Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre Team
With a 25-year career as a research professor, including with one of the top-ranked agri-food universities in the world, it is no wonder Robert Lencki, PhD, is considered the cream of the crop in his field.
Prior to retiring from academia seven years ago, Lencki spent the previous 23 years with the University of Guelph as an educator in their elite food science program – this following his professorship at Université Laval in Québec City.
Throughout his professional life, Lencki became a highly regarded authority in food processing design and optimization, product development, packaging and food chemistry.
After earning a doctorate in Chemical Engineering (he also has his PEng designation) from McGill University, and while all his classmates ventured out to Alberta for the first big oil boom, Lencki went to work for Procter & Gamble (P&G) Canada. He gained experience in product development for big names like Crisco shortening, Duncan Hines cake mixes and Jif peanut butter.
The food engineer and scientist is widely published and has papers included in prestigious publications, such as the Journal of Chemical Reviews, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Chemical Society.
When he retired from the academic community, Lencki says he was happily enjoying his cottage up north and working on his book and not actively seeking out consulting work. However, his phone kept ringing.
“If something interesting came up, I’d go for it,” he recalls thinking.
The something that truly piqued his interest came when he got a call in 2019 from a previous student of his at the University of Guelph, Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, now senior food scientist at Research & Innovation’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre. She told him about a particular research project and asked if he was interested in providing his expertise.
“It sounded like a fascinating challenge to save food wastage from millions of pounds of produce,” says Lencki, who has been a research lead ever since, with the CFWI Innovation Centre at Niagara College’s Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
That project was with industry partner Can-AM Pepper Company, an Aylmer, Ontario-based major grower, shipper and packer of fresh produce for the western hemisphere. One of its core products is spaghetti squash, where every season sees upwards of 40 per cent of food waste due to visual skin imperfections in the sensitive produce. Retailers will reject squash with excessive scarring, even though it’s completely edible.
Can-AM Pepper was looking to capitalize on the spaghetti squash seconds.
Typically, with butternut and other hard-shelled squash, growers process the extra, freezing and packaging chunks; but with spaghetti squash the processing is much more challenging, explains Lencki. In fact, few processed spaghetti squash products are currently on the market due to this challenge; most products use the butternut variety for its higher solids concentration.
“It’s very fragile, very delicate and will just disintegrate, and loses all the fibres and turns just to baby food,” he says.
The CFWI Innovation Centre research team, led by Lencki, conducted extensive research experiments, including sensory, shelf-life and preparation tests. A frozen spaghetti squash that is pre-peeled, cored, and par-baked was developed and was commercialized by Can-AM Pepper.
While this challenge involved bringing a new product to market, other projects he has worked on have focused more on improving the efficiency or helping to scale-up current processes. Often, suggestions, while individually only improving the bottom line by a few per cent, can in total lead to significantly increased profitability, he explains.
“One client wanted to freeze soft cheese in order to extend shelf-life, but we demonstrated that this led to an unacceptable loss in product quality,” he notes. “Unfortunately, not all projects have a happy ending.”
Lencki describes the distinctiveness of working on real-world projects with industry partners at R&I: “Compared to many of the projects I worked with at the University of Guelph, which tended to be more theoretical and long-term, those at Niagara College are generally focused on quickly solving specific industrial problems,” he says.
“Industry is happy because they have a new or improved process and students learn to problem-solve and achieve important project milestones.”
This same industry will soon have access to new product development labs and a beverage and liquids R&D pilot processing facility – all part of dedicated research space in the recently opened Marotta Family Innovation Complex, which includes the CFWI Innovation Centre’s Beverage Centre of Excellence.
Lencki is looking forward to having the new facility, with state-of-the-market equipment, at his fingertips. “We will also be able to produce larger product quantities for test markets or even do small-scale co-packing.”
Apart from his consulting work, Lencki volunteers his time to help improve food processes in developing countries, and recently finished a project with Bolivian peach and strawberry farmers.
“Their postharvest losses can be as high as 40 per cent, so I was helping them develop improved packaging and handling procedures to minimize waste.”
Lencki lives in Guelph, Ont., where he’s still working on his book.
