Category Archives: Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre

EMC Food & Beverage Sector Webinar: Growth, Innovation and Collaboration

Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium (EMC) and Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, have partnered together for a virtual industry networking event for the food and beverage industry on Thursday, Oct. 8 at 1 p.m.

Jean-Pierre Giroux, president, EMC, and Lyndon Ashton, centre manager, CFWI Innovation Centre, will be leading the interactive panel discussion, titled “Growth, Innovation and Collaboration.”

COVID-19 has affected the entire food and beverage industry, regardless of our organizational focus, products produced, size or location of our company. Despite the challenges, one thing that has resonated is the necessity of collaboration to support business growth and market development across Canada and around the world.  It has also outlined our interconnectedness from a supply chain perspective. 

In this webinar, participants will be learning about the competitiveness of the sector, what innovations are going to help meet the needs of the consumer, the importance of collaboration in a changing market, leading ways on idea generation, adaptation and innovation, and how to help fund it.

Also on the virtual panel: Sean Aguiar, operations manager, Pilling Foods Inc.; Sheri Evans, local development manager, Sobeys; and Jen Mahon, vice-president operations at NorthBridge Consultants.

To reserve your spot, click HERE

Food Start-Ups: Make Your Mark Virtually!

This year, SIAL Canada is launching its very first virtual trade show – Food Inspiration Week – Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 on its platform. Open to trade professionals, the event offers the opportunity to discover international innovations, attend quality webinars hosted by experts and partners, chat with trade show stakeholders – all from the comfort of your home or office.

SIAL Canada is the leading name in the agri-food industry, with more than 1,200 national and international exhibitors from more than 50 countries hosting over 25,000 buyers from Canada, the United States, and 60 other countries.

Returning this year to North America’s largest food innovation trade show is the Start-Up Pitch Competition. The unique contest, which involves a three-minute video pitch, offers these prizes:

  • – Complimentary booth at SIAL Canada 2021 in Toronto
  • – 40 hrs of consultation by experts at Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre
  • – $10,000 value of Nielsen services
  • – $1,500 coupon to use at MITACS
  • – A subscription to the Food Processing Council of Quebec (CTAQ) (value between $300 and $1,500)

Food start-ups have the opportunity to pitch their food product or new technology related to the food manufacturing industry to an expert audience of investors, technical experts, industry leaders and other entrepreneurs.

Returning this year on the judging panel is Ana Cristina Vega Lugo, PhD, a senior food scientist with Research & Innovation’s CFWI Innovation Centre at Niagara College.

“It’s crucial that innovators have a platform where they can present their novel concepts to a network of experts in order to better identify challenges and opportunities, that they can then tackle or leverage for increased success,” says Vega Lugo.

Also on the Pitch Competition judging panel: Dr. Angela Tellez-Lance, PhD, senior food safety expert and risk analyst; Pierre-Marc Denault, client business partner/new business development manager, Nielsen; Anais Détolle, PhD, business development specialist, MITACS; Lynda Stewart, PhD, local business development manager, Sobeys; and Annick Van Camp, PhD, vice-president, progress in food and sustainable development, CTAQ.

Special offer for Start-Ups: become an exhibitor and also participate in the Pitch Competition with the start-ups special offer of $1,000 for a regular booth (normally $2,500).

SIAL Canada is the only national trade show that offers a complete range of food products – whether you work in the retail, catering or food processing industry, or you’re looking for a new and innovative product or regional specialty from around the world. 

Click HERE for more information.



Food science graduate launches career

Jennie Vallangca is a 2020 graduate of Niagara College’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program and spent four months as a research assistant with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre at Research & Innovation. Today, she’s employed by two companies: Wild Tea Kombucha and JOEY Restaurant Group in Calgary, Alberta. She also works as an independent food science consultant.

Tell us about where you work:

I work for two companies: I’m a quality assurance/quality control specialist for Wild Tea Kombucha and a line cook for JOEY Restaurant Group. Wild Tea Kombucha is a company based out of Calgary, Alberta and they produce kombucha (cocktail-inspired and soda flavoured), both non-alcoholic and alcoholic. It is a summer internship through Canada Summer Jobs and my responsibilities include designing an alcohol-testing program, as well as assisting production and working on a traceability program.

