Wednesday, 27 January 2021

MasterChef champion Irini Tzortzoglou cooking up life lessons at University


University of Cumbria is teaming up with 2019 MasterChef champion Irini Tzortzoglou to offer its students an exclusive cookery class series.

‘Uni.Yum’ is a series of six free sessions launching on Wednesday, 27 January 2021.

Irini will present a 45-minute session every Wednesday at 6pm from the kitchen of her home in south Cumbria. After the launch, each session will follow a different theme ranging from cookery basics to nutritional elements such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Via Microsoft Teams, students will be invited to create dishes in real time with Irini and join in live and interactive Q&As.

The scheme aims to help students at University of Cumbria learn to cook satisfying and nutritious meals for themselves and others, on a budget and using basic ingredients and equipment. They will gain valuable culinary skills and knowledge, not only helping break the time spent at home during lockdown but also preparing them for life beyond graduation.

Harnessing the power food has in bringing people together, the cookery series will also be a creative outlet to support students’ wellbeing.

Not only will they be able to cook with Irini, students also have the option to watch the shows with those within their households at a time when many are correctly following government’s ‘Stay at Home’ messages and are not yet back in their usual university halls or accommodation.

Crete-born Irini said: “I am thrilled to be sharing with students some of my cooking knowledge, tips and tricks. These are no ordinary cookery classes as Uni.Yum will include advice on shopping, cooking and eating mindfully,  aiming for a healthy and happy time on campus and beyond while increasing confidence and creativity. 

“Uni.Yum is also going to break up time studying and being at home during lockdown. Eating food is often also a shared experience and I hope this will give University of Cumbria students across the country and beyond a chance to cook dishes for loved ones and others where that is possible.”

Irini lives near Cartmel in south Cumbria, a food lover’s haven renowned for its award-winning restaurants and eateries and its world-famous culinary figures. She published her first book, ‘Under the Olive Tree’, in the summer of 2020 and is currently writing her second.

She added: “I’m also very excited to be able to continue to offer knowledge in the form of short videos, photographs and recipes through the dedicated Instagram feed Uni.Yum where students will be also invited to post and put questions to me whenever they need to be supported or inspired.

Dr Signy Henderson, Dean for Student Success at University of Cumbria, said: “This is a challenging time for us all including our students. The social aspects of university life this year are necessarily different with much more of a focus on staying in and making the most of the home environment.

“Therefore it is pleasing to see how Uni.Yum will provide students with a creative outlet to try something that’s different and fun, expanding their knowledge about balanced eating and how to use good, simple ingredients to nourish themselves and perhaps share within their household.

“Uni.Yum offers the flexibility for students to join the cooking sessions with Irini live or to watch the demonstrations and cook later, whatever works for them.”

Molly McConnell, welfare officer at University of Cumbria Students’ Union, said: “I am delighted to have been able to assist Irini and the university on the Uni.Yum project, especially having had my own challenges with meal times during my degree and my recent healthy eating campaign halted by the pandemic.

“The project also aligns well with the Students' Union's focus for the beginning of this semester: we're working to reignite the motivation and passion in our student body as they push through their assessments and, for many of them, continue on as key workers alongside their studies.

“Irini's passion and energy has been hugely refreshing and I know it will be an incredibly inspiring experience for the students that engage with the sessions. I can really see the potential therapeutic value for our students too, particularly those struggling to switch off in the evenings and on again in the mornings.”

Follow @Uni.Yum on Instagram and the hashtag #Yumbria across social media platforms.

Irini Tzortzoglou – Chef, Food Writer, Tutorials, Motivational Speaking

  • 2019 UK MasterChef Champion
  • July 2019 – culinary retreat at 5 star hotel, Crete
  • October 2019 – Women Of The Year awards lunch
  • Instagram lives – cooking with other chefs, including Michelin (5 star) Simon Rogan and others
  • Cooking videos for Kids On The Green (Grenfell Tower related charity) and Royal Voluntary Service
  • July 2020 - UNDER THE OLIVE TREE (recipes from my Greek kitchen) was published by Headline.  Currently writing the second cookbook to be published in the Spring of 2022
  • Recipe development for Dodoni UK (producer of feta cheese)
  • Recipe development for Tsantali wines
  • UNI.YUM – cooking and nutrition classes delivered to Cumbria University students
  • Culinary retreats in Crete with Simpson Travel
  • Regular commentary on BBC Radio Cumbria
  • Featured in The Times, Hello Magazine and many others

Passionate about the culture of her homeland, where the food heritage goes back thousands of years to Minoan times, Irini (who was born in Crete and herself benefitted from homegrown, simple and often wild ingredients) is a fervent advocate of growing our own foods and buying locally wherever practical.  She is also a keen supporter of growers and breeders who engage in ethical and responsible practices and use foodstuffs offered freely in the local countryside.  Irini is herself a keen forager.

Convinced, like many, that our planet’s resources are fast being exhausted, Irini likes to inform and to inspire others to adopt a more caring attitude to the environment through the use of simple, seasonal or fresh ingredients wherever possible.  She has developed and is now delivering food classes to university students with the purpose of helping them plan and organise their shopping and cooking activities so as to ensure nutritional, balanced, flavoursome and beautiful dishes involving little waste in their preparation and consumption.

Being a people person (her career in banking was always centred on 

customer facing roles) Irini loves imparting her passion and knowledge by giving cooking classes and holding culinary retreats in the UK, Greece or other countries which she feels an affinity with.  Her paternal grandparents came from Asia Minor, she feels a strong connection to Italy and generally loves the food of the whole Mediterranean region. The first book she bought on moving to the UK in 1980 was about Moroccan cuisine.

As a trained olive oil sommelier, Irini is also passionate about the health and culinary benefits of extra virgin olive oils and is invited to speak and hold tastings on this fundamental pillar of the Mediterranean Diet. 

Irini also enjoys and is often engaged to design recipes using ingredients that she knows, uses herself or discovers.  When in her home island of Crete, Irini enjoys learning of developments in the local cuisine, goes foraging with family members and contributes in family or community events where food has centre stage. 

Irini inherited an artistic and creative nature.  Her father played the bouzouki and her mother enjoyed painting and taught Irini from a young age to knit, crochet and embroider whilst her grandmother and aunts were great weavers. She studied History of Art, Architecture and Design at Kingston University and was a legal director and leading actress for a London based Greek theatre group.  Irini brings her artistic flair to the food she creates as evidenced in the dishes that wowed the judges on MasterChef, by focussing on putting together flavours and textures that work perfectly together as well as eye-catching food-styling and photography for her social media following and print media content.

Over the course of her life, Irini has attended many self-development and motivational seminars, has read the works of modern thinkers and practitioners and her experience while competing at the highest amateur culinary level has provided her with invaluable lessons that allow her to inspire and empower others.  Using food as a medium, she believes that food preparation – as she experienced herself growing up in a communal style of cooking and eating – is a great leveller.  This has led her to leading team-building weekends where company employees (who may feel they have plateaued, uninspired, bored even disgruntled) can share in the joy of such a basic but also all-pervasive and time-honoured act of sourcing, preparing and sharing food for ourselves, loved ones and community.