dishes!” Georgie, 21-year-old conservation biology student, Bath Spa University
“We get all our fresh veg from the Community Farm shop at Green Park Station market, and big meat deals from Tunley Farm Butchers, just next door – both work out much, much cheaper than shopping for the same kind of thing at the supermarket, and it’s much nicer quality produce too.” Adrian, 21-year-old social sciences student, University of Bath
“I don’t really like takeaways or fast food from the big high street chains, but I love freshly cooked grab’n’go grub from Chai Walla or Phat Yaks (Kingsmead Square), LJ Hugs (SouthGate) or the Thai Hut at Green Park Station.” Emma, 22-year-old chemistry student, University of Bath
“We have a Riverford Veg box delivered to our shared student house once a week, and it’s a lifeline.” Grace, 22-year-old Norland diploma student, Norland College
“Students who sign up for offers from YO! Sushi in Milsom Place get 25% off menu prices most days of the week – I could live on the chicken katsu, nigiri maki, kimchi squid or Dynamite Rolls” Toby, 20-year-old business studies student, Bath College
“You can’t possibly say you’ve been a student in Bath until you’ve eaten a Schwartz Bros burger on your way home from a night out!” Dan, 20-year-old drama student, Bath Spa University.