Introducing Nina Rhodes, Catering Manager
Nina Rhodes has recently taken on the role of Catering Manager at Pembroke. Here, she talks about the challenges and excitement of catering for a College.
What does being catering manager involve?
I’m responsible for the catering aspects of the College and managing the catering team. We cater for Fellows, special occasions, the servery, for the bar and café, and any corporate or other internal events that come through. I manage Seb Little (Head chef) and Savino Cafagna (Front of house /High table manager) working with them on menus, pricing, seasonal catering and service standards. A little bit of everything!
If there’s food and drink there, you’re there!
Yes, I am very passionate about food and like to be involved to make sure everyone is enjoying the experience.
Were you familiar with Pembroke before coming here as catering manager?
I was very aware. I spent the last 2 years working at the Cambridge University Centre as catering manager. I was responsible for the catering at the University Centre and provided outside catering to university departments. On my way to work I passed Pembroke College every day. I hadn’t been inside until the day of my interview but it always looked very beautiful and grand from the outside. I’m very impressed.
So what made you come to Pembroke?
I think the reputation and quality attracted me. I wanted to focus on quality and before I came here I looked at past menus. We have the new project for Mill Lane which is exciting…I just generally felt everything was of a high quality. The Hall is very grand, there’s High Table to cater for, and I’m really looking forward to the Guggenheim feast on Friday evening. That will be my first! I’ve worked with volume at hotels but this is different. Before the university centre I was the general manager at the Old Bridge Hotel and Wine Shop for 9 years; there we focused on customer services and quality. We had opportunities to think seasonally, sourcing our ingredients well and locally. When I came here I could see it’s all about quality and my first impression was really that everybody cares and it has a family feel. It was very much that I felt I could fit in. I thrive on giving excellent customer care, and I enjoy interacting with people at every level.
Having a tour of the cellars has amazed me, the quantity and quality of wine is wonderful!
Also, before I came here I knew Pembroke by reputation. Pembroke’s catering department has a great reputation among the colleges.
How are you finding Pembroke so far?
Loving it! The first four days were a blur after I finished on Friday evening but everyone from the most junior to the most senior has been very welcoming. When you come to a new place there’s a lot to take in and I like being with people so I have made an effort to remember people and where they are in college so I can place them. It’s important to know everyone in my job. I really do have a very nice feeling about it, and I’m excited.
What challenges lie ahead?
Mainly learning about the etiquette of the college which I think will be quite different to the private sector I’ve worked in. Here there’s a certain structure to everything, and for the first few months I will be learning about the whole service. I have barely scratched the surface! I will get to know everybody and then get to know the business. Even though I was part of the university before, Pembroke is very different. From my point of view it’s my first opportunity to work in a university college, so I am looking forward to embracing what comes my way with a smile!
Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to?
The first three months is looking at every aspect of the business and learning the framework you have to build on. I’ll maybe make small changes which are decisions I make with Seb and Savino. But no major decisions, I want to be sure everything is running smoothly first. The Guggenheim feast I’m very excited about and we’ve got a lot of important people attending so I just want to make sure it goes well. We have quite a small kitchen and are serving 180 guests so it will be a challenge but I’m assured that the team does this on a regular basis! The graduation will be interesting also but before that we will be welcoming International Programme students. All those things are new to me so I’m embracing it and thinking, let’s see how we do it. Savio and Seb have worked together for many years, been here a long time so I think it works well.
Everyone is very positive in embracing a new person coming in. All catering managers like to make their mark, so I hope there will be something about me that will be an asset to Pembroke.