Otago Polytechnic
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Food conference makes global impact

Richard Mitchell

“It far exceeded our expectations. The challenge now is keeping up with the demand and expectation for future events,” says Richard Mitchell.

Inspired by the inaugural world food design conference held in London in 2012, Richard Mitchell, Associate Professor at the Food Design Institute, led the development and delivery of International Food Design Experience at Otago Polytechnic. The event show cased cutting edge food design from around the world. More than 100 chefs, food designers and media from nine countries attended the event to launch Otago Polytechnic’s Food Design Institute. Delegates included acclaimed New York food designer and photographer, Emilie Baltz, London’s Chloe Morris and award-winning New Zealand chefs Michael Meredith, Gianpaolo Grazioli and Giulio Sturla.

The event had an audience of 2.5 million via television, magazines and online content worldwide.

Students of our Bachelor of Culinary Arts – the first design-led undergraduate culinary arts degree in the world – contributed to the event creating food experiences throughout the event, concluding with the Gala Dinner for more than 120 people.

Otago Polytechnic will be hosting another International Food Design Experience from 6-8 July 2016.

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Designing a sustainable future

Tim Lynch

“Sustainability is both a tradeable commodity now and a real opportunity to incorporate integrity into business strategy,” describes Tim Lynch.

After successfully completing his Bachelor of Culinary Arts, Lynch embarked on a Master of Design Enterprise at Otago Polytechnic. His thesis on sustainable business platforms for primary producers saw him create his own self-sustaining entrepreneurial venture, The Boatshed Smokehouse, bringing user-centred design thinking to food. This business funded his entire postgraduate study, and enabled him to create and run other small, up-and-coming spin-off enterprises.

Lynch also collaborated with industry, including the CEO of Foodstuffs, sharing his knowledge and skills. He conducted research into user perceptions of Foodstuff’s underperforming Pam’s Brands and helping them to investigate the “traditional trade-off between innovation and market share”.

In addition Lynch noted two main problems that existed in the aquaculture marketplace and turned them into golden opportunities. The first of these was the realisation that few companies in Otago were prudently managing coastline resources. Secondly, Lynch noted that there was a growing market segment for ready-to-eat products. These insights led to Lynch creating tasty gourmet foods from fish that has traditionally been throw away. “When fish is caught and filleted on board, only about 70% of it is utilised,” he recounts. “When you consider the total value of seafood from New Zealand is $4 billion a year, the wastage is considerable. I wanted to use as much of that 30% as possible, using farmers’ markets as a springboard.”

Lynch describes this as having value not just for consumers and profit margins but also for employees: “It ensures their jobs and expands their skillset.”

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The influence of food media

Nowadays, a brief glance into the pantry of even the least adventurous cook will reveal ingredients previously unknown or considered to be ‘exotic’.

Home cooks, chefs and educators of all persuasions are influenced by the impact that food media and celebrity chefs are making. Television cooking maestros such as Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver have challenged fellow chefs to expand and experiment with their ingredient choices, cooking methods and culinary appliances.

“Suppliers of food related products testify that the growing demand for a widening range of produce has also sparked debate over their seasonal availability, ethical considerations and costs,” Associate Professor in Hospitality, Richard Mitchell explains. “Many New Zealand chefs are often connected to the source of their food and have a strong allegiance to locally grown and artisan suppliers.”

Together with Stephen Ellwood, a lecturer in Cookery, Mitchell presented a paper on food media to a conference in Austria.

“Our paper highlights many of the factors that challenge the traditional model of culinary education, and presents some of the innovative responses educators are developing to address this new wave of cooking consciousness,” Ellwood says. “Chefs such as Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal have pushed the boundaries of traditional culinary arts by introducing design methodologies, research and application to produce a new wave of cuisine. Their influence has inspired design-focused learners to innovate and create which in turn impacts on their career choices and output.”


Ellwood, S and Mitchell, R. (2013) Food Media and the Tension Between Access and Excess. Paper presented at Foodscapes: Access to Food – Excess of Food  Conference, Department of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz 22-25 September 2013, Castle Seggau, Austria. 58.

