Cardiff character: Paul Robson

Cardiff University houses celebrity’s chef

Paul Robson cooks up a storm with his culinary past (photo by Jade Price)

From aprons to suits, 50 year-old Paul Robson has cooked his way along an incredible journey from the Docks of Cardiff to serving royalty.

Paul has been Cardiff University’s executive head chef for thirteen years and more recently Eco Champion, leaving an interesting trail of breadcrumbs along the path leading to his future.

He was born in a terraced house in Cardiff docks on 2 March 1961. From birth Paul was set to enter into the world of cookery. He said, “I started my first job at 16 as a Commis chef at the Cardiff County Club, which was a private members club. Then I attended Colchester Avenue College of Food and Technology for over five years. I took my catering exams and advanced pastry work, which included a two hour written exam and an eight hour practical exam.”

From small beginnings

From lengthy exams and study, Paul moved into the world of work, where he said he spent a number of years working for local hotels, such as the Inn on the Avenue, The Beverly Hotel and the Angel Hotel where he worked his way up to a chef position.

Following his hotel work, Paul then began his employment at Cardiff University. He said, “I started working for Cardiff University in 1987 as a chef for Plas Gwyn halls of residence and within the year I was promoted to caterer. I was then promoted to head chef/caterer at University Hall, halls of residence.” Paul explained how he and his team met some extreme cooking conditions, “We cooked for around 800 students daily, breakfast and dinner.”

Serving celebrities

Paul then moved about between university buildings before he turned from cooking for students to cooking for celebrities. Paul listed that he and his team had cooked for many famous faces, “My team and I cooked for Prince Charles three times, and the Queen and Prince Philip once. Other notables we have cooked for include, Reverend Desmond Tutu, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Stephen Fry, Kate Adie OBE, Neil Kinnock, Griff Rhys Jones, Carol Vordeman, Bryn Terfel and Rhodri Morgan.” Paul explained, “When you cook for any high profile function the team and I feel excited, pressured, terrified and if everything goes according to plan elated, then exhausted!”

Aside from plating-up for the royal family, Paul also had time to squeeze in culinary competitions, “We have taken part in many chefs’ competitions and have been awarded ‘highly commended’ for our menus of Best Main Course, and in 2003 we took the gold medal at the TUCO Chefs Challenge, where we competed against 15 other universities to win the gold medal. Then finally in 1998 I was promoted to my current position and we have cooked dinners for about 4000 people.”

Getting green fingers

Paul was then put forward to be an Eco Champion for the Catering Department at the university and has been doing the job for the past few years. He took part in the sustainability week on campus, “I wrote the menus, cooked for various people and did all the research as well as sourcing the ingredients with the various suppliers.” Paul got involved in sustainable cooking because, “Basically I’ve got an interest in sustainable cooking and eco sort of issues. We’re only on this planet for a short time and it would be nice to leave it for somebody else as well,” he said clasping his hands together.

Not everything has run smoothly for Paul, as some ideas deployed by the kitchen to get the university to be eco-friendly did not work, “A can crusher, which we trialled was unsuccessful because people didn’t actually crush the cans, they just used it as a bin.” Paul explained that if he could invent a device to solve waste it would be something that we could use to recycle every element of waste including tin, oil and food waste.

Paul’s job has taken him further afield than the UK, “We went to Canada last year and they recycle a heck of a lot more than we do. They split everything too which makes it easier to recycle all of the different elements and it would be brilliant if we started that in this country, which I believe they’re going to eventually so they’re ahead of us that way.”

A culinary future

Canada had more than just an eco impact on Paul, “In five years time I see myself living in Canada, we are currently filling in all the relevant paperwork to assist us in our application to emigrate to Canada.”

It is not just Cardiff that will lose out on one of its mostly secretive celebrity-serving chefs, but the whole of the UK as Paul jets off to cook for Canada.