Video: TV show that has all the ingredients for weaning students off fast food diet
Pharah Hutchinson is a first year financial economics student from Haiti. Ngozi Iloabuchi has come to Bradford University from Nigeria to study for a masters degree in human resources. The two young women had not met before being asked to get together this morning and cook for each other and for the camera.
"I'm enjoying myself in Bradford, but the food is so different," says Pharah. "I can't find a Caribbbean restaurant, so I just have to dream. Fresh fish is so expensive, and I can't find a lot of other ingredients we would cook with at home."
Nevetheless, she has found the dozen or so foodstuffs to cook a typical Haitian pumpkin soup, and beef, noodles, peppers, coriander, turnips, celery and limes are among the fresh items sitting before her.
Ngozi has been in Yorkshire for 17 months, and admits she was shocked at first at the number of fast food outlets around the university, on Great Horton Road. She's going to cook red rice, a basic Nigerian dish involving half a dozen ingredients.
As they prepare to chop and chat as naturally as you can if a camera is watching you and you are not Nigella or Jamie, the producer Rob tells Pharah and Ngozi that, actually, they must swap recipes and learn to cook each other's. "It's a little twist that will add to the fun," he says mischievously, while Ngozi eyes Pharah's mound of ingredients nervously.
Many brilliant ideas have no doubt been born out of a late-night beer and a takeaway, and many a student will tell you what a Eureka! moment they once had over fish, chips and lager... If only they could remember details of that brilliance the next day.
The idea spawned by Simon Horniblow and his friend Oliver Harrison was a simple one that was based on luring young people at university away from the fast food they too often rely on because they're not much good in the kitchen, and equipping them to prepare food cheaply and healthily for themselves.
Simon and Oliver met while studying film and TV production at York St John University. Oliver taught himself to cook during his time in York; Simon could barely boil an egg, and over time he became the ready meal's greatest friend.
Later, when they worked in TV in Leeds and shared a flat, Simon's culinary skills were no further developed. "One day, while I was pulling a meal in a packet out of the freezer and Oli was cooking something from scratch, I realised I wanted to learn to cook properly," says Simon, 27.
"I knew I'd missed out a bit at uni, as the people who could cook were always so popular. We had the brainwave of making a fun, 'learn to cook' video for students and putting them on YouTube."
A chance meeting with the executive chef at Loughborough University gave them the opening they needed to show what they could do. They borrowed a camera, teed up some friends, and made a taster video that included vox pops with students about food, recipes and demonstrations. The most unique selling point was that their videos would, in practice, involve many students on-screen talking to their peers.
Loughborough liked the embryonic product well enough to fund a three-month pilot out of its enterprise fund and a joint company called Campus Life was born. Simon and Oliver had tapped into a new buzz phrase in higher education circles, namely "the student experience." It wasn't long before they left their mainstream TV jobs to work full-time on their own idea.
Studentcooking.tv is the core of the company, and from a small beginning making videos streamed internally to screens inside one university, the concern has grown into a service provided to 15 universities across the UK, from Aberdeen and St Andrews down to Birmingham and Bath, and including Bradford, Leeds Met, Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam.
Content includes guides to British food, international cuisine, where-to-shop guides, demonstrations, cook-offs, and money-saving tips.
Universities like them partly because the service to students can help young people to find their feet when away from home for the first time and it can also keep parents happy that their sons and daughters are not starving. It was also felt that video would engage students in a way that recipe leaflets and books about healthy eating did not.
Studentcooking.tv now employs a team of nine enthusiastic young men, and is based on a small business park in Leeds. It's a no-fuss environment – just laptops, phones, and edit facilities tucked away in a small cubicle in the corner "We go to university open days and talk about what we do.
I think parents are much more involved now in students' university choices, and they always seem relieved that there is some help available to help the student to cook," says project manager Tom White, who runs the Bradford University account.
"We're about helping to give a great 'living experience' while they are at university.
"Students can get involved with us, or they can simply watch the content on their laptop or TV in university accommodation, and follow any of our archive of different recipes, learn about healthy eating, and even get a breakdown of how much of their daily intake of each important food group they are getting with a particular food."
Studentcooking.tv has even won a Royal Television Society award for innovation – Tom proudly passes me the perspex trophy to admire.
"We provide bespoke campus guides, with the emphasis on fun and involving students themselves as much as possible. Each uni and town has a very different character – St Andrews, possibly because it is a small town, has a high number of students who seem to be into fine dining.
" Loughborough is also quite a small town and the uni there is renowned for its sports studies, with many students keen on knowing about very healthy eating that fits in with their training. It is fun exploring the different feel of each place and making videos reflecting that".
Simon and Tom admit that Studentcooking.tv isn't making them much money yet. They still have funding and a 50-50 deal from Loughborough, and each university that buys into the service pays a contribution (around 12,000 a year in Bradford's case).
If a student can find out where to shop for cheap, fresh produce and cook their own Thai green curry or ham and mozzarella open tart, then that's another enjoyable experience and life skill they've acquired while at university, says Chris Spargo, head of communication services at Bradford University.
"Yes, it's about learning to cook, but even more importantly it's about getting people talking to each other. We have students from 120 countries at Bradford, and a service like this is great because it encourages social engagement. It provides a range of events on campus, as well as what people can see on screen or laptop. People can try recipes from different countries and the information is provided in the kind of modern format they like.
"For domestic or international students it's valuable to have the guides provided on where to find the foods you want or new things you want to try. It's healthy in every way, which is why we've bought into it. Also, the student experience is getting more expensive, so helping people to spend money wisely yet eat well has got to be good. There's also a sustainability angle to encouraging students to cook their own food."
To see more of the shoot for studentcooking.tv go to www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/video