Mastering the art of gastronomy

Students on the new Masters in Gastronomy and Food Studies at TU Dublin come from diverse backgrounds but all share one passion: a love of food

Students on the Masters in Gastronomy course at TU Dublin Cathal Brugha Street (from left): Maria Nehme O’Neill, Michele Moran, Sarah O’Leary, Paul Smith, Andrea Connor, William Toft, Lisa Cope and June Ruigrok, with lecturers Anke Klitzing and Diarmuid Murphy and course director Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire. Photograph: Alan Betson

Students on the Masters in Gastronomy course at TU Dublin Cathal Brugha Street (from left): Maria Nehme O’Neill, Michele Moran, Sarah O’Leary, Paul Smith, Andrea Connor, William Toft, Lisa Cope and June Ruigrok, with lecturers Anke Klitzing and Diarmuid Murphy and course director Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Gastronomy, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us, is “the practice or art of choosing, cooking, and eating good food”.

For the students currently completing the final stages of Ireland’s first Masters in Gastronomy and Food Studies, a two-year part-time course at Technological University (TU Dublin), it means much, much more.

The group are currently finalising their individual research projects, and over the past 18 months have been studying topics as diverse as the politics of the global food system; food writing and media; and social approaches to wine and beverage culture.

Their choice of subjects for thesis submissions is similarly wide-ranging, with topics including feeding families in Direct Provision in Ireland; Port of Cork’s significance for Cork food culture; cartoon characters and their influence on children’s eating habits; and cooking and food education in the Irish prison system.

The current student cohort includes chefs and restaurateurs, food writers, a retired dietician and a catering company manager. Their careers and life experiences may be very different, but the group share a common interest – hunger for knowledge and a desire to put it to good use.

Food entrepreneur and writer Domini Kemp runs Feast Catering, as well as the Itsa, Alchemy Juice Co and Joe’s Coffee outlets with her sister Peaches. She undertook the masters to bring academic rigour to her years of experience in catering and restaurant management.

“As chefs, our voices are not being heard – ‘you’re not qualified!’ – when it comes to the importance of good food. Chefs have an incredible understanding of food. I hope this masters is the start of turning that food knowledge into meaningful policy,” she says.

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Working with inmates

For her thesis, Kemp drew on her experience working with inmates of Wheatfield and Loughan House to explore: “From prisoners to policies – should cooking and food education pay a greater role in the Irish prison system?”

Lisa Cope, who runs the well-regarded Dublin eating-out guide and restaurant website All The Food, returned from living in London with her sports journalist husband specifically to do this masters. “I have a background in journalism and I’m just obsessed with food. I applied, got accepted and said ‘sorry, you need to quit your job’.”

Cope’s thesis is on what she calls on food adventurers – “People like me who are obsessed with eating out, with new food experiences, authentic food experiences. It’s this really interesting group of people who will literally do anything for good food, will go any distance, will pay any money for the best meal experiences they can find.”

Andrea Connor lives in Kildare, and works as a manager with catering company Aramark, For her thesis, she returned to her Cork roots to look at how the city’s port influenced Cork’s food culture. Among her discoveries was how the city came to have a tradition of making spiced beef, and for using offal in inventive ways, such as drisheen.

“I didn’t realise, for example, that the tradition of eating offal in Cork was to do with the Cattle Acts of the 1600s. Ireland exported live cattle for hundreds of years, then at some stage there were restrictions put on exporting live cattle, so that’s when the salt beef industry started up in Cork, and the offal tradition.”

Paul Smith has worked as a chef in Ireland, France, Germany and the US, and ran his own restaurant for 20 years, first in Dingle and then in Wicklow town. He now works for the HSE, at Newcastle hospital.

“This is my first bit of education since the Leaving Cert,” he says. Several of the course participants mention that the coursework is demanding, and Smith agrees. “I didn’t realise what I was signing up for, I really didn’t. It has been tough,” he says, but he now hopes to continue his studies at doctorate level.

William Toft, a chef at Industry & Co in Dublin, says he took on the masters “to push myself a bit more”, and is finalising a thesis on the college’s gastronomy archive. “I am looking at how it could best serve all the stakeholders, seeing how relevant and usable it is, looking at how it is populated and awareness around it.”

‘Personal perspective’

Maria Nehme O’Neill, who is originally from Sweden and lived in Berlin before moving to Dublin, has a primary degree in media communications. She did the masters to “learn more about anthropology of food”, and her research is on the food of the Syriacs, a minority people in the Middle East. “I am coming to it from a personal perspective as it is my own ethnic background.”

Michele Moran, a retired paediatric dietician, travelled all over Ireland visiting direct provision centres for her thesis, Life with a Choice. Her research looks at families who are in direct provision in Ireland and asks, “How do they feel about not being able to prepare, cook and share their food with their families and how do they cope with that situation?”

Culinary arts graduate and chef Sarah O’Leary, a first-year student on the course, is planning do her thesis next year on the Calor Housewife of the Year competition. “Everything I am reading about it is very cynical and suggests it is a sort of Father Ted ‘Lovely Girls’ type of competition. But there is a huge skill set there, looking at what the women had to do, just in the cooking segment alone.”

Applications for the Masters in Gastronomy and Food Studies, commencing in September, are being accepted until April 30th. For further information, contact Dr Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire. Email: Mairtin.macconiomaire@dit.ie. Telephone: 01-402 4432

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