Culinary technologist’s creativity and problem-solving skills help Food Innovation and Research Studio make pandemic pivot

FIRSt Culinary Technologist Candace Rambert

Culinary Technologist Candace Rambert’s passion for problem solving moves her clients’ food and beverage ideas from the lab to store shelves. It also helped George Brown College’s Food Innovation and Research Studio (FIRSt) meet the challenges posed by COVID-19. 

FIRSt offers a range of services for businesses, including new product development, recipe development, sensory analysis, and nutritional analysis and labelling. Effective communication between FIRSt researchers and clients is essential, and when pandemic public health protocols put an end to in-person consultations Candace got creative. 

“We’re used to building relationships with clients when they come into the lab. They want to talk to us and they're eager to get their project started and see the process and the equipment,” she said. 

The FIRSt facilities were closed for the first two months of the pandemic, and Candace said it was a challenge getting back up to speed when things reopened under new public health guidelines, particularly when it came to tastings with clients. 

Candace created virtual tasting sessions. She ships products in various stages of development to clients who then provide feedback via video conference. Virtual sessions can include a shipped product or a recipe. Recently, Candace provided FIRSt-developed recipes to the client who then made them at home.  

“It was more time for us, but I think they had a lot of fun doing it at home,” she said.  

The virtual tastings may have staying power post-pandemic depending on the product. Candace said they could be a good option for clients far from the city. 

Candace began working with FIRSt after she graduated from the Chef School and went on to become a full-time culinary technologist. In 2015, the Ontario Hostelry Institute named Candace one of its Top 30 Under 30. She said she loves rising to the challenges of food research. 

“People are getting more innovative and inventive, and they want to be first to market,” she said. “It’s not enough to be a lower-sugar version or a better-tasting version of an existing product. Now it’s how can I stand apart? And that’s exciting.” 

Candace has had great success working with businesses to help them commercialize new products, and she also works with health organizations and community groups. She was the principal investigator on a project with SickKids to develop inexpensive ketogenic meal plans for the families of children with epilepsy. She has developed recipes for other groups with the goals of reducing childhood obesity, improving food literacy, and reducing food waste. 

"What I love about research is that I get to keep asking why," she said. “I’ve been at FIRSt for a long time and no day has ever been the same because there are different