University offers UK’s first Masters in gastronomy

Bernie Quinn prepares for the start of the course. Picture: Joey Kelly

Bernie Quinn prepares for the start of the course. Picture: Joey Kelly

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IT is the ground-breaking university course set to add a touch of spice to academia’s dusty corridors – and rustle up Scotland’s food and drink champions of the future.

Queen Margaret University is whetting appetites by launching the UK’s first Masters degree . . . in gastronomy.

Lucky students who land one of 12 government-funded places on the university’s £8200-a-year MSc programme will be able to get their teeth into the “forgotten arts” of food culture, with classes covering everything from herb foraging and bread baking to meeting gamekeepers and taking part in advanced taste analysis of local and international food.

Course leaders and food experts said the course would help clear ignorance among Scots of world-leading produce available on their doorstep –and bring about a step change in the nation’s health.

Senior lecturer and programme leader Bernie Quinn – one of three full-time and two part-time teaching staff who deliver the MSc – said: “This course is not just a cookery class and it’s not highbrow or elitist – it will offer a comprehensive study of food culture and food systems.

“It’s about how food is prepared and eaten, how it’s grown and traded – about how we consider it as a society.”

Mr Quinn said the 
programme would encompass everything that surrounds the consumption of food, 
embracing cultural, historical and anthropological issues, as well as the political and economic trends affecting how we bring what we eat to the table.

And he rejected suggestions the MSc is no more than a Mickey Mouse degree, insisting students would be tested in the normal way through a rigorous diet of exams, 5000-word reports and presentations.

“This is a hugely important programme,” he said. “It’s the first of its kind in the UK but it’s also tackling head-on the huge gaps that exist in Scottish education.

“There are so many people out there who cannot identify foods which were staples of the Scottish diet but which many people now are not exposed to at all. People just aren’t getting exposure to the good, healthy food that’s on their doorstep.”

QMU leaders predict the new programme will be a bit tasty.

Trevor Laffin, head of the business, enterprise and management division, said: “This is a ground-breaking programme and I’m very excited about its scope. It blends theory with hands-on engagement with various food industry stakeholders, from crofters, social enterprise groups and food activists, all the way through to multinational food producers, cooks and chefs.”

‘This degree course is fantastic news for Scotland’

FOOD expert Stephen Jardine poses the question – do we really need a postgraduate course churning out experts on gastronomy.

“To see a local university become home to the UK’s first degree course in gastronomy is fantastic news for Scotland.

“The announcement comes during Scotland Food and Fortnight and follows a string of good news stories for the industry. With predictions of thousands of new jobs and turnover up to over £13 billion, food and drink is booming in Scotland at the moment.

“It’s predicted the sector could grow to £16.5bn by 2017, putting it in the same league as oil and gas. But at the same time, Scotland has some of the worst health outcomes in Europe.

“We have a huge challenge translating the economic success of food and drink into better outcomes for people in Scotland who have problems with health and nutrition.

“I’m hopeful this course could develop some of the thinking to tackle this chronic issue.

“But all of that depends on leadership and that is what makes the Queen Margaret initiative so significant.

“With its focus on cultural history, provenance, science, the marketplace and political and economic issues, this course will be a training ground for the kind of people who will lead the food and drink sector, ensuring the best is yet to come.”

n Stephen Jardine is a former GMTV and STV presenter who is also founder of Taste, Scotland’s first dedicated food and drink consultancy.