Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery Oral History Project

Interview with Jane Levi: Sopie Coe Prize



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Technological University Dublin


Jane Levi first heard of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery through a friend’s husband, Joe Roberts, and met Alan Davidson by driving him and his wife Jane to Bath to a book party Joe was organising. They immediately became friends, had many things in common, including an interest in food and computers (pre-internet) and this led her to attend the Symposium for the first time in 1995 (Cooks and other People). Born in Wales, but raised in Scotland near Falkirk by English parents, both scientists, who had lived in Italy, Jane experience good food from an early age. After school in Scotland, she reluctantly studied French and English Literature in Royal Holloway in London, but her real passion was food working in cocktail bars and restaurants. Always good at mathematics, she took an initial positon with Reuters summarising and digitising news for a searchable database for librarians (pre-internet), but this led to employment in the financial sector, translating thick legislation to understandable chunks for the tech industry, going on to write speeches for the chairman of Merrill Lynch for EU and European Central Bank committee meetings, and lucky not to be in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Jane began using her digital skills in assisting Alan Davidson on a number of food history related projects, working alongside people such as Helen Saberi and Anissa Helou. She describes having a double life; one was the day job working in the Stock Exchange, the other as a volunteer food researcher and from 1996 as the organiser of the Oxford Symposium, taking over from Harlan Walker. She took on the task of organising the bibliography of the Oxford Companion to Food for Alan. She was main organiser of the Symposium from 1997 to around 2002. The Symposium moved to Oxford Brookes after Alan Davidson’s death for two years before finding its current home in St. Catz. After Alan’s death, Jane was among a group who set up the Symposium as an educational trust and found it a new home where chef Tim Kelsey and his team, encouraged by Carolin Young, helped transform the food offering.

From an educational perspective, Jane enrolled in the Masters in Gastronomy around 2001, offered by Barbara Santich online at the University of Adelaide and found the journey to be enlightening. Her thesis topic was ‘Food in Space’. She was awarded a PhD in 2015 on ‘Food and Utopianism’ from Kings College, London, although it started with the London Consortium. Jane has published a book with Sami Zubaida and co-delivers a course on Food and Politics in Birkbeck, London which she thoroughly enjoys. Jane is currently chair of the Sophie Coe Prize committee.

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culinary history, oral history, interviews, gastronomy


Arts and Humanities



Interview with Jane Levi: Sopie Coe Prize