JOEY Restaurant Group is a premier casual restaurant chain that has locations all over Canada, as well as a couple locations (and upcoming ones) in the United States. 

If this isn’t your main job since graduating, please give us an idea of what types of related things you’ve been doing since graduating.

Both jobs are steps towards my goal(s): to help food businesses thrive through my work as a food science consultant, as well as a research chef. I work as an independent consultant as a side job to build my portfolio and credibility as a food science consultant. It gives me more opportunities to network with other small companies and to help them solve their problems.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

It helped me both on the technical side as well as the interpersonal side. I was able to get the experience talking to clients about their situations and how we could help find solutions; keeping clients updated and creating a final report on their project. It gave me more confidence and a better understanding about how to meet the clients’ needs. 

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

The bone broth project with Broya was definitely a memorable project. It was my very first research project in the industry and it gave me a chance to work both in the kitchen and the lab. It also paved the way for me to work in the natural health-food sector, which is an interesting industry to work in due to the constant change and its innovation. Also, it is so fun to see a product I helped with on grocery store shelves – it gives me such joy!

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

Originally, I wanted to become a chef, but due to the lifestyle and all it entails, I knew that I didn’t see myself doing it long term. I still wanted to get into food and did the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) in Hospitality and Tourism in high school, but I wanted to do something bigger. Random Google searches later, I found the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program at Niagara College and it was more of a “put all the eggs in one basket” type of situation. I had never considered working in the food manufacturing industry, but the more I researched the program, the more I was leaning towards it.

Most memorable experience at NC?

One of the most memorable experiences I had was organizing a whole mixer for the second-year students and some members of the industry. Many of the industry partners were actually alumni of the program and it was nice to hear what they have been up to since graduating – with some becoming managers, food scientists and giving advice to then-second years who were in the process of finding a co-op placement.

“It is so fun to see a product I helped with on grocery store shelves – it gives me such joy!”

A faculty member who influenced you?

All the faculty members made a huge impact during my time at Niagara College. Sabi Bamrah [professor, CFWI], Sunan Wang [professor, CFWI], Amy Proulx [coordinator/professor, CFWI] and Chef Norm Myshok all helped shape me for a career that I want to be in. I had always thought that I would end up in academia, but they taught me that it’s not just academics; applied learning and industry experience is completely different from school learning. They also gave me the resources to pave the way for me to build myself in my career and they always had my back.

A mentor at R&I?

Everyone in Research & Innovation had an impact and an influence on me. They taught me things outside of academia like learning new lab equipment, communicating with clients and project management. They gave me countless feedback on projects, which definitely helped in my current job(s).

What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?

Definitely find your path. Find what you are passionate about, whether it be research and development or FSQA (Food Safety Quality Assurance), you will find that path. Also, discover what sector of the industry (i.e. meat, cannabis, pet food, etc.) you want to work in.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

You definitely start from the bottom. Not everyone will get the opportunity to have their dream job right away; you’ve got to start somewhere. Working for a small business, you wear multiple hats and sometimes those hats aren’t what you are hoping for. I remember always hearing that the first few years of your career will be the most difficult, so always be resilient and don’t lose that goal.

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Moving out west to Calgary to start my career and to establish myself as a food scientist/product developer/research chef/etc. I was also part of a webinar for the Canadian Institute of Food Science and Technology (CIFST) with Food Grads on the topic of “entering the job market as a new food scientist.” It was awesome to hear the other speakers (some of whom I personally know) talk about their experience, as well as talking about mine.

Interests outside of work? 

I tend to do many things – mostly being active. I like cycling (usually mid-long distances), fencing (I did it competitively for a couple years during my time at Niagara College), kickboxing and rock climbing. If it is not sports, then drawing (mostly portraits), exploring restaurants and listening to music. 

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

Just keep going! Life is a tough road, and the moment you conquer that obstacle, the reward is truly wonderful! The only way to do it is to keep going and be resilient.

Anything else you want to say?

What do you do with a drunken sailor—I’m kidding! But seriously…what do you do with five loaves of bread from baking class? Asking for a friend.

Niagara College establishes Beverage Centre of Excellence thanks to NSERC grant

Pictured from left: Research assistants with Research & Innovation Samantha Stinellis and Shannon Wood, both graduates (2020) of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program and Jayme Opitz, research associate with R&I and a graduate (2019) of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program.

Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division will be deploying more than $1 million to expand essential applied research in the growing beverage sector over the next three years, thanks to federal government funding.  

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Innovation Enhancement Extend program will allow R&I’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre to enhance its state-of-the-art commercialization services to assist more beverage companies in the Niagara region, and beyond, to innovate, grow and compete in the global marketplace. 

The College and Community Innovation Program (CCIP) Extend Innovation Enhancement (IE) Grant, entitled “Increasing Economic Prosperity through Beverage Innovation & Commercialization,” spans three years and includes $300,000 per year, to which $150,000 per year in industry cash contributions will be added for a total of $1.35 million.

The announcement is part of NSERC’s $76-million investment for 128 new applied research projects aimed at connecting Canadian colleges with local small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to provide innovative solutions in the development of new products and technologies.

For the CFWI Innovation Centre, this grant means expanding resources to focus on feasibility studies (pre- and post-market services and risk assessments); beverage research and product development (innovative processes and incorporation of key market trends); consumer acceptance and quality assurance; and conducting research test-runs through a small-batch, scale-up beverage processing laboratory. 

This funding responds to an incredible demand by regional beverage manufacturers and more than six years of capacity-building in food and beverage research and development at the CFWI Innovation Centre’s Technology Access Centre (TAC). The NSERC-funded TAC enables SMEs to advance their products, processes and services through access to specialized technology, equipment, and expertise. 

“Beverage-sector companies have identified challenges that prevent them from innovating with new products, including a lack of affordable research expertise, equipment and facilities. Through this NSERC grant, we are able to better serve the needs of Ontario’s growing food and beverage industry,” said Marc Nantel, PhD, vice-president, Research, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives.

This initiative will establish the CFWI Innovation Centre as a Beverage Centre of Excellence, strengthening Niagara College’s track record of firsts in Canada as home of the first commercial Teaching Winery, Teaching Brewery, Teaching Distillery, and Commercial Cannabis Production academic program. 

“Now we’re expanding this offering for our industry/training supports with a beverage and liquids R&D pilot processing lab that bridges the gap for companies looking to get consumable test-products in the market,” said Lyndon Ashton, centre manager, CFWI Innovation Centre. 

When industry partner Royal Canadian Mead needed specialized expertise to develop a line of mead products, they looked to experts at the CFWI Innovation Centre. Together with NC’s Teaching Winery and Commercial Beekeeping program, College researchers crafted new styles of session brews, two of which are now on the shelves at the LCBO. 

In a more recent innovative project with DistillX Beverages Inc., CFWI Innovation Centre researchers created Canada’s first distilled non-alcoholic gin, under the band label Sobrii Ø-Gin (zero gin), with zero calories, zero sugar and, as the marketing touts: zero hangovers.

“Their expertise was instrumental in terms of me being able to sell a product that was not only superior tasting but something I can commercially scale and replicate safely,” said Bob Huitema, founder of DistillX Beverages.

Since opening, the CFWI Innovation Centre has worked with companies of all sizes, including Bacardi Canada Inc., a subsidiary of Bacardi Ltd., the largest privately-held spirits companies in the world. Consumer acceptance and sensory testing for Bacardi, involving students and staff experts, has informed the launch of new alcoholic beverage products. 

Beyond project funding, this IE grant will allow the CFWI Innovation Centre to provide enhanced experiential learning opportunities for students, while meeting strong local industry demand for skilled talent. The Centre works with faculty experts and students from several NC programs – including  Culinary Innovation and Food Technology (Co-op), Culinary Management (Co-op), Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management, Winery and Viticulture Technician, and Wine Business Management programs – to provide a wealth of knowledge to industry partners. 

Kyler Schwind, research assistant with Research & Innovation and a graduate (2020) of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program, working on the DistillX Beverages project to develop Canada’s first non-alcoholic gin under the brand label Sobrii Ø-Gin.

“Our focus is on combining economic and workforce development aspects of our programs. This grant lets us hire students as research assistants, who work alongside highly-qualified experts and industry partners,” said Ashton. “It gives talent access to highly motivated employers in their field, and acts as a proving ground for companies to tap into prospective employees by innovating.”

NC’s award-winning Research & Innovation division provides real-world solutions for business, key industry sectors, and the community through applied research and knowledge transfer activities. Researchers conduct projects that provide innovative solutions, such as producing and testing prototypes, evaluating new technologies, and developing new or improved products or processes for small- and medium-sized businesses. 

Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit


Quick Facts – CFWI Innovation Centre Beverage Centre of Excellence

• The
Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre Beverage Centre of Excellence will be part of an entire research floor of the new 49,000-square-foot Marotta Family Innovation Complex (based at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake), that includes designated laboratories focused on beverage research; and equipment to facilitate beverage processing, treatment and analytical research, including cannabis research.

• As a Beverage Centre of Excellence, the CFWI Innovation Centre will serve as a one-stop shop for beverage innovation and commercialization that will help small- and medium-sized enterprises bring their products from concept to shelf. The focus area is the liquid portfolio of food and culinary innovation, which includes beverages (non-alcoholic and alcoholic); spoonables and pourables (such as condiments, marinades and dressings); and cannabis research, including extraction, infusion and product development, mainly for beverages. 

• For industry partners, the NSERC IE Extend grant will provide project funding that will require a 1:1 match consisting of cash and in-kind services. The R&I business development team is available to hear potential project ideas and discuss ways the CFWI Innovation Centre can work to solve these challenges. Contact Elizabeth Best, business development coordinator: [email protected]

• The CFWI Innovation Centre team offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. From new recipe development to shelf-life testing and nutritional labelling, the CFWI Innovation Centre pairs industry partners with faculty, recent graduates and students with the right expertise and equipment to meet industry needs. In all cases, the intellectual property developed during the project belongs to the industry partner.


New food scientist for trailblazing beverage research at NC

Zhengtao Zhao, food scientist – beverage specialist at CFWI IC

Milk has an ancient history – likely going back some 10,000 years, with the domestication of animals – and has benefited the development of the human body, contributed to the creation of the modern food industry and, along with its by-products butter, cheese and ice cream, is found in almost every refrigerator today. 

It’s also a complex liquid, and something food scientist and dairy expert Zhengtao Zhao, PhD, has spent more than eight years studying. More precisely, he has worked with the casein micelles, the most important protein in milk, and something he calls a “natural magical entity.” 

Zhao’s research involving dairy protein, fat and polysaccharide encapsulations, are also common elements for all beverage production and have laid the groundwork for his new role as the food scientist – beverage specialist for the Technology Access Centre (TAC) at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division.

His expertise extends beyond dairy science and includes a comprehensive background in the area of food science in product development, research, food processing, quality control and commercialization. He draws on previous experience as a product developer and research scientist at Parmalat Canada, Gay Lea Foods, the University of Guelph, and Shanghai Toong Yeuan Food Technology.

This food scientist will play a key role in the College’s trailblazing beverage research initiatives. The CFWI Innovation Centre’s Beverage Centre of Excellence will be part of an entire research floor of the 49,000-square-foot Marotta Family Innovation Complex (based at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake), and includes designated laboratories focused on beverage research; and equipment to facilitate beverage processing, treatment and analytical research, including cannabis research.

The Beverage Centre of Excellence (made possible thanks to recent funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)) will serve as a one-stop-shop for beverage innovation and commercialization that will help SMEs bring their products from concept to shelf. The focus area is the liquid portfolio of food and culinary innovation, which includes beverages (non-alcoholic and alcoholic); spoonables and pourables (such as condiments, marinades and dressings); and cannabis research, including extraction, infusion and product development, mainly for beverages.

Zhao is responsible for assisting in the start-up, management and operations of the Beverage and Liquids R&D Pilot Processing Facility, part of the Beverage Centre of Excellence. Lab work includes the execution of product and process innovation, analytical lab, beverage processing, beverage equipment protocol development and other technical services and applied research activities.

“Solving problems for industry partners is very meaningful, and I always believe that science should be utilized to solve practical issues instead of only publishing papers. The most attractive part of the job is that it keeps your brain active and updated as we are dealing with different projects that need different knowledge,” Zhao explains his decision to join the CFWI Innovation Centre team. “Moreover, I like to mentor and provide guidance for the students while also learning from them.”

Zhao’s fascination with milk started as a child, curious about the difference in structure between yogurt and milk, with the former being solid-like and the latter free-flowing liquid. 

“Solving problems for industry partners is very meaningful, and I always believe that science should be utilized to solve practical issues instead of only publishing papers.”

