Calories, nutrition, mindfulness: what Foodology students learn

The MSc students learn about portion control, hospital food and mindful eating

Improving hospital food, reducing obesity levels through portion control and using mindful eating to improve our relationship with food are just three of the topics explored by chefs who have graduated from the first MSc in applied culinary nutrition programme at the Institute of Technology Tallaght.

The two-year part-time course was the first of its kind in the world when it was instigated in 2015, according to Annette Sweeney, culinary lecturer and programme co-ordinator, in that it was designed specifically for chefs.

"The inspiration for the master's programme were forecasted consumer trends in the health and wellness space and the need to enable practising chefs to meet those needs competently and confidently," she says. The programme has chefs Domini Kemp, Neven Maguire and Derry Clarke as its patrons.

The course has a strong practical rather than theoretical focus. “As an educator, I am passionate about the power of experiential and applied learning, particularly in teaching the science of cooking, which in IT Tallaght we do in the kitchen as opposed to theory only, in the classroom,” Sweeney says. “All modules link the science and theory to possible applications in the workplace.”


This follows through to the research project component of the programme. “Students use their knowledge and experience to identify a gap in their industry and investigate a solution and make recommendations for an applied output that will help industry meet current and future health and wellness needs of consumers,” says Sweeney.

Three of the seven recent graduates had a strong element of mindfulness in their chosen research topic, an outcome Sweeney believes came in part from the course delivery and content.

“Chefs’ strengths are in the practical aspects of most programmes. Aware of the difficulties some may have in academic writing and approaching research, the programme takes an innovative approach to teaching research studies, using practices such as mindfulness, journaling and deep listening.

There are lasting benefits from this approach, Sweeney believes. “These assist in connecting students with their creativity, with research idea generation, to build confidence in academic writing and engage them in deep personal learning that transfers to life and professional environments.”

Feedback from students mentioned that as well as breaking down barriers to writing, this also affected their experiences of work-related stress and interactions within their kitchens.

“The mindfulness aspect resonated very strongly with three of the students, so much so that they believed that the application of its principles to the professional kitchen and to health and wellness should be further explored,” Sweeney says.

The master’s programme at IT Tallaght is designed for chefs, who are prioritised at the application stage. However, one of the first seven to graduate is a national school teacher, who has a keen interest in nutrition. The second intake, who began their studies in 2016, includes in its class of 13 the dean of hospitality and culinary arts at a college in Toronto. “She participates weekly via Skype and attends in person once a semester,” Sweeney says.

There are 11 students undertaking the first year of the programme, including two lecturers from the Army school of catering and two home economics teachers.

Applications are now open for admission to the programme in September 2018. Interviews are held in April or May, and a three-day preparatory course is offered in June. Further information is available from Annette Sweeney,, 01-4042826.



Executive chef, Blackrock Clinic

Kavanagh worked in restaurants and hotels before taking up the position of executive chef at the Blackrock Clinic in March of last year.

His motivation in embarking on the master’s was to “understand all areas of food, from its chemical make-up to how our bodies use it and an appreciation of food’s beneficial potential”.

His research topic was Mindfulness-based Approach to Training Senior Chefs in Strategic Healthcare Food Provision to Benefit Patient Care.

Personal mindful development, mindfulness and workplace performance and teamwork development through mindful leadership were key areas he explored. “Research has linked the mindfulness of leaders to the performance of followers and helps create a workplace culture infused with motivation, purpose and meaning,” he says.

“I have already noted improved areas of my own workplace performance through my project research and the use of selected mindfulness exercises. I have noticed improved motivation based on a new sense of purpose as a chef in the healthcare sector, and a greater sense of job satisfaction based on the provision of positive nutritional patient care.

“My future goal would be – given the resources and support – to create training modules to provide personal support and academic knowledge to improve the role that senior chefs play in the provision of nutritionally focused, appetising food in the healthcare sector.”


Culinary skills instructor and consultant head chef

Harrington teaches professional cookery at Bray Institute of Further Education and Cliff Academy at Cliff at Lyons, A hotel and cookery school in Co Kildare. His research investigated how much nutritional knowledge chefs had and raised questions about "the role of the modern, educated chef in the health system of the future".

His findings, based on the results of a questionnaire, pointed to a very inconsistent level of knowledge of nutrition among working chefs. “Some chefs scored higher with only primary school education than qualified diploma chefs,” Harrington notes. “I was surprised at the lack of basic understanding of calories, specifically the energy contained within food.

