Spencer Dion holds three diplomas from Niagara College programs: Culinary, Chef Training (2012); Culinary Management – Co-op (2013) and Culinary Innovation and Food Technology – Co-op (2015). He spent two years with Research & Innovation’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre, as Research Assistant, Research Associate and Lab Technician. In January 2019, Spencer was hired as the Food Safety and Quality Specialist at GreenSpace Brands (GSB) in Toronto.
Tell us a little about where you work:
GreenSpace Brands owns several recognizable brands, including Kiju Organic and Central Roast. They promote the idea of better products through the use of simple ingredients, traditional farming practices, and innovative branding.
Describe your role and what you like about it:
As the Food Safety and Quality Specialist, I work out of the Mississauga location, where we process all things Central Roast. I am responsible for maintaining, updating, and implementing our food safety and quality programs (HACCP and SQF).
Currently, I am in the process of updating and standardizing all of our program documents. While that may not seem very glamorous, is there really anything more satisfying than a well-organized food safety program?
Recently, we had our facility in Mississauga kosherized by the Kashruth Council of Canada. We had a meeting with the lead auditor, who brought with him some documents, including a kosher integration program for SQF that I actually helped write when I was working at Research & Innovation! It was really great to know that they were actually using it and showing it to all the companies that they certified.
How has your experience with R&I helped prepare you for your current role?
Already in my short time at GSB I have had to juggle multiple projects simultaneously. This was the norm at R&I and having that experience really improved my time and resource management skills.
A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?
When I worked as the Lab Technician for R&I, I would help others with the lab aspects of their projects. One such project required me to develop a titration experiment to determine the acidity of the vinegars being developed for a client. With no prior titration experience, I set out to researching methods and practices and within a week or two, I had created and validated the experiment.
What led you to Niagara College in the first place?
In high school, I had a culinary teacher who I really respected and, after being accepted to five different culinary schools, I asked his opinion on which one he thought I should attend. He said that Niagara College would give me the best opportunities and that set me on a path to where I am today.
Most memorable experience at NC?
To be honest, my most memorable moment has to be my last day working at R&I. Having to say goodbye to all those who I had worked alongside for the previous years was difficult, but they really made it a great day that I won’t forget. I still have the personalized picture book full of inside jokes that was made for me.
“It is important to try to expose yourself to as many new situations as possible, especially when just starting out. Take on tasks that you may not be familiar with and challenge yourself every day.”
A faculty member who influenced you?
Definitely Dr. Amy Proulx. I have never met a teacher more dedicated to the education and success of their students. She is an endless source of information on almost any topic and always has her door open to those seeking assistance. I still often look to Amy for advice and support whenever I need it.
I cannot go without mentioning Kristine Canniff [Research Project Manager, CFWI Innovation Centre]; if nothing else, she taught me what to look for in a leader and I can’t imagine R&I without her.
What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help – nobody is an expert in every subject. If you don’t know the answer to a problem, draw on the resources around you.
After being in the workforce, what have you learned?
I have learned to always keep an open mind about the work I am doing. It is important to try to expose yourself to as many new situations as possible, especially when just starting out. Take on tasks that you may not be familiar with and challenge yourself every day.
Proudest achievement since graduating:
Although not job or school related, per se, I did just recently purchase my first house, and of that, I could not be more proud.
Interests outside of work?
Indoors, I am all about reading and consuming all forms of media (TV shows, movies and video games). Outdoors I love skiing and attending craft beer and food festivals.
If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?
“Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.”