Turns out, you can be both a Food Scientist AND a Cook: A Personal Essay

            This has been a long time but looking back at my very first blog post with FoodGrads, I remember saying that I’m not going to be a cook. Well about that…

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            Fast forward to 2020, COVID-19 is hitting the Earth hard, everyone is wearing masks, and everything is going sideways, upside down and all over the place. Virtual schools are happening and did I mention that the class of 2020’s convocation was all online? Yes, this includes yours truly whose class went through a five-week provincial strike between October and November 2017 and graduated in the beginning of the pandemic. I decided to take that leap of faith and move to a different city for two reasons: 1) to start my new chapter of life by moving elsewhere and 2) I got a job. Pre-pandemic, I was set to move to work for a big name company as a junior product developer and suddenly, it was gone. Of course, I had to be resilient and decided to take on another job…or rather two jobs.

            I took up a part-time internship for a beverage company as a Quality Assurance specialist and was head hunted as a line cook. Before you know it, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my parents and headed out West to Calgary. I had never thought that I would be going back to a restaurant kitchen, especially as a new food science graduate. As I work these two jobs, I realized a few things:

  • Take it as an opportunity to have multiple lenses in the industry. Having only one perspective in the food/beverage industry is one thing, but seeing it as a cook, food scientist, quality assurance/control, farmer, food safety, agriculture, etc. is completely different from one another. There are things that are interconnecting and having multiple perspectives can help you be a better member of the industry.
  • This is just a step towards my goal. My main goal(s) career-wise is to become a food science consultant. Mentioning the previous point, that means I need as many experiences as I can with multiple lenses. Working alongside small businesses gives me joy as seeing them succeed and knowing that I contributed to their success is a great feeling. I need to make sure that I have the knowledge to ensure that prospective clients are given the right advice and that I am fully confident on it. Another main goal is research, which leads me to my next point.
  • Constant learning is evident. I love research; plain and simple. Even as I do quality assurance and being a line cook, I’m constantly learning new things. I’m also honing other abilities and start to shape what I want to do. Doing either applied or academic research gives me the realization that this could potentially make a huge impact in the industry and just like helping small businesses, it gives me joy. Whether it be researching new trends to new processes and sustainable food systems to learning new dishes, I am always in a quest for knowledge.
  • If you have more than one ability, use it. Don’t just be a one-trick pony, sometimes you may not be able to do that one thing you’re good at. Have more than one ability that is transferable. Often times, especially when you’re a recent graduate you don’t always get your “dream job” right after school. There are times that you have to adapt and do another job until you get that ‘perfect’ job. For instance, I thought I would go straight to research and development but then suddenly I’m not only doing quality assurance/quality control, but also food-service. One day, I’m doing technical writing and content writing the next day. But because of my diverse skillsets, I can able to adapt and still get the job done.

Overall, I can say that originally I didn’t want to become a cook but everything happens for a reason. It just so happens that these opportunities were there and I took it. Recent graduates knows the pain of trying to find a job in their field of study, but it is even more difficult during a pandemic. All I can say is that I guess I’m lucky…for now.

About the Author: Jennie Vallangca is a recent graduate of the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program at Niagara College. She is currently working in the industry as a Quality Assurance/Quality Control Specialist on a part-time internship and as a line cook. She is working towards her goal as a food science consultant making her mark in Western Canada, as well as a researcher. She will constantly talk about food to anyone and will not apologize for making them hungry.

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