“So, you’re going to be a chef, right?” as every person I talk to asks me on a regular basis. The usual answer is no, I’m not going to be a chef per say. “There’s more to it than it meets the eye,” I replied. And that is how I introduce people to the food and beverage industry.
Hi there! My name is Jennie and I’m a new FoodGrads Campus Ambassador. I’m currently in Culinary Innovation and Food Technology at Niagara College and my goal is to do something in regulations, in hopes of becoming a regulatory lawyer (aka a food lawyer) or research and product development. But don’t let the program name fool you: I’m not going to be a chef. Well kind of. It’s sort of a long story.
So, What Are You Going to Be Exactly?
That is a very good question. I had so many interests back in high school: food, robotics, computers, music, law, food (did I mention that already?) Anyway, I knew that being a restaurant chef was not for me, but I still want to work with food. Having done random Google searches, I stumbled upon my current program. At first, I was confused because I wasn’t sure what food science is but the more research I had done, the more I was certain that I want to get into this field.
People say don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but I did the complete opposite and threw all dozen eggs into a small basket, including the carton, hoping for the best.
I did get accepted to a few culinary schools but when Niagara College told me I got accepted to the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program, I realized two things:
- People are still going to ask me if I have any food and
- I’m still new to the industry and have zero idea if I made the right decision or not. But life is too short, and I went with it with confidence.
From Chef to Research Chef
Fast forward (or rewind) to first year of college. Fresh out of high school, I was determined to put my mark and make my college career a memorable one. The one thing I was sort of surprised about was that I was doing mostly culinary-based courses.
It was great as I got to live my dream of going to culinary school but at the same time, I realized that this is going to be a complete 180 once I start doing the food science portion. Yeah, there were a couple introduction courses like food chemistry and product process engineering, but I still felt like a culinary student. Bringing home stacks of white boxes full of goodies, odd and random ingredients and loaves of bread was a bit overwhelming but still enjoyed it.
That suddenly changed when I landed my first career-based job as a research assistant at my college’s research and innovation centre. At first it was intimidating; for one, I was the youngest out of the team and two, everyone was either an upper year or had previous education. As time passed by, I realized that everyone was helpful with one another as they were willing to help with other people’s projects and you learn about the industry as you go. And with age, it doesn’t matter because if you are passionate about food and do your job, you’re still part of the team.
My main project was doing product development and I noticed that my culinary skills was well needed. At one point, I felt like a real research chef and frankly, I’m better off becoming one. It is usually a 9-5 job and you just cook and experiment dishes for food manufacturing companies.
Plus, you’re feeding millions of people with your product versus cooking for a few hundred people, which makes a greater impact. Just imagine, seeing your product you’ve made from the ground up on shelves of a supermarket? A little self-celebration on your accomplishments, as you can’t tell anyone else about it due to NDAs (gotta love it!)
“You’re feeding millions of people with your product versus cooking for a few hundred people
But the point is, everyone eats and seeing their reaction (hopefully good ones) when they eat your product is the best feeling ever. And you can’t help it but smile.
All I could say is that everything I do that is not food related often diverts back to food and I’m okay with that. And to finish off, here’s a food for thought: Would you consider taking on this challenge to create a restaurant-quality dish that millions of people can enjoy at the convenience of their home? I want to hear from you!
About the Author: Jennie Vallangca is a student in Culinary Innovation and Food Technology at Niagara College. If she is not in the kitchen cooking or baking, she is either in fencing practice or cooking up a storm as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces as an army reserves cook.
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