'The catering team are not just good workers, but good people too'Maverick Fraser

I am aware that this article’s title will conjure two conflicting perceptions.

For those of the live laugh (vote) labour lifestyle, you are doubtlessly quick to label my endeavours as self-fashioning saviourism, in a vein identical to that of Boris Johnson visiting a state-comp in Grimsby, or Rishi Sunak serving overpriced Chicken Katsu curry at Wagamama.

If you are a regular port-and-policy attendee, you are likely also disgusted. You fiercely believe that we, Cambridge students, are endowed with superior intellect which secures our right to be served a three-course meal with wine. We work hard. We must therefore play hard.  Dinner conversation is so high brow, even after being pennied – the most banterous of activities. (Note my world-weary sarcasm).

Allow me, dear reader, to explain my rationale for working in the corpus kitchen for an evening.

I want to question the relationship between ‘intelligence’ and social reverence. I am aware that this is dynamic is rooted in historicity, yet it remains relatively unquestioned. Why should achieving good grades entitle us to sit in marvellous halls and be waited on by people who are far more similar to us than they are different?

Many of the Corpus Kitchen staff are Italian. Although I brand myself a Cambridge Italianist, I almost feel awkward that I am waited on by people whose second language skills are far superior to mine.  

Some of the kitchen staff are sixth formers, or students at Anglia Ruskin. Outside of term, Bristol students have also been known to work in college kitchens. Is it not bizarre that, despite us navigating similar stages of life, we spend our evenings being waited on by people who are, in essence, our peers? Oxbridge prohibits part-time jobs, meanwhile 62% of students at other universities have one.

I am not naïve. I understand that one shift working in the college kitchen will not shift this dynamic. But perhaps it will further our understanding of it. My shift begins….

I have done some casual catering work between age 16 and 19, but have not done any for a couple of years. Arriving for my shift at six in the evening, my first activities are preparational. I wipe down tables, set out cutlery, and neatly folded napkins.

It is Halloween formal, so my co-workers and I decide to put some makeup on. We then dress up the hall, adorning it with spooky decorations.

At seven thirty, the guests arrive in fancy dress, and take their seats. Catering staff ensure that each guest receives a card specifying their dining requirements. The operation is smooth, as Giancarlo (a senior waiter) constantly indicates the side of the hall from which we should enter and exit.

The evening service is quick yet composed. While students are leisurely tucking into their meals and sipping wine, the waiting team stride through the hall to serve one hundred and twenty students, plus staff. In the kitchen, the chefs promptly and precisely plate each course. The chefs’ eye for detail is evident in their presentation. Those conducting the service are similarly meticulous. The entire operation runs like clockwork thanks to Adam, Giancarlo, and Alberto, and is executed perfectly by the waiters.

At around nine, students leave the hall, leaving behind their empty wine bottles, their wet pennies, and miscellaneous mess. The waiting team spend the following hour cleaning such mess, ensuring that the hall is spotless and ready for Cambridge’s (other) gastronomic jewel in the crown–college brunch.

The catering team are not just good workers, but good people too. Many of the sixth form workers impressively balance their A levels and university applications with work shifts. They are not, however, lethargic. Rather, they exude that youthful and vibrant joie de vivre.

They assure me that they are paid well. Two other senior staff members reaffirm this, stating that they moved from another high-profile Cambridge college to Corpus, and were pleased with the improved working conditions and better pay.

Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed my shift. The Corpus catering staff camaraderie is excellent, and relations between students and staff appeared particularly amiable.

If I were to work full-time in a Cambridge dining hall, I wouldn’t hate Cambridge students, but I would certainly envy them. Who wouldn’t be envious of being served posh dinner! Is it not enough that Cambridge students don’t have to worry about external landlords, and cooking for themselves? Why are they being served in a manner analogous to a wedding, when in reality it’s just an evening dinner party for some people who put pen to paper relatively well?

As a final year undergraduate, I have spent countless mealtimes in the college dining hall.


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I have been surrounded by the portraits of former masters.  I have heard the gong banged and the Latin recited. Yet, for this entire operation to materialise, there must be an extremely talented, professional, hardworking, and coordinated team– a team who often find themselves outside of the spotlight.

Perhaps it’s time for some bookish engineers and humanities softboys to serve the people who have always served us.