We are excited to announce the judges for our 19th 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.
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
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.
Darlene & Brian
Hosts of Giant Mornings on 91.7 Giant FM
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Darlene is one half of the morning team on Classic Rock 91.7 Giant FM. The 25-year radio veteran hails from the Wild West of Alberta and has graced the airwaves across Canada. She now calls Niagara home, loves to hike in the Escarpment and is very fond of the grapes here. Join the fun on Giant Mornings with Darlene & Brian Monday-Friday 6AM-9AM.
Brian Salmon - With 40 years of experience in radio announcing, Brian has recently delighted listeners on the Giant FM morning show and the midday show on Country 89. He is a proud, contributing and creative member of the MBC team who enjoys connecting with artists, charities, businesses and communities throughout the Niagara region. As a sought after emcee, Brian introduced many acts including, Alabama, Ronny Milsap, Blue Rodeo, Trooper, Nazareth, Bachman and Cummings, Brass Transit, The Caverners, Kim Mitchell, April Wine and David Wilcox, just to name a few.
When not behind the microphone, Brian likes to kick back and relax with his wife Jenn and two step kids, Lexi and Kalam. He also enjoys following his favourite football (soccer) team, Manchester City!! Brian is an award winning baritone soloist as well.
Television Broadcaster (yourtv.tv/Niagara) and freelance newspaper reporter (notllocal.com)
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With a background in radio and television, Mike Balsom has been covering news and events across the Niagara Region for more than 35 years. He loves to cover sports and entertainment, and to reveal the fascinating back-stories of so many of the amazing people he meets in town.
Executive Chef, Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery
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A Canadian-born chef and author (Cooks Book), John has been working in Southern Ontario’s best kitchens for the past 17 years. After completing culinary school at George Brown College, he earned an international post-graduate diploma from Alma – one of Italy’s most prestigious culinary schools. He received further training at Locanda Della Tamerici – a Michelin star restaurant in Luni Mare, Liguria, Italy. In 2014 he and his wife moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake in search of new business ventures.
In 2015, the pair received a nomination for Niagara’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year award and notable mention in The New York Times for the establishment and success of The Norton Underground – a secret society of ‘pop-up’ style dinners held in unique locations around Niagara-on-the-Lake. In his most recent restaurant opening in 2018, Brushfire Smoke BBQ reached critical acclaim of CBC’s food and travel writer Suresh Doss, producing some of the finest BBQ in the Niagara Region.