Weekly pop-ups, a Christmas market, and more ticketed dining events than ever, are among a fresh batch of culinary service offerings at Niagara College, with the launch of a new academic division.
Expanded culinary offerings
The start of NC’s Fall term marked the launch of its new Culinary, Tourism and Beverage Studies division along with a new culinary service model that transcends the traditional.
With a variety of student-led culinary initiatives based entirely on academics, the College community and the public can get a taste of what students are producing in class – whether they’re picking up a takeout meal at a pop-up event, enjoying an a la carte lunch or five-course signature dinner at an on-campus venue, sampling student creations at an event or festival, and more.
Craig Youdale, dean of Culinary, Tourism and Beverage Studies, said that changes have been discussed for several years but when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect NC’s culinary operations more than two years ago, it became the perfect time to reimagine the future. The past two years have also created challenges for the culinary, beverage and hospitality industries, and the new model enhances the College’s ability to support recovery and growth in these key sectors of the Niagara economy.
“We had an opportunity to flip the script and create something new and better for our students, our community, and the industries we support,” said Youdale. “I think just restarting the old model would be a lost opportunity and this new student-first approach will continue to grow and develop.”
Benchmark – which had been closed since March 2020 – will transition from a traditional restaurant operation to a learning space and venue for a variety of ticketed lunch and dinner events and to support the Feed the Community program.
Weekly culinary pop-ups featuring food and products made by students in their culinary labs – from meals ready to enjoy or packaged for take-out – will become a prominent fixture of the Hospitality wing lobby each Friday. Upcoming pop-ups include food truck themed fare (September 16); chicken/plant-based menu (September 23); stews, soups, schnitzel, fries and pork sandwiches (September 30); salmon dinner, fish (October 7); and five-course dinner (November 25 and December 2).
Guests can whet their appetite for ticketed student-led signature culinary events (October 21 and December 16), student-led dinners, Project Brew (December 2002) and a Traditional Christmas Market (November 26).
The division will also expand on the Feed the Community program, giving more students a chance to help those in need while ensuring that no food goes to waste from NC’s academic programs. Culinary students are preparing and packaging 300 meals per week for delivery to local food banks and shelters.
“This new model creates increased opportunities to connect students with the community through work with agencies and charities, allowing students to put the skills and knowledge gained in classes and labs to work while learning important lessons in social responsibility,” said Youdale.
On September 9, a class of second-year Culinary Management students prepared vegan take-home meals for NC’s first culinary pop-up of the term which drew a lineup to the first pop-up at noon that same day. Food preparation took place in a newly introduced Contemporary Food Production course that morning.
“This course has a real food service industry applied feeling, timing, standards, accuracy, pressure, and repetition; alongside guest’s comments, critics and gratification,” said chef professor Olaf Mertens. “It’s real industry standards played out within our College kitchens with real guests and many opportunities for guest feedback and interaction.”
Chef Mertens noted that he is ecstatic about new model and launch of new courses that equip students with experience in mass food production and repetitive skills work. Students will continue to practice French culinary cookery every week in the course while continuing to produce a ‘planted cuisine’ duplicate.
“Students elevate from cooking recipes to production, all while serving, feeding all people in our NC community and food insecurities within our Niagara neighborhoods,” said Mertens.
Students were excited about the experience they were gaining in the new course and that food they are preparing in class will be featured at a culinary pop-ups and other events.
“Last year, we were preparing food, but this semester we are also presenting those skills to an audience … that’s what hospitality is all about,” said Bollar Thakar, who is originally from India and currently lives in Niagara Falls. “We are now preparing food for larger number of people and cooking a larger amount, but we still have to maintain our skills and still have to maintain all the protocols in the kitchen – cleaning, hygiene, sanitizing everything.”
“I had very limited experience with vegan cuisine because I’m not a vegan myself, so everything was new to me, but it’s always nice working with new ingredients … it follows the current trends with more people eating sustainable food,” said Affran Zaman, who is originally from Bangladesh and currently lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “This course makes it exciting – to work in a real kitchen and gain hands-on experience. This is more like the real world.”
Dean Youdale is looking forward to even more initiatives in the works for Winter 2023 term, including a plan to expand culinary service offerings beyond the division’s location at the Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Welland Campus, and to involve more program areas from across the College in the future.
“This is only beginning,” he said. “We look forward to this new model creating not only opportunities for our students, but also a chance for the community to connect to what our students are capable of.”
The new Culinary, Tourism and Beverage Studies division, includes three distinct schools of study for the first time: Culinary Arts; Wine, Beer and Spirits; and Hospitality and Tourism – replacing the former Canadian Food and Wine Institute. The new division is poised to spark new synergies between programs and fresh opportunities for students and the community.
Hospitality and Tourism professors Janet Jakosbsen and Stephen Carroll applauded the announcement of the new division and the possibilities it will bring.
“This structure is in perfect alignment with our industry stakeholders and as such we can capitalize on expanding our experiential learning opportunities and bring more value to our students, NC and our industry partners,” said Jakobsen.
“I believe, years down the road from now, NC Hospitality and Tourism School members will look back on this exciting ‘joining of forces’ as the catalyst and launch pad for new growth, prosperity, alignment and collaboration among the united NC Culinary, Tourism and Beverage Studies division,” said Carroll.
NC culinary services are open to the College community and guests. Pop-up meals will be available on Fridays at noon in limited quantities, on a first-come, first-served basis, in the Hospitality wing lobby, at the Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Find out what’s next on the menu, and get the latest information about upcoming pop-ups, festivals and ticketed dining events at niagaracollege.ca/culinaryarts/culinaryservices/.
Visit NC Culinary Foodservice on Facebook @BenchmarkatNC and @ncculinaryfoodservice on Instagram for updates.
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 niagaracollege.ca.
A group of second-year Culinary Management students deliver vegan meals, which they prepared in class on the morning of September 9, for the College’s first culinary pop-up in the hospitality wing. Pop-ups will occur weekly at the Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake over the Fall term.
Michael Kim, Diego Naranjo, Jin Choi, and Arran Zaman present their plated vegan meals to their chef professors in their Contemporary Food Production Course on Sept. 9. Meals from their class were ready just in time for a culinary pop-up takeout event at noon the same day.