Students say they're ‘living the dream’ as professional potato tasters
Two university students, who are ‘living the dream’ as professional potato tasters scoffing over 20 recipes a week, say spuds remain their favourite food.
But don’t worry, they take a break from potatoes on weekends.
Faith Elwood, 20, a food technology student at Loughry College, and Tess Rodgers, 21, a human nutrition student at the University of Ulster, are professionally trained in growing, harvesting, preparing and tasting spuds.
They can even tell the difference in varieties from taste alone.
Day to day, the pair taste potato dishes ranging from chips to mash, and provide quality control for Mash Direct – a family-run potato farm and factory in County Down, Northern Ireland, which produces potato and vegetable side dishes for the UK’s leading supermarkets.
Faith and Tess, who began their jobs as ‘spud sommeliers’ in June 2022, even had the honour of helping develop Christmas products such as stuffing bites, roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts with bacon.
The tattie-tasting duo say their friends at university are ‘jealous’ that they did not see the advertisements for the role, and most people do not believe them when they explain their job.
‘Many people find it strange that this is our job but we love it, and potatoes are still our favourite food,’ Tess said.
Faith and Tess, who both landed the unusual first job after seeing an advert placed at their university in June 2022, say tasting potatoes ‘all day, every day’ is a ‘dream’.
Faith said: ‘When we first saw the job ad it seemed too good to be true, getting paid to eat potatoes, but we still applied and are so glad we did.
‘Everyone loves eating potatoes, and we live quite locally so it was the perfect opportunity – we’re living the dream, really.
‘Since I have a background in potatoes, my grandfather was a potato farmer, I thought, why not give it a try?
‘We can’t really believe this is our job.’
Tess and Faith’s jobs are full-time, and they work shifts around their university schedules.
Tess said: ‘We work five days a week, and we can split shifts if we have a busy day at uni.
‘It’s worked out really well for us.’
Faith, a food technology student, and Tess, who is studying human nutrition, both say their jobs have helped with their degrees.
Faith explained: ‘I think our job has helped us through our degrees to put it into use and see the stuff you’re learning about in real life.
‘Also, seeing how a food business works in every different area of the whole business has been really helpful.’
Since joining Mash Direct, they have had to have intensive training on the best uses for each type of potato and can now tell the difference between a wide range of potato varieties by taste alone.
The factory is based on the same land as the farm itself, so the pair have even got their hands dirty and dug up potatoes.
Tess said: ‘We taste so many potatoes, we know the difference between the types.
‘We sometimes go on the farm and help pick the potatoes too, and we can tell which ones are the good ones.’
Faith and Tess oversee a huge slice of the company’s potato operations, tasting more than 20 spuds recipes a week.
Faith said: ‘Normally, there are 20 different types of potato-based recipes.
‘We try it before it goes out to the consumer at the end as quality control.’
Despite tasting so many potatoes in their working week, the pair continue to love them.
Tess said: ‘We often get asked if we ever get bored of potatoes, but the truth is we don’t – they’re our favourite food, and we just take a break on weekends or whenever we’re not working, and then we’re ready to go again on a Monday.’
Since the pair are fully-fledged spud experts, they know exactly what to look for to find the perfect potato.
They said: ‘It all depends on what you want them for; if you wanted to make mash or chips, you would need a different variety.’
The pair know which potatoes to use for which dish, like our staple favourite the roast potato. Tess, meanwhile, favours ‘champ’.
‘It’s a traditional Irish dish of mash potatoes, milk and spring onions,’ she explained.
Faith added: ‘I also love beer-battered chips. They’re always really good.’
Looking to the future, Faith said: ‘It’s not exactly what we imagined ourselves doing when we were younger and we don’t know if it’s what we’ll do forever but for now, it’s perfect.’
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