The food enthusiast who is making a career in catering at King’s College

When she was 16, Lauren Marsh decided that college wasn’t for her. She’s making a career in the catering industry and, two years ago, got the chance to join the catering team at King’s College. She loves being part of a ‘big family’ full of characters.

Lauren Marsh in the Saltmarsh Rooms at King’s College (Nick Saffell)

My favourite place at King’s College is the Saltmarsh Rooms. The rooms are so elegant and look out over the front lawn and down to the river. I also love the dining hall when it’s all ready for a formal dinner with the candles lit. Luckily I have the opportunity to supervise dinners in the Saltmarsh.

Walking past Cambridge’s famous buildings is one thing. Working in one is quite different. There’s a lot to learn about who’s who and how things work. It’s like being part of a big family. We have our moments but we’re all friends.

I’m only 20 and I’ve already been working here for over two years. I started as food service assistant and I’m working towards becoming a supervisor in the near future. The work is always varied and there are opportunities to learn and develop yourself.

At school I did OK but I wasn’t academic. I liked doing creative things like art, photography and make-up. I went to a local sixth form college to take vocational courses but after the first term I dropped out and got a job. I felt I needed to be part of the world of work.

I first saw the historic buildings of the University when I was nine. I was brought up in north Cambridge. Both my parents work in healthcare. We’re not a high income family. The school took the whole class punting and I saw all these ancient buildings.

The idea that one day I’d work for a Cambridge College didn’t occur to me. They seemed like another world. I had my first Saturday job when I was 14. I worked in a couple of cafés and learnt how to make coffee and prepare simple food.

When I was 16 I signed up for an apprenticeship scheme in catering. I was placed in a Michelin star restaurant. It was horrible, the shifts were exhausting, and I’d go home crying. I had to see a counsellor about my anxiety. I gave up that job and went back to working in a café, making sandwiches and salads.

I was offered an interview at King’s College. I had an informal interview with the head of the catering department and I was asked if I’d like to do a trial shift. I was nervous because I’d never worked in a large department before. The one thing that was noticed at my interview was my passion and my attitude to the industry.

In my trial shift, I served at a dinner for more than 100 people. It was being held by a top local company in the College. First, I helped to hand out canapés on the lawn and then to serve dinner in the dining hall. I’m keen to develop the skills I’ve gained and progress. Being young, there is still so much for me to learn but I’m getting the support to grow at King’s.

There are 30 of us in the catering department. At a daily morning meeting we go over the function sheets about the events happening that day. The work is varied. It could be delivering coffee and biscuits to rooms around the College, working behind the counter in the buttery, or serving dinners. Recently I’ve started to supervise big dinners and small private functions. I also look after small conferences that we have in the College.

I’ve made lifelong friends here. I’ve never had such strong friendships. We spend time with each other outside work. In my free time, I’m building up a portfolio of photos of buildings and people. I’m also looking into training in beauty therapy, another of my interests. I’m happy that for formal halls [college meals] I get to be creative and help with the decor.

It’s kind of strange that the students at King’s are the same age as me. I thought they’d be pretentious and stuck-up — but they’re not. They’re a real mix of people working hard at their studies. King’s is like a rainbow of vibrant colours and characters.

This job has helped me to grow myself. I’ve gained in confidence. I meet all kinds of people including high profile people. Sometimes we have royalty and celebrities visiting King’s and I help look after them.

I’m massively into the artistry of food — how you can make things look amazing. I’m curious and I want to learn new things. I actively ask the chefs about the food and techniques they use. I’m a real foodie at heart and I was delighted to be given the chance to train in the pastry section.

The future’s looking good. Soon I’m going with our head chef to visit other Cambridge colleges and venues to see what they are offering, so we can review what we’re offering here at King’s.

This profile is part of our This Cambridge Life series.

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