Queen Margaret University is a great Scottish centre of culinary excellence.
As well as preparing young people for a career in Scotland’s food and drink industry, it undertakes ground-breaking and innovative work in food technology, with expertise in health and rehabilitation and sustainable business.
Its work deserves to be better known than it is. So news this month that leading food writer, restauranteur and chef trainer Prue Leith has been appointed Chancellor is exceedingly welcome..
To describe Prue Leith as “a leading TV cookery expert” barely begins to cover the scope of her work over decades and the contribution she has made to our understanding and appreciation of food.
Her appointment to boost QMU’s expertise in the food, drink and sustainable business is well judged.
Prue, who is 76 and who married John Playfair earlier this month, was born in Cape Town, South Africa, but has strong Scottish familial connections. She started the Leith’s Good Food catering company and opened Michelin-starred restaurant Leith’s in 1969. She has also helped train professional and amateur chefs in her own cook school.
She received an honorary degree from Queen Margaret University in 1997, adding to another 10 honorary degrees or fellowships granted from UK universities.
In her new role she takes over from entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer, installed as the founding Chancellor in 2007 when the institution was awarded university status. Among many undertakings and appointments, Prue is a patron of the Institute of Food, Brain and Behaviour, which researches and promulgates the links between food and behaviour.
Speaking about her appointment Prue said: “I’m excited to learn more about how the University has progressed this specialist area in terms of its research and commercial focus.
“As a business woman, I’m looking forward to learning more about QMU’s teaching in hospitality and tourism and the more recent focus, across all areas, on entrepreneurship.
“I much admire the way QMU has consistently regarded food, nutrition and health as practical and socially important – as well as academic – subjects. I love the enthusiasm and can-do attitude of students. I know it will be interesting and fun. I hope I will be useful.”
And said Professor QMU principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Petra Wend, “Prue Leith’s career and background resonates deeply with the values and ethos of Queen Margaret University, as well as with our flagships in health and rehabilitation; creativity and culture; and sustainable business.
“She is a highly-respected public figure who has strong beliefs about the importance of education and in its transformational importance to society. She is, therefore, an excellent fit for our work in food and drink.”
Her career hasn’t always been instant high rise: “Catering in the Royal Parks in three consecutive rainy summers lost me a lot of money”, she admits. “And selling my company to a French one which didn’t understand what we were trying to do.”
But there have been many outstanding moments. “Receiving an OBE, CBE, Veuve Cliquot Businesswoman of the Year, Doctorate from QMU, Michelin Star for my restaurant and the Glendfiddich award for journalism” are among the peaks. She says her best catering contract was (and still is) the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, and catering for the European Prime Ministers’ Conference at Murrayfield in the eighties.
And her advice as a successful entrepreneur to students considering starting their own businesses?
“Go for it with drive and determination and only take up something you are really interested in. Don’t give up.”
* Scot Buzz co-editor Bill did give up a promising culinary career while attempting to make toasted cheese. The Baby Belling caught fire and had to be hurled out of the window. The fumes of molten metal and burnt cheese lingered for months. Behavioural trauma has left a wary regard for the culinary arts.