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FoodGrads Podcast Ep 19: How to innovate and find your passion with Michelle Lang, Food Scientist

Welcome to episode 19 of the FoodGrads Podcast. The podcast where we explore careers in the food, beverage and hospitality industries. I’m your host Veronica Hislop, a molecular science graduate student and career partner with FoodGrads.

On this week’s podcast, I interviewed Michelle Lang, Food Scientist and soon to be graduate of Niagara College’s Culinary Innovation and Food Science, Product Development program. Not to mention a serial innovator who has ran a few of her own businesses.

In this episode, Michelle and I caught up with each other and talked about her career journey. We spent some time focused on her experience at Niagara College both as a student and teaching assistant during the pandemic, how being a TA is a really rewarding experience, how COVID has really changed the understandings of food safety, Michelle’s past projects and her hobby farm.

Overall, I really enjoyed speaking with Michelle she just has this rich sense of wisdom about life and you might not be able to tell but I was speechless at quite a few points in this conversation because so much of what she learned rang true to me and I didn’t quite know how to respond because she said it quite perfectly.

Show Notes

[3:00] Tell me more about your career story and why you choose to go to Niagara College for Culinary Innovation

  • Michelle has always been a food innovator even as a child
  • While working as a fruit cutter in a grocery store Michelle figured out that this wasn’t for her and a little after that decided to apply for Niagara College Culinary Innovation Program which matched her entrepreneurial spirit

[4:27] How does Niagara College combine school with entrepreneurial spirit?

  • Michelle worked with Dr. Amy Proux for support on working on innovator projects.
  • During Michelle’s first year developed a frozen dessert product and from that she started her own business with help from a grant in Hamilton

[5:52] How did you find this support from Hamilton? Did you put in an application?

  • Prior to this Michelle had already had business prior to this. So she knew that these programs existed so when applying for a second grant she already knew some of the key members on the teams so she could put her business plan together she was confident.

[7:00] How did you go about thinking to start a business?

  • She started by writing down her dream. Once Michelle knew what she wanted do and how it was just a matter of lacing up her boots and moving forward.
  • Developing key relationships even prior to starting the businesses

[8:15] Is your dream similar to what it was then?

  • It has evolved since then. Before Michelle was more concerned about building her own dream but now she is thinking about helping to build other people and where they want to be.
  • Trying to do things isolated is a much harder approach
  • This is part by creating a food facility to help them. There are so many opportunities that could be created with a facility like this especially with master’s students

[12:43] Michelle and I talk about Covid 19 affecting perceptions of food safety

Swiss Cheese Model

[17:22] What does a teaching assistant do in the Niagara College Culinary Innovation program?

  • Was able to work with a tenured chef and was able to see the program in a teachers perspective
  • Once student’s notice how a teacher does it they will adapt and follow it. So now Michelle’s sees new students replicating what she did despite never teaching them. This shows how fast you can change a generation

[19:46] Michelle talks about how she has been able to tailor her program what matches her dreams

Amy Proux nomination for the front line workers

[22:08] Could you tell me more about your hobby farm?

  • Michelle lives in the middle of the city. For her small city lot she has berry bushes, fruit trees and many seasonal plants. She now even has chickens
  • Michelle was shocked when asked that many kids don’t know where their food comes from (grocery store)

[26:00] Where should someone start if they want to start a hobby garden?

  • Start with what you like
  • Gardening isn’t as hard as people think because all you need is soil and water and the rest is extra. When you start growing a large amount that can be difficult but just start small. Even a small herb garden is enough

[31:00] Why is the food industry a good place to work?

  • There are so many good people along the way like the farmer or food tech. Seeing how people get with just a little bit of science
  • There is never a dull moment
  • If you want to learn there is something to learn and you can really become a master of something
  • Food is a language and everyone speaks it.

[36:12] If you could give any advice to students what would give?

  • Learn to stand up for yourselves for the experiences you do have
  • Find what lights your fire and just run with it.

[39:35] Where can people connect or find you?

  • LinkedIn
  • Email: YourFriendlyFoodScientist@gmail.com

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