Robbie Bushe from University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Open Learning organised this great event at the end of February as part of the University’s Festival of Creative Learning. It was held in collaboration with one of Edinburgh’s newest and most innovative restaurants, The Food Studio, brainchild of Benedict Reade and Sashana Souza Zanella. The restaurant was started in November 2015 and has garnered praise and The List’s Newcomer of the Year award in 2016.
Meet Eat Drink Think was run on three consecutive evenings and the purpose was to highlight the contribution of Europe and Europeans to Scottish food and culture. Each evening four university tutors from the Centre for Open Learning gave short talks on various aspects of food and culture, and the menu served by Food Studio was inspired by the subjects of these presentations.
Alongside me were Carina Dahlstrom-Mair, John Gordon and Pasquale Iannone. Carina started the proceedings with a lovely talk titled “Light and Summer in a Bottle”, highlighting the importance of nature and outdoor eating to the Swedes. She also dwelled on the art of keeping everything simple, foraging and preserves, and what a splash of colour can do not only for your mood and your senses, but also for your health.
John Gordon gave a wonderfully informative talk on “Luxury, Taste and Politeness”, which explored the spread of coffee-houses and tea-houses in the early eighteenth century, but more excitingly also highlighted the fact that David Hume had been a good amateur cook towards the end of his life. His recipe for Potage à la Reyne was served (or at least a variation of it was). John also looked at vistors’ impressions of Scottish cuisine, starting with Samuel Johnson and Tobias Smollett, before he examined a few recipes from a cookbook by Elizabeth Cleland (A New and Easy Method of Cookery, Edinburgh, first published in 1759) (Google Books: 1755).
My talk started in sixteenth-century Rome with food as performance (particularly the carver and other officials who engaged in a choreographed performance of table ritual), and then moved on to Catherine de’ Medici, the fork and the mistrust of the “Englishman italianate” that was generated in England in the late Elizabethan period. This all came under the title “‘Enchantments of Circes’: Why the Fork and Italian Table Manners were regarded with Suspicion”.
Lastly, Pasquale Iannone showed an entertaining audio-visual essay that explored Scottish and Italian culture through ice cream: “Identity Carved in Ice (Cream)”. He put together clips from films such as Comfort and Joy (1984), Soft Top Hard Shoulder (1992), American Cousins (2003).
This was a really creative and different form of collaboration, celebrating learning in an unusually appetising format and highlighting the extraordinary links that were forged in the past and are felt just as strongly today between us and our European neighbours.
UPDATE: On 16 March the Meet Eat Drink Think event won the Creative Learning Award given by the Festival of Creative Learning! To quote Jenny Hoy, Head of Short Courses at the Centre for Open Learning:
The Festival run an awards scheme alongside the programme which celebrates the variety of events offered and the skill involved in bringing them to fruition. I’m delighted to say that both of our short course events were shortlisted and went on to win despite some stiff competition from across the University