A lecturer at Derry’s North West Regional College, Leyonia Davey, has been named as the best Hospitality Lecturer in the UK.. But Leyonia remains steadfastly modest, saying her success only comes on the back of the dedication of her staff and students.
Leyonia is Curriculum Manager for Hospitality across the Derry and Limavady campuses. She is at the forefront of developing the world-class courses on offer, but admits she doesn’t find it comfortable to be in the public eye.
In fact when she learned her colleague Maud Rainey had nominated her for the award she was “shocked, and yes, I probably did want to kill her!”
But when she travelled to Nottingham for the PACE (Professional Association of Catering Education) awards ceremony she was “overwhelmed” to hear what Maud had written about her and to learn how she was perceived by her colleagues.
“As they read out what the winner had achieved, those beside me where nodding and saying ‘that’s Leyonia’ but, you know, I didn’t think it was me. I don’t think about things - I just get on with my job!”
But in the years Leyonia has been with the NWRC she has made a massive contribution to the working and teaching environment within the hospitality department of college - which this year alone will see in the region of 600 pupils graduate.
In her time at the college she and her colleagues have seen a massive growth in the hospitality sector.
In the simplest of terms, when she started lecturing she was in charge of “a small kitchen and a classroom”. Now the hospitality students run three eateries at the Strand Road site - including the fine dining restaurant The Flying Clipper and two more informal cafes, the Brasserie and Larry Hill’s Bistro.
Leyonia was the first lecturer to volunteer for the Lecturer Into Industry scheme. This sees those who have been based in education for some time returning to the workplace to enhance their skills and to refresh their industry practice in order to pass these skills onto their students.
She also pioneered The Masterchef series of demonstrations by leading local and nationally recognised chefs which has now been running for seven years.
As part of this programme she has invited some of the finest top chefs in to inspire her students, including Ian Orr, Danny Millar, Walter Tsang, Sean Owens, Simon Dougan, Paula McIntyre, Mark Peregrine (Head Chef at Raymond Blanc’s Cookery School) and most recently Neven Maguire.
“Giving the students this kind of an experience is amazing - it is what makes it worthwhile,” Leyonia said, adding that as a result of this programme a number of students have undertaken placements at top-class restaurants under the tutelage of Mark Peregrine and Neven Maguire.
“What we are really doing is sowing the seeds in our students that they know what they can achieve with hard work and dedication.”
One of the other key reasons Leyonia was nominated was her willingness to adapt in the face of change. When one of Leyonia’s colleagues was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, Leyonia stepped in and assumed the role of Curriculum Manager, leading the team during some of its most challenging years.
But yet she sees this as nothing outside the norm.
“You just get on with things - it’s about inspiring the students. It’s not about me as a person and really, it is entirely down to the team effort we put in here.
“I have a great team working with me who make this job easy and enjoyable.
“We love seeing how our students come on and how much they get from the courses.”
One of most memorable moments came in recent weeks when she attended a graduation ceremony at Limavadyne of her former students was there as an invited guest.
“He was running his own business and had achieved all that he had set out to do. That is the greatest award of all - to see our students do well.”
Leyonia was nominated alongside a host of other lecturers from around the country, but according to the judges she impressed them with her determination to do the best for her students.
The judges added that she also demonstrated a broad range of teaching methods and initiated projects that supported the local community.