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A crafty brew

Adrian Woodhouse and David Gillespie

While the idea of a brewery in the classroom may sound like many students’ idea of heaven, it’s the applied learning opportunities it presents that excite Otago Polytechnic’s Cookery lecturers Adrian Woodhouse and David Gillespie.

The pair quickly identified the rapidly-expanding New Zealand craft beer industry as a viable teaching resource.

After  researching some of the successful emerging craft beer brands in Wellington, Woodhouse and Gillespie started their LABEERinth craft beer initiative in late 2012, to capitalise on the outreach achieved by the Polytechnic’s popular Food Design Institute Facebook page, The Lab.

“The endeavour has now evolved to a level where we have produced 120 litres of our own labelled craft beer, and our production kitchen is now a registered brewery,” Woodhouse says.

The first of the range is Labeerinth Indian Pale Ale - The Educator, with aPilsner and a stout soon to come.

“We are blessed in New Zealand to have some of the world’s best raw ingredients with the superior hops and malt that hail from the Nelson region,” Gillespie explains. “We have also integrated sustainability into our brand naturally, by using recycled bottles.”

The new LABEERinth brew was a talking point at Otago Polytechnic’s end-of-year student exhibition, Excite in 2013.

“There’s so much scope for development,” Woodhouse comments. “A Bachelor of Culinary Arts graduate could create their own craft beer within this incubator, and either invest capital themselves or contract brew to an existing brewery. The scope for success is unlimited.”


Woodhouse, A. & Gillespie, D. (2013) The LABEERinth craft beer The first of the range from the LABEERinth craft beer range (The Educator).

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Food by design

Adrian Woodhouse, Tony Heptinstall, Justine Camp and Richard Mitchell.

“The level of achievement and motivation of our students is really extraordinary,” says Dr Richard Mitchell, Associate Professor and lecturer of the Otago Polytechnic’s  Bachelor of Culinary Arts programme.

Students thrive in the intensely creative and expansive environment that provides a skill set that transcends the traditional cooking schools of old. The programme includes all the fundamentals of food preparation and technology interwoven with cutting-edge design techniques to allow students to transform traditional dishes into modern culinary masterpieces.

Mitchell recently presented a jointly authored paper ‘Why Use Design Thinking in Culinary Arts Education’ at the International Conference on Designing Food and Designing for Food  at the London Metropolitan University in London , in June last year.

He co-authored the paper with Adrian Woodhouse, Tony Heptinstall and Justine Camp. Its premise was how to cater to a growing demand for culinary education that will inspire increasingly food savvy, ambitious students who need to have a skill set that enables them to think on their feet and adjust to consumer-driven trends.

The paper acknowledges the rapidly evolving art culinary design spearheaded by celebrity chefs such as Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal and David Chang.

“These culinary pioneers use design principles to develop innovative cooking techniques and new ways of experiencing food that involve all of our senses and emotions,” says Richard.

They effectively design new dishes that in the past relied on old techniques and ‘flip them on their head’.

“Leading culinary thinkers acknowledge that sharing information demystifies the culinary design process and opens doors for newcomers to pioneer their own creative ideas.

“Many chefs are truly designers without even knowing it.”

Otago Polytechnic BCA students range in age from 17 to 57. One third enter the programme straight from school, another third are mature learners, with the remainder hailing from a diverse range of prior learning experiences.

“We teach students how to research and fuse knowledge with practical skills. We encourage them to develop an academic rigour and search in academic journals alongside the more widely accessible sources such as the internet, popular magazines and food television. This discipline allows a high practical element to be maintained in their work. Once they repeat this process several times theoretical and research knowledge become a natural part of their cooking.”

Students are exposed to the current and traditional theories that underpin culinary practice. These theories provide students with the tools they need to evaluate their context and demonstrate their understanding of how to apply this theory in an applied setting. The final reflective part of the process encourages students to refine and contemplate their design process.

In recognition of the growing international appeal of the Bachelor of Culinary Arts programme, the next International Conference on Designing Food and Designing for Food will be hosted by Otago Polytechnic in July 2014.