“An acceptable industry standard of focused nutritional education and refresher courses could improve the nutritional value of chefs’ meals and in doing so improve the diets of the customers eating them.”

In his teaching career, Harrington says, “I try to encourage my students to not just look at the food as a meal but also to think about what happens once that food is consumed.” The application of his research could involve setting up “a nutritional educational programme for chefs”.


Chef/patron Osta Cafe & Wine Bar, Sligo

“There is a lot of ‘nutrition’ information in circulation – I wanted to be able to spend time researching the science behind old wives’ tales and separating fact from fiction,” Torrades says of her initial interest in the programme.

She chose as her research topic Should the Catering Sector Be Recognised as an Important Player in an Integrated Public Health Strategy?

“Noncommunicative diseases such as obesity and diabetes, 21st-century societal issues, have a huge financial and psychological impact on us all. I wanted to establish how the catering industry can impact, positively and negatively, on public health,” she says. “I wanted to understand how much of an impact chefs or catering managers could have, based on their ingredient choices.

Her research finding are is already being applied in industry. “I have been working as a consultant to other restaurants, reviewing nutritional content, portion sizes, calorie count and costings. It’s encouraging to see healthier menus, and even financial savings for the restaurants.”

Returning to education has also prompted Torrades to pursue further research in her field of interest. “I am fascinated with the area of gut health and believe that we all need to eat more cultured foods. And I want to keep in touch with all the exciting new research in this area.”


Sous chef, Aramark, Croke Park Meetings and Events

Irvine, who completed his primary degree in culinary arts at IT Tallaght, has been working as a chef for 25 years . His research topic was Portion Distortion: How Much Responsibility Should Chefs Take in Portion Control and Overeating?

“Portion sizes in restaurants, on average, have steadily and significantly increased over the past century. An expectation of large portions is still prevalent among some of the population, despite recent trends in the food industry and a shift towards a healthier diet,” he says.

His study “explored the connection between a contemporary chef’s role in portion control and if they have a role to play in rising obesity levels”. He discovered that “consumers are aware of the need for portion control, but perception of portion size varies”.

However, chefs are not to blame, he concludes. “ Both the consumers and the chefs interviewed believed that responsibility for portion control was that of the consumer.”

Application of his research findings to industry would involve a chef education programme that links nutrition and menu planning.


Sous chef, the Westin hotel, Dublin

Yiming, who is originally from China, has been working at the Westin hotel for 13 years. “I wanted to use the course to learn how I could drive and lead innovation within the culinary community,” he says.

His research paper was Can Health and Wellness Mindful Dining Experiences Meet the Needs of Business Customers of Five-star Hotel Groups and Assist Hotels in Differentiating Their Product Offering?

Making healthy-eating options available to regular travellers, who might want to follow a particular dietary regime but experience difficulty doing so away from home, was one strand of Yiming’s research.

He also looked at mindful dining, and surmised that hotels and their clients could benefit from “ a relaxing, meditative dining experience alongside the facilities they already provide for health-conscious travellers, such as gyms and spas”.

“My short-term goal is to establish a pop-up Health and Wellness Mindful Dining Experience to test my theory on a larger scale. My ultimate goal would be to see this implemented into more hotels to help them increase their business, but also their customer satisfaction.”


Head chef, Aramark, at Oracle

Glynn has worked as a chef in Ireland and abroad, in Austria and Croatia.

He was already practising mindfulness before embarking on the master's programme and settled on Can Mindful Eating in a Community Dining Setting Influence People's Relationship with Food? for his research project. This explored the positive benefits of being more aware of what, how and where we are eating. "The practice of mindful eating can help us to become more aware of our own actions, feelings, thoughts and motivations," he says.

“One of the modules in the course required us to create a restaurant. I designed a restaurant where mindfulness, yoga and meditation would be practised in the building while having the eating area as the central hub. I would like to try and get that off the ground.”


National school teacher

Kathy Coyle teaches senior infants at St Mary's Junior National School in Blessington, and has a strong interest in what she describes as "the extremely close connections between the food we eat and the health we enjoy".

Her research project was Can Early, Sustained Intervention at School Improve the Vegetable-eating Habits of Young Children? and involved observing her pupils' habits around eating vegetables. She found that "children's dietary choices are strongly influenced by those around them", that children learn to eat by repeated exposure to foods", and that "children's eating habits track through in adulthood".

Coyle is working on the development of a “Veggie Moment” training pack for the junior school classroom.