Lyndon William Ashton is the Centre Manager for the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre (CFWI IC). In this role, he is responsible for the overall operations and strategic leadership of the Centre. This includes outreach to key industry partners and the successful development and implementation of food and beverage innovation services. Lyndon joined the Research & Innovation division after a diversified career, beginning in the culinary arts and eventually leading to economic development, management consulting and business planning. He earned his Culinary Red Seal, and he holds a combined degree in Political Sciences and Labour Studies from Brock University, and a certificate in Economic Development from the University of Waterloo. With a passion for food, business development, and strategic planning, Lyndon brings a client-centred focus to the Innovation Centre which recognizes that twinning talent development and knowledge transfer through value-driven R&D supports are key ingredients to the recipe for economic success.
As Research Project Manager of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, Kristine is responsible for the oversight and development of food and beverage applied research and fee-for-service activities involving industry.
The CFWI Innovation Centre is dedicated to assisting food and beverage industry partners with their research, innovation, and commercialization needs through collaborative applied projects involving NC’s students, expert faculty/staff, and outstanding infrastructure.
Kristine joined the division in 2013, working as the Industry Liaison Officer, with the responsibilities of managing contracts, promotional activities and communications with external partners. She has taught Marketing for Continuing Education and brings to her role more than 15 years’ of project management experience in various sectors, including consumer packaged goods and food innovation, as a consumer services program manager for Nestle Canada.
Kristine holds an undergraduate degree in Communications from Brock University, and is currently enrolled part-time in Niagara College’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program. In her spare time, she volunteers on the Board of Directors for Women’s Place of South Niagara.
Dr. Ana Cristina Vega Lugo is the Senior Food Scientist for the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre, part of the Research & Innovation Division at the College. Ana Cristina is responsible for managing the research/student team and resources required for all product and process innovation, food safety, analytical lab and label compliance services, and other technical service and applied research activities. A trained food engineer and scientist with a PhD degree in food science, Ana Cristina has 10 years’ experience in food science and commercialization, including in development, troubleshooting and applicable packaging science and technology. Her most recent position was with Hela Spice Canada as a senior product developer.
Dr. Zhengtao (Tao) Zhao is the Food Scientist – Beverage Specialist at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the Research & Innovation Division at Niagara College. Tao is responsible for assisting in the start-up, management and operations of the CFWI Innovation Centre’s Beverage and Liquids R&D Pilot Processing Facility. Tao, who has a PhD degree in Food Science from the University of Guelph, has extensive experience in the field of food science/chemistry, product development, research food processing and quality control. He has worked as a product developer and research scientist at Gay Lea Foods and the University of Guelph; Parmalat Canada, and Shanghai Toong Yeuan Food Technology.
As Lab Technologist with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus, Kelly Byer is responsible for managing the College’s four research labs – facilities which allow students to explore such areas of food science as microbiology, chemistry, sensory analysis and shelf-life testing.
The labs are equipped with leading-edge technology; all part of the extensive services, from new recipe development to regulatory assistance and nutritional labelling, which are offered to food and beverage industry partners in need of research, innovation and commercialization assistance.
Kelly has spent most of her career either in the field or in a lab coat, in biological control of weeds, first at the University of Guelph and then at Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada in Saskatchewan. In addition to extensive research activities at AAFC, she oversaw all aspects of lab management and found time to write, edit and review numerous scientific publications and research reports. She also brings previous experience in quality and food safety programs; compliance with regulatory programs and standards; and new product development.
She has an Honours Biology degree with a minor in Biochemistry from the University of Guelph and also has HACCP and SQF certifications.
In addition to her role at R&I, Kelly is a part-time professor of NC’s Applied Plant Pathology course in the School of Environmental and Horticultural Studies.
Stephanie Skotidas is the Research Lab Technician with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre. In addition to assisting the Lab Technologist on a variety of applied research projects and technical services for the CFWI Innovation Centre, Stephanie also works collaboratively with industry partners, faculty, students and graduates in existing and new food and beverage labs.
Stephanie has a background in chemistry, biology, analytical instrumentation, product development and food safety protocols. She brings to her role a decade of experience in her sector, including a position as R&D Food Technologist with Sensient Flavors Canada and as an Assistant Winemaker with Andrew Peller Ltd. She holds a Bachelor in Life Sciences from McMaster University and a diploma in Food and Drug Technology from Durham College.