“After I went to university, I started to understand a little bit more about the fermentation and the formation of protein gel structure and realized how complicated the structure of casein micelles is and how widely used it is in the food industry.”

His formal education began in his home country of mainland China (a small city called Zaozhuang in the Shandong Province). After earning his Master’s degree in Food Science, he decided on the University of Guelph, known for having one of the best dairy research labs in the world. There he earned his PhD in Dairy Science. 

He has been published in prestigious journals, such as Dairy Science & Technology, the Journal of Dairy Science, Journal of Dairy Research, Food Hydrocolloids, Food Chemistry and Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 

One of his more significant research projects centred around concentrated milk using different membrane techniques. While most dairy companies use the ultrafiltration (UF) membrane to concentrate milk, in his team’s research, they used microfiltration (MF), with results showing that concentrated milk produced from MF has much better heat stability and shelf life.

“More importantly, when MF concentrated were used as an ingredient for cheese making, the obtained gel has stronger structure, indicating that MF is a better choice than UF to produce cheese products,” says Zhao, adding that many dairy companies in Europe and the United States now use microfiltration techniques. 

Certainly, it has been a “strange” beginning to Zhao’s new role, as he was hired at the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, so with the closure of the College campuses, he has not yet had hands-on access to the research labs to work on projects. 

“I was a little panicked at the beginning, but thanks to my amazing colleagues, they’ve given me a lot of support and help during this period.”

He has also been able to remotely work on an applied research project for a local family-owned ostrich farm wanting to simplify the extraction process and improve the quality of its ostrich oil. He has been able to do some preliminary research for proposals to these process procedures and hopes to follow up once the labs are open. 

Zhao currently lives in Guelph with his family: his wife Xiuju Wang, son Evan, 5, and daughter Emma, 3, and enjoys hiking and fishing. 

He is also an avid NBA fan; the highlight of last year came when the Toronto Raptors made history and won the NBA championship. He says he stood amongst an entire country, a proud backer of the slogan “We The North.”


The Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. To read more about what the Centre offers, visit their website.

Culinary grad talks life transition in a time of COVID-19

Nathan, his wife Kaitlyn, son Atlas and family dog Jack.

Nathan Knapp-Blezius is a 2019 graduate of Niagara College’s Culinary Innovation & Food Technology program, and served as both a research assistant (2017-19) and a research associate (2019-20) in the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, with the Research & Innovation division. He has accepted a position as product development technician at Dare Foods in Kitchener/Waterloo, a national supplier of breads, croutons, cookies, candy and crackers to the foodservice market. 

Describe your new position with Dare Foods:

My new role is as a product development technician on the R&D/Innovation team. More specifically, I’m in cracker-world. I’ll be responsible for developing meaningful, thoughtfully-crafted crackers from trends and market insights, provided by an incredibly talented marketing/innovation team.

Within a month of accepting your position, you’ve had to sell your house, and relocate, all during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, it was a very busy month! One part of that was selling my house and moving to the Galt area of Cambridge. It was an unconventional selling process. Technology is incredible: virtual 3D walk-throughs (not videos) are the future of real-estate sales.

Have you been able to start your new job during these uncertain times?

Yes.. 2-3 lab days, 2-3 home days per week. Dare has reacted TREMENDOUSLY with great procedures and insight into the COVID-19 situation. We are still able to be perfectly effective and efficient in spite of the events.

It’s certainly a time of transition – on April 1, you became a first-time father during a pandemic…

I did! 10 fingers 11 toes, pretty darn good. He was an April Fool’s baby, not unexpected in my family. The hospital experience was certainly unique. They were excellent; very prepared, but with everything on high alert, it’s challenging to help keep a lady in active labour patient as we pass the multiple contamination checkpoints. There was a thousand fun – and ridiculous – stories from that day, but at the end of the day, all that matters is we have a healthy and happy son. Our only regret is that our parents and siblings can’t hold him – that part is terrible. There’re a few things wherein video-chat just isn’t the same.

Your son’s name is Atlas, seemingly apropos given the world-wide state of things. Can you tell us how you both chose the name?

