State-of-the-art food, glorious, food

August 5, 2005

Name: Elaine O'Sullivan

Age: Forever young.

Job: Operations manager for the School of Tourism Hospitality and Leisure at Thames Valley University

Salary: Could do better.

What is your background? HCIMA and City and Guilds qualifications. I spent several years in the hospitality industry .

What are your working hours? The demands on staff who work in hospitality get ever greater. On most days in term time, our training kitchens and training restaurant, Pillars, run from 8am until at least 9pm.

How many staff and students do you work with? We have about 20 operations staff who support the curriculum. We work closely with lecturers and other staff to ensure that students receive the best experience. My door is always open, so students and staff pop in to chat.

What has been your biggest challenge this year? Probably the refurbishment of Pillars. This was brought up to an extremely high standard to reflect trends in industry, alongside our state-of-the-art production kitchen, to give students excellent practical experience. It was tough ensuring that most of the work was done during the vacation so as not to disrupt the curriculum.

What has been your worst moment in university life? I'm a positive person, so problems are challenges not difficulties. The only instance I can remember was just before our annual charity dinner, on that occasion at the Savoy. Our students were working with chefs and banqueting staff. We had the sponsored white wine in our fridge waiting to go on the coach with the front-of-house students. But when I checked, I discovered we had several cases of well-chilled red. As ever, everyone pulled together, we managed to get replacement wine, and none of the 350 guests was the wiser.

What is your office like? It is nice and sunny, but it could do with a lick of paint. Unfortunately every time I look out of the window I see traffic wardens looking suspiciously at the cars parked in the road outside.

Which university facilities do you use? We have a refectory, but why would I use that when we have such an excellent restaurant ourselves?

What is the social life like? Not that many things are organised for the whole university, but we socialise within the school. I had a good pub lunch with colleagues only yesterday.

Who are your most difficult customers? Everyone can be difficult sometimes. I just try to ignore them and get on with life.

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