Research and research-related activities have taken up most of Dr. Amy Proulx’s professional career. Currently the program co-ordinator for Culinary Innovation and Food Technology Academic Program at Niagara College, and Technical Research Leader for the Canadian Food and Wine Institute Research Centre, Proulx is a food scientist by training, and passionate about food all around. She holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in food science from the University of Guelph, and a PhD in food science and human nutrition from Iowa State University.
Proulx brings previous experience working as a visiting research scientist with the United States Department of Agriculture in Ames, Iowa, as well as several years as a research fellow with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, at the Guelph Food Research Centre, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, where she helped companies interpret science in a way that helped them produce clean, high-quality product.
Recent work with the CFWI Research Centre team includes developing a recipe for a high-quality non-alcoholic lager, in partnership with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Virgin Drinks, and the creation of a flavourful botanical beverage with Niagara Essential Oils and Blends (neob).
As an engineer and highly respected food scientist, Angela Tellez-Lance has garnered what is considered a unique combination of skills in the food industry.
She has earned international recognition for her expertise in food microbiology, food quality, risk analysis and incident management, and has designed and implemented processes to solve food safety problems efficiently. She has also trained more than 1,800 food safety managers and directors in larger companies.
Tellez-Lance is now providing her specialization with Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre as a Research Lead.
Prior to spending the past 17 years in the food and quality management field, Tellez-Lance earned a Master’s degree in Agriculture and Biological Engineer (Texas A&M University) and a doctorate in Food Safety and Microbiology (University of Guelph).
She is currently the Risk Analysis and Food Expert Adviser for Synthesis Food Consulting Group, where she supports food manufacturing and related organizations to comply with food safety regulations. Previous to that, Tellez-Lance gained experience as Director of Operations at the Guelph Food Innovation Centre (University of Guelph). She has had broad industry experience and has worked in companies such as The Kraft Heinz Company, where she served as the Food Safety and Microbiology Lead for Canada.
Earlier in her career and while Operations Manager at the Canadian Research Institute of Food Safety at the University of Guelph, she developed food safety training material such as the “Maple Leaf Food Safety Education.” She was also the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) Development Analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
At Niagara College, Tellez-Lance and the CFWI Innovation Centre team, work closely with industry partners using applied research to help them in resolving complex problems, reviewing the safety and regulatory compliance of new products, implementing food safety management systems and designing validation studies.
Kyle Landry, Chef Professor and Lab Technician at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI), is a seasoned culinary professional, having spent a dozen years in fine dining restaurants, catering large events and running his own personal chef services.
Before coming to Niagara College seven years ago, Landry worked in a variety of fine dining and winery restaurants in Canada and England; locally, these included Olson Foods at Ravine Winery, as Head Chef to Michael and Anna Olson; Casino Fallsview; Prince of Wales Hotel; Peller Estates Winery Restaurant; and Hillebrand Estates Winery Restaurant.
These days, Landry’s kitchen knowledge is also being utilized by the Research & Innovation division in his role as research lead for the CFWI Innovation Centre at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus. In current recent project, he guided students through recipe development for fermentation productions, such as misos and vinegars for a local restaurant partner.
“The research projects inspire such a sense of pride in the culinary students and I love the science of it when the students have that eureka moment!” he observes proudly. “These students are solving real problems and inventing new compounds and recipes while helping a business in need.”
In addition to ensuring the CFWI’s culinary labs are stocked and running smoothly, Landry has also carved out a niche in food handling and teaches the College’s food safety course, providing essential safe preparation procedures to prevent food borne illnesses.
The Nova Scotia native is a graduate of the reputable Culinary Institute of Canada in Prince Edward Island. Still passionate about learning, the Maritimer is currently enrolled in the College’s food science programs and is excited about where such knowledge could lead.
When you have achieved the lofty title of “Godfather of the Grill,” there seems to be little left to master in the barbecue world. For Ted Reader, a celebrity chef with 23 products on the market and 17 cookbooks published (no doubt earning him that Godfather title), the next logical step was to share his knowledge with the next generation. He came to the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) two years ago as a parttime instructor, taking on such courses as modern culinary applications, recipe development, and international product development, for the Institute’s various culinary arts programs.
After his first year of teaching, Reader was approached to take on some research projects as well, guiding student researchers through recipe and product development with the CFWI Innovation Centre. “Real-life work experience is the best way to teach students about how to develop a product, giving them motivation, meaning and purpose to their work,” he notes. “And in the end, you’ve hopefully made something delicious, too!”
