Everyone from romantic poet John Keats to Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu studied at King's College London, founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829.
Today, the university's campuses are spread across the capital city, growing and developing through mergers with the likes of the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals, Chelsea College, Queen Elizabeth College and the Institute of Psychiatry.
The Strand campus is a case in point, housing the School of Arts and Humanities, the School of Natural and Mathematical Sciences and the School of Social Science and Public Policy, which, by and large, overlook the Thames. The newest addition is The Dickson Poon School of Law, which is located in the east wing of Somerset House next door to the main building.
Catering at the campus is looked after by an in-house team, serving everything from coffee and biscuits to lunches for 1,000 staff and students daily. The dining area has a salad bar and a hot display of boxed food, including pizza, chicken and chips and noodles.
"Students love these types of fast food, but there are challenges," said executive chef Mark Williams, who has seen the university evolve dramatically in the 24 years he has worked there.
"Being in the High Street, we are right next door to the likes of Pret-A-Manger and Greggs, which are able to charge low prices, and, while we try to keep ours down, it can be difficult. For instance, our grab and go food is sold in a biodegradable box that meets the college's policy on sustainability and recycling, but doesn't come cheap. We have to strike a balance."
Taking things up a notch, the Strand catering team is also responsible for conferencing and function rooms, some of which offer fine dining for internal and external bodies, the Principal and Fellows. There is also a terrace bar overlooking the Thames, which can be hired out.
Across the whole diverse operation, sustainability is the watchword, an ethos which, this year, won the Strand campus an accolade at London's Good Food on the Public Plate Awards. By holding a Good Food Day twice a month, Mark and his team are able to showcase local produce with the lowest carbon footprint, but the highest welfare standards.
"This can be a challenge in itself when it comes to keeping costs down," said Mark. "Our local butcher, for example, said we can get free range, corn fed chicken, but at a price. The way round it is to buy free range chicken thighs instead of breasts. It's a bit 1940s, finding ways to buy the best while being cost-effective, but it works well. We do a chicken fricassee with chicken thighs and garnish it with a julienne of carrots and onions and lots of herbs."
Stocks that serve Sauces are, particularly, important if you are looking to enhance a dish, and, in turn, the stock you use to provide depth of flavour. Stockmaking from scratch, however, is a time-consuming process that can take up to eight hours to boil down bones with onion, celery, seasoning and bay leaf, repeatedly reducing and skimming, before straining off.
In the Strand campus' case, a high volume of covers means scratchmaking stock is not viable and readymade products are essential ingredients in the kitchen. Until 18 months ago, Mark used a major brand, but, with the college's emphasis on sustainability and commitment to lowering the salt and fat content of dishes, he decided to look at other options.
"Just because the university has taken on more and more students over the years, expanding and merging, it doesn't necessarily mean you get more staff," he said. "We don't have the luxury of time that many Michelin starred restaurants do and we do rely on quality products that are quick to use, but also take into consideration what we are trying to do."
As fate would have it, Essential Cuisine called up at that time to ask Mark if he wanted to sample its stocks, jus and demi-glace. Heartened by the fact Essential was a British company based in Cheshire - helping reduce the university's carbon footprint - Mark took the plunge.
"When they came in, we were just getting into the sustainability thing, and, as soon as we did the taste test on the stocks, we knew they were really good," said Mark. "Really great flavour."
Made by chefs for chefs, Essential Cuisine stock tastes just like kitchen-made product with a clear appearance, with each variant offering a superior yield of 50ltrs per 800g tub.
With suppliers urged to play their part in the Responsibility Deal and help caterers in the fight against obesity, Essential Cuisine has also strived to lower the salt content of its stocks, wherever possible, without taking away any of the naturally rich taste of the stockpot.
Based on 50ml as a recipe ingredient, they contain just 0.28g of salt, or 5.6g per litre, as well as a low level of fat (c3%) and no MSG or preservatives. With a 12 month shelf life, there is no need to refrigerate after opening, and tubs are colour coded for easy recognition.
Mark and his team now use Essential Cuisine's chicken stock to make the veloute for their Good Food Day chicken thigh fricassee, the mushroom stock for the likes of mushroom and sage risotto, and are looking to buy in the Cheese stock for adding to white sauces and sprinkling on leek rarebit as a low in fat, flavoursome alternative to grated cheese.
"We also use the Light Vegetable in soups and vegetarian dishes such as butternut squash and spinach lasagne. The main advantage is the flavour it gives without adding lots of salt. Because the stocks are powdered, a couple of my chefs like to use it to season dishes as you would with a dry herb, which gives it a nice balance. For instance, you can do a nice, rice pilaf rather than a plain, steamed rice just by adding a couple of teaspoons of the stock.
"They are an improvement on the stocks we were previously using, which were, largely, hard pastes full of saltiness. In this case, less is definitely more. You can also tell they are made by chefs by the colour. You know what it's supposed to be like when you boil up a chicken carcass, but with some of the competitors', it is too golden. Essential Cuisine's stock is much paler, which is how we would expect it to look. I've also seen round circles of fat when I've added boiling water to some other stocks, you don't get this with Essential Cuisine's."
One stop shop
On the back of this, Mark also uses Essential Cuisine's Classic Demi-Glace in high end dishes such as fillet of Scotch beef with red wine sauce. "It's consistent and has a deep colour with a very nice shine, which is what you are looking for in fine dining," he said. "We don't do silver service anymore, it goes to the tables plated, so we need that level of presentation."
Essential Cuisine's Veal Jus also has its place. "We rarely use it, but it was excellent for our medallions of venison in the winter, rich and gamey," said Mark.
"With all these products, it's about consistency. The bulk of our customers are repeat and, if they like a dish, they are right to expect it to be the same the next time they order it."
Using a reputable, bought-in brand, at least as a base for your own creativity, is the most cost effective way to deliver great taste. Buying dirt cheap products, however, is a false economy when the stock component cost of an average dish is under five pence, according to Nigel Crane, Dorchester-trained chef and managing director of Essential Cuisine.
"Our products are building blocks for chefs to strike a balance between the often lengthy process of making stocks from scratch and having to go down the mass produced route," he said. "Also, because our stocks are powders, you can add them straight into a dish at any stage of the cooking process for ultra convenience and control during a busy service."
This press release was provided by Essential Cuisine