The external speaker is one of the key components of the Leiths Diploma. It’s not that any of the contents go towards the Diploma – nothing you learn in these lectures are tested in the exams. Rather, it helps to give a more rounded view of the food industry. I suppose in a public school context that would be the extra-curricular activities which takes the education process over and above the compulsory curriculum.
Is it beneficial? Well yes, and no.
While the contents of the lectures do not form part of the compulsory learning, attendance is. The lectures are scheduled into the curriculum and takes place instead of the regular demonstrations, generally lasting for about two hours. As these things are, not everything is of interest to every one. But the great thing about Leiths is that they really take your feedback into consideration and in the advanced term, career specific lectures have been made optional.
In the intermediate term, we’ve had speakers from butchers, fishmonger, cheese dealer, truffle hunter, chefs, food stylist, entrepreneurs and more. Some of the speakers have been absolutely fascinating and really offered an insight into their corner of the food world. And they have been varied enough to really give food for thought to students who might not know what they want to do after the Diploma.
There were some particularly memorable ones. Henry Harris of Racine, who I had met previously in Aldeburgh, was fabulously entertaining and had some great anecdotes about working in a restaurant. Tom Backcock, the cheese man, came in with some 20 cheeses for us to try and provided guidance on cheese making. Food writer and stylist Jennifer Joyce gave some great direction on food styling and working with magazines.
Some of the lectures, admittedly, were less than inspiring and felt like hours of torture. I guess food is one of those things where someone else’s enthusiasm really translates but so does their negativity. And of course, there’s the subjectivity of whether their topic is interesting.
On the whole, though, they have been more useful than not. Aside from the specialist knowledge and insight, it was also a great way to make contacts. After all, you never know when you might need to talk about lactic cheeses or someone to advise on the best truffles.