The industry partners seem to agree, enthusiastically accepting final recipes, and in some cases, taking the new formulations into full-scale production lines. One project involved recipe development based on customer-specified requirements, such as organic, nut-free, or gluten-free, as well as being produced within a certain budget. The resulting recipes were to be used as samples at a trade show. The other project involved creating formulations for meat items using a variety of raw materials. With guidelines in place from the industry partner, students created products that could then be taken into plant production. “Each project was a great experience both for the teacher and the students, who were helped by having one focus, but being creative. The whole experience rocked!” Reader says, adding he is looking forward to finding more research time in a busy year ahead.
To learn more about the Godfather of the Grill, who uses more than 100 barbecues, grills and smokers to create knee-weakening recipes, visit tedreader.com.
Even a food innovation idea that’s way “out there” should be given its due, according to Olaf Mertens, a chef professor and researcher with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre.
Working with students in class and on innovation projects, Mertens says he steers them through the process, keeping them organized and on task.
Mertens has brought that innovative spirit to student researchers through the Innovations in Local Food Competition. In 2015, six student teams from the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology (CIFT) program entered the competition to gain experience in product development while promoting partnerships with the local game meat industry.
Mertens currently teaches in two programs, Culinary Innovation and Food Technology (Co-op) and Culinary Management (Co-op). He is currently also a Team Coach for the Junior Canadian Culinary Team, 2013-2016, and has published two cookbooks.
Even before joining the faculty of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre, Ron Giesbrecht’s experience in winemaking tended towards both teaching and research.
During his 23 years as a winemaker at Henry of Pelham Winery, Giesbrecht worked on several applied research projects through a tax credits program, including improving the types of sparkling wine by pressing different varieties and examining how to improve the traditional method.
When he started teaching in 2013, Giesbrecht brought that scientific curiosity to the CFWI Innovation Centre, where he has already worked on several projects with industry partners.
Giesbrecht teaches in the Winery and Viticulture Technician and Wine Business Management programs. Typical courses include: wine growing environmental management; wine production; basic winemaking; advanced winemaking; sensory evaluation of wines; and farm equipment operations.
Jon Downing has lived a life in pursuit of making better craft beer. From the cellars of an English pub at the age of 14, to his current position as brewmaster at the Niagara College Teaching Brewery today, Downing has been involved in a steady succession of opening micro, craft and pub breweries and Brew on Premise (BOP) stores, designing brewing systems, components, and brew recipes (about 3,000 to date) around the world, dating back to 1986.
The part-time professor also runs a consulting company. He has created brew recipes (about 3,000 to date) around the world, and his complete brewery projects to date include 68 brewpubs; 26 BOP stores; and 12 microbreweries.
In all, more than 108 commissioned breweries now have 400-plus brewers trained in some part by Downing.
Because of his reputation, he has been called on to assist equipment manufacturers in the design and improvement of systems, including Continental Brewing Systems, Diachem Chemicals and Price Schonstrom Inc. These wide-ranging and international contacts have in turn brought partnership and research opportunities to the Niagara College Teaching Brewery, as leading-edge technologies are tested on-site.
At the Teaching Brewery, Downing supervises all beer production, while teaching several courses in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program, including introduction to brewing; basic brewing; practical brewing; and specialty brewing.
& Brew Professor
While Gavin Robertson once studied the Classics, he concentrates his efforts these days on making vintage versions of the drinkable kind.
The winemaker followed his university education at Dalhousie with a diploma in Niagara College’s Winery and Viticulture Technician Program.
He has seven years’ experience in the Ontario wine industry, as a cellar hand, assistant winemaker, winemaker, vineyard manager and winery consultant; and he has worked as a vintage winemaker in Central Otago, New Zealand and Tasmania, Australia.
Recently, he has overseen the development of both a sparkling wine and a hard cider program at Niagara College. Research projects include pomegranate wine recipe development and the Nuance lees filtration system validation.
At the Teaching Winery, Gavin oversees production of the commercial wines and cider, manages the Niagara College vineyard, and oversees the students’ practicum work placements. Gavin also teaches several courses, including basic and advanced winemaking; pruning and trellis maintenance; and general viticulture.
His commercial wines have received numerous awards, including Best in Show for the 2012 Dean’s List Merlot at the 2015 Royal Wine Competition.