Empty Bowls Judges

We are excited to announce the judges for our 18th Anniversary of Empty Bowls fundraiser. Our judges have the important task of choosing the winner of the Platinum Ladle Award for the best soup! Read their bios below to learn more.

Mark Perkins

Chief Operating Officer, FirstOntario Credit Union

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    Chief Operating Officer, Mark Perkins, oversees the Business Banking Group, Retail banking and Alternative Delivery Channels, including responsibility for the Dealer Centre, Mortgage Broker, Digital Services and Creative Arts Financial division of FirstOntario. Mark has worked in the financial industry for over twenty years. He has been with FirstOntario since 2012 and has extensive experience in business process improvement, project management, change management, product management, commercial sales, credit adjudication, risk management and syndication. He spent six years in consulting and technology roles, followed by 15 years in increasing senior commercial sales and credit roles. Mark holds an honours degree in economics from McMaster University and is involved with a number of local charities focused on improving the lives and safety of individuals within the FirstOntario footprint.
Catherine O'Donnell, Empty Bowls Fundraiser Judge

Pastry Chef Catherine O'Donnell

Owner, Willow Cakes & Pastries in Niagara-on-the-Lake

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    From humble beginnings she has successfully lead restaurants and wineries to notoriety and excellence through her food. Recently (for the past number of years) she has been a professor and now Program Coordinator of Pastry at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake. She is also the Founder and Owner of Willow Cakes & Pastries, which is a community staple for the last 17 years, located just outside of downtown Old Town Niagara-on-the-Lake. As if this wasn’t enough, she has also gone through and succeeded in the training of becoming a World Judge of Pastry, which sends her all over the world judging the best of the best in her field and expertise. 

Chef Craig Youdale, Empty Bowls Fundraiser Judge

Chef Craig Youdale

Dean, Niagara Food & Wine Institute Niagara College

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    Chef Craig Youdale hails from our Ottawa where he began his culinary career. His journey began in restaurants in our nations capital that led to becoming an apprentice at the prestigious Chateau Laurier in Ottawa launching his full-time career in food.

    The next chapter led to further roles as Chef in many restaurants across the nation for over a decade. This all culminated to launch his career in education in 1995 at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Prince Edward Island. Craig managed to complete his MBA at Guelph University, teach culinary students in Sichuan, China, and promote Canadian cuisine across the globe in Japan, Chile, Germany, France, UK and USA. His dedication to the highest standards led him to manage and mentor our National Junior Culinary Team to 3 Culinary Olympics and 5 World Championships garnering 3 Olympic Gold Medals and a World Championship in Glasgow in 2007.

    Craig came to Niagara College in 2009 as the Associate Dean and soon become the Dean of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute in 2013. In that time, he has overseen the launching of programs in Baking Pastry, Culinary Innovation and Food Technology, Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management, and most recently the new Artisan Distilling program.

    The Ontario Hostelry Institute recently honoured Craig with its Gold Medal in Education for 2017 as well as the winning the 2018 Spirit of Niagara Award in Hospitality for his contribution to the Niagara region. His dedication to culinary world in Canada led him to be named to the Honour Society of the Canadian Culinary Federation in 2018 and the Academy of Chefs for the American Culinary Federation in 2019.

Chef John Higgins, Empty Bowls Fundraiser Judge

Chef Ross Midgely

The Riverbend Inn & Vineyard

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    Raised in Prince Edward Island, Ross grew up around honest hospitality. His mother absolutely hated cooking but was, nonetheless, a consummate entertainer and from a young age he learned the intricacies of hosting a good party. He likes to refer to himself as a ‘born-again Chef’, having turned to the stoves after a couple of university degrees and stints in teaching, small business and banking. In 1996 he returned to his Charlottetown home to study at The Culinary Institute of Canada and has never looked back.

    Soon after graduation, Ross moved to Niagara where he has worked in many of the area’s most renowned kitchens, holding the Executive Chef role in several. Currently he is the Executive Chef for the historic Riverbend Inn and Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

    Chef Midgley loves the full-service integration of food and lifestyle a boutique Inn affords, having spent months on ‘stage’ in Hampshire, England at the idyllic Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa. The acquisition and relaunch of The Riverbend Inn by Andrew Peller Limited is also a sort of homecoming for him as he was sous chef of our sister property, Trius/Hillebrand Estates from 2001-2005.

    Motivated by all things ‘entertainment’, Ross is always on a quest for how to throw an even better party. When he is not cooking, he dreams of one day rock and roll stardom with his band, The Hopyards.

Darlene & Geoff

Host of the River Breakfast, 105-1 The River

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    Darlene is from the Wild West of Alberta, and she certainly has some wild stories to share.  She’s a 20-year broadcasting veteran who has held the mic in her hometown province, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and now Ontario. She and her partner have always wanted to settle in the thriving metropolis of Niagara Falls which they now call home. She says she needs to be near the grapes…they apparently talk to her. Darlene’s favorite things are the vino of course, spa days, beaches, great food, music, and big laughs.

    Geoff is originally from the Hamilton area and decided out of high school to go to Mohawk College for the radio program.  As a little gaffer growing up in Binbrook, he would be listening to the radio, and be intrigued by the mystique of what was coming out of the speaker, and pictured what was happening behind the scene. Beside being in radio, he also drove a transport truck for a number of years, throughout the US, but eventually the lure of a radio station drew him back to the mic. He's worked at stations in Hamilton, the Niagara Region and most recently spent a number of years in Thunder Bay. Geoff is happy to be back in the area, and working with the gang at The River and More FM.

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