It seems we could really use someone to hold up the sky in 2020 … poor little guy. In all seriousness, there’s a lot of personal reasons which would take up an article in and of itself. One thing we found was we liked unique names, but nothing that is unpronounceable, incorrectly spelled, or phonetically irritating. We also didn’t want it to be so unique that he would be the only one with it. My wife Kaitlyn pulled up an article wherein Atlas was amongst the least used names pre-2010 (less than 100 people), and in the top 150 names in 2018. Unique, but not completely uncommon. A checkmark in that column. 

Aside from Niagara College, can you give us a sense of your educational background…

I took Political Science at McMaster University, Culinary Arts at Holland College; Red Seal Culinary at College of Trades, and I have various SQF and HACCP certifications.

What led you to Niagara College?

My step-dad had done some research into the Culinary Innovation program and passed it along. It made sense for me: I love science and math, but I also love food. It was the best of both worlds.

“The people at the Innovation Centre helped me to refine my skills and realize my mistakes – something I’ll do forever … whether it’s commercialization processes, product development skills, documentation management, or other management skills…”

How has your experience with R&I’s CFWI Innovation Centre helped you prepare for this new position?

It’s all about refinement. Take a concept, or a dish, or a skill, and refine, refine, refine. Trim off the fat a tiny bit at a time until it’s something great. The people at the Innovation Centre helped me to refine my skills and realize my mistakes – something I’ll do forever. Whether it’s commercialization processes, product development skills, documentation management, or other management skills, there’s a hundred areas they helped me to refine consistently to better prepare for future opportunities. And honestly, that’s really not something that will ever change.

You have worked on quite a few projects while at R&I…can you name your favourites?

Absolutely not. I loved all my projects. I think that’s important in the research world. Most of your learning will come from failure, and a lot of R&D is done on new, trend-driven, shoot-for-the stars concepts. If you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s too easy to become bogged down in failures. At the end of the day, it only takes one success (one well-documented success that can be replicated) to launch a product. That’s why it’s impossible to pick out a favourite project – they were all laden with their own failures and successes, and each one led to something better down the road.

Some other highlights from your time at R&I…for example, you were featured in a series of videos by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and also went to Parliament Hill as part of CFI’s #IAMInnovation campaign.

Incredible opportunity! I have a life-sized poster of myself now; I tried to hang it above the bed, but my wife said it was a tad too vain. It would have been on my side! In all seriousness, the people at CFI are incredible. It was an opportunity to showcase my work and talk about the importance and future of R&D from a student perspective with policy makers. [see video here] I felt like it was something that mattered. But the most memorable part of all that actually happened afterwards. I got a hand-written letter with some disk drives and random materials from the president of CFI, Roseann O’Reilly Runte, with whom I had a lovely conversation while I was there. And this wasn’t a “thanks for coming” letter, it was a full-pager. Someone who is the president of the organization, and still takes the time – and THOUGHTFULNESS! – to send a hand-written letter to a student she may never meet again – well, I hope I can be like her one day. Talk about values and acting on values (not just talk). 

A particular faculty member who influenced you?

Sabi Bamrah [professor within the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology programs]. I am great friends with all of my faculty members. I still talk on Facebook with Amy [Amy Proulx, PhD, professor and academic program coordinator of Culinary Innovation and Food Technology], and she helped me out with so much; we even worked together on a side project for a bit! But, (sorry Amy!) at the end of the day, Sabi deserves a special mention as an influencer to me. She is kind, quiet, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and I feel like she gets the short end of the stick sometimes because she teaches a class with content that naturally can really be quite boring. But it’s so important, and she does a great job making it less boring than it could be. On top of that, she encouraged every decision I made, brought things in for some of my class projects, lent me her pressure cooker until I could get a new one, and answered texts and questions during my co-op. She is just an incredible teacher and person. And I love how she writes an honest curriculum; either you know it or you don’t, and it’s your responsibility to learn it (of course she will help if asked). There is no wishy-washy stuff. I hope I’m never wishy-washy.

What about a mentor at R&I’s CFWI Innovation Centre?

Different people for different reasons. Kelly Byer [research laboratory technologist] is a gem to talk with – she’s very funny, and she taught me quite a few scientific principles (P=F/A!). Kristine Canniff [project manager] could be my life-coach. Lyndon Ashton [centre manager] is an enigma wrapped in a riddle – he can flip from business to casual like a light-switch, and I think that is a tremendous skill (and one you can’t learn). But as for a mentor? Has to be Ana [Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, senior food scientist]. She’s one of the only people I could ever productively argue with. And I mean that as the highest compliment. And, it’s because even though she’s much more experienced, knowledgeable, and naturally brilliant, she holds onto an honest respect for everyone. There is zero arrogance. And that’s really hard when you’re honestly that good at something! She is the kind of person that will take the time to talk to you and work with you. She’s the kind of person who would “teach a man to fish.” I hope to do more projects with Ana in the future.

What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?

Fail hard. 100 times. And ditch the ego fast. If you think you know something, it’s usually a good signal you don’t.

You once said you want to reinvent the grocery aisle by mixing culinary arts and science; can you expand on your passion for combining both food and science…

Delicious, nutritious, inclusive, sustainable, and fiscally-responsible food that can be produced on a scale that is meaningful to an incredibly population dense (and growing) global normality. In the past, I think chefs have loudly voiced concerns with industry, whether it be about sustainability, sacrificing flavour, nutritional deficiency, strange ingredients, complex international supply chains, etc. The argument for industry, and food scientists, is the obvious necessity due to demand. So, there has been this argument back and forth for some time over the merits of each, at times quite loudly. The reality is now we may finally have the equipment, the capacity, and the consumer-driven support to make both a cohesive reality. We might not have to sacrifice one for the other. And so, my dreams for the grocery aisle are culinary-inspired, nutritionally sustainable, safe, delicious and texturally appealing products and not 15 different versions of BBQ chips. I want the focus on innovation to be in the grocery aisles, not in the restaurants, where it can affect everyone. 

You have a number of years’ experience cooking professionally – what types of capacity?

I started as a dishwasher and worked every station at various restaurants across Canada from coast-to-coast, and was the head chef of a small restaurant in Prince Edward Island. Probably the most prestigious restaurant I worked at was Clayoquot Wilderness Resort – absolutely perfect in every way, but very expensive. The restaurant I most love, right now, is Brushfire Smoke BBQ at Oast House in Niagara-on-the-Lake. You have a very extensively trained chef, one of the best I’ve ever worked with, who hung up the line on fine dining and is making dishes using the same techniques, but on paper plates. I love it. Affordable, but honest quality, great food for everybody. That’s the future.

So you are an award-winning archer – a bowman extraordinaire! Please tell us more…

I won a gold medal in Team Shooting at OFSAA 2 or 3 years in a row. I was never as good as Jesse Thompson [need square bracket explanation of who this is], but he taught me a lot. Shooting is a sport that doesn’t lie. It is entirely on you, and you get the results based on the effort you put in. There is definitely a clarity of mind when you pull the string back. It’s a chance to push the day into the back of the mind and become hyper-focused on nothing. Amazing. And it’s good for your core, abs, and chest. I’d recommend it to anyone.

And, what’s this about being a mathematics whiz?

Well, I’m not by any means trained in mathematics to any significant standard, but in elementary and high school it was definitely my strongest natural skill by a longshot. I was competitive in the Pascal, Cayley, and Fermat provincial tests in high school. I always picked up math very fast. Nowadays, I use my math skills in poker! It was my source of income in university. I play poker mostly recreationally now, but I have three big wins under my belt: 1st in a 120-person tournament; 1st in a 2,500-person tournament; and 3rd in a 1,200-person tournament. I also use my math to play other card games like Magic: The Gathering, and Hearthstone. Understanding rudimentary Hypergeometric Distribution helps.

Okay, let’s move on to the Lightning Round:

Top of your playlist:

Come Along: Cosmo Sheldrake

 Favourite books:

Anything by R.A. Salvatore

Most treasured item:

Parents. No wait… Child now. Or wife? Uh oh…

Biggest indulgence:

Gambling, or video games (I originally put my wife, but she corrected me)

Who is your hero?

Christopher Lee, or Gandalf (yes, I see the irony in that)

Favourite morning ritual:

None; I’m very spontaneous. No routine.

Most unusual talent:

I can lick my own elbow. Truth. There’s a story about that.

Proudest achievement:

My son.

Mantra you live by:

Jump first.

If you could have a billboard seen by many, what would it read?

Two windmills would be standing in a field, and there would be a speech bubble above each, and one would say, “what’s your favourite music?” and the other would say, “I’m a big metal fan.”