During his time studying the MSc Gastronomy at QMU in Edinburgh, Robin Sherriff achieved a great deal – he says the secret to success is consuming everything you can get your hands on – from books and documentaries, to shared meals and new ingredients – and making the most of the many opportunities available to you.
Why did you choose to study at Queen Margaret University (QMU)?
In the first instance, it was the Gastronomy programme that attracted me to QMU. After looking at the programme, I investigated the University further and found out about the high level of student satisfaction, entrepreneurial endeavour and historic links to food. Discovering that the university was originally founded as the Edinburgh School of Cookery in 1875 really sealed the deal.
What was it about gastronomy that interested you?
I have always been fascinated by food: the flavours, the emotional impact, the cultural aspects, the techniques, the travel, everything. The gastronomic study of the wholistic, multidisciplinary nature of food was an incredible and enlightening opportunity.
What have you most enjoyed about your course? What has been the highlight?
I have to say, the dissertation process! It was hard work, stressful and overwhelming at times; however, I was lucky enough to travel to Japan to research and write my dissertation (after securing an award from the QMU’s Vice-Chancellor International Travel Fund in 2019, which helped with my travel costs) - it was an absolutely incredible experience.
Have you participated in a course activity you found especially interesting?
All aspects of the course were fascinating in different ways. I was particularly impressed at being given the opportunity to speak to and learn from people directly involved with a wide range of aspects of food and drink on the course field trips.
Are you a member of any clubs or societies at QMU? If so, what was the reason you joined and what do you enjoy most about it?
I’m a member of QMU’s Business Innovation Zone (BIZ), which I joined to learn more about starting and running my own business. The amount of resources, contacts and support available through the BIZ is enormous and has helped me massively with my present endeavours.
How did your lecturers support your learning?
The lecturers couldn’t have been more supportive. They supported my learning by providing me with additional readings and email contact whenever I needed it and even moral support when I was feeling down.
What QMU student services have you used?
QMU’s Effective Learning Service (ELS) was an absolute lifeline throughout the course. The staff in the ELS are incredibly knowledgeable, helpful and kind. If they don’t have a resource, they’ll find it for you. If they don’t know something, they’ll find someone who does.
What have been some of your challenges with the course and university life? How have you overcome them?
The most difficult adjustment was the sheer amount of reading that was required! It was more than I had even imagined. Initially I was somewhat daunted. Learning how to prioritise, take quick and efficient notes, track references and draw links between different texts got me through.
Do you have any advice for students who might be interested in applying for this course?
Talk to people, send people you don’t know emails ‒ the chances are they will want to help you. If you are interested in something, follow that interest and take notes along the way, you never know when they will come in handy.
Read, read, read. Ask for the course reading list as soon as you can ‒ read it. Then read some more. And, eat, eat, eat. You’ll have moments where you will become so academically focused on food that you forget the simple pleasures. Go to nice cafés, talk to producers, go to lunch and drink good wine!
What’s your top tip for making the most of being a student?
It’s going to sound silly, but don’t forget your lecturers are people as well as teachers, and they tend to be really interesting people too. Talk to them as equals and find out what they like to learn about. Chances are it will contribute to your learning and you might well gain an academic contact and friend for life.
What has been the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned at university?
I have learned that every topic, no matter how obscure or small it seems, has an ocean of expertise and passion beneath the surface. Every topic or reading on the course led me down seemingly infinite paths of learning. Realising this has given me a far deeper appreciation of both the enormity of the arc of human knowledge and the people that contributed to it.
Robin has been supported by various funds during his time as a student as a student at QMU including the 2019 Vice-Chancellor International Travel Fund, 2020 Student & Vice-Chancellor’s Development Fund and Santander Universities Enterprise Fund
2019 Vice-Chancellor International Travel Fund
My course tutor suggested I apply to QMU’s Vice-Chancellor International Travel Fund for funding so that I could travel to Japan to research the Japanese whisky industry for my dissertation.
The application process couldn’t have been simpler. All of the staff involved were happy to help me with my application form, which asked for a proposal detailing how the funding would be used.
2020 Student & Vice-Chancellor’s Development Fund
I was also fortunate enough to be granted another award, which enabled me to travel back to Japan in 2020 to study Japanese saké and bring back the knowledge to help me start my own business.
It was absolutely incredible to find out I had won both these awards and that I would have the resources to follow my interests, plus learn about and experience a new culture.
Santander Universities Enterprise Fund
I found out about the Santander Universities Enterprise Fund through QMU’s Business Innovation Zone. The application process asked for me to fill in an online form and proposal outlining how the funding would be spent in your business – in my case, I wanted to use it to develop early product prototypes of my own sake.
Winning this award made me feel so grateful that people believe in me enough to support my ideas.
Given that I won this award after a year of full-time study, a lot of travel and a very ambitious dissertation product, my personal resources were stretched a little thin. This award enabled me to develop my budding business idea.
What are you plans after graduation? Tell us about your ambitions and where you see yourself in the future?
Wow, the big question eh? Well, whatever happens I will take the gastronomic mindset forward and continue to learn more, talk about and follow my lifelong obsession with all thing’s food. The big project is developing a craft beer/saké hybrid and seeking funding to build a brewery.
I’m also keen to share the lessons I learned at QMU - Iʼm beginning to run classes on fermentation with the goal of empowering home cooks to experiment, eat more sustainably, lower their food waste and learn about the deep-rooted culture and systems associated with the foods we eat.
Published in 2020
Robin has since launched his business Koji Kitchen, which sells small batches of made-in-Edinburgh Koji that can be used as a starter ingredient for things like soy sauce, sake, mirin, tamari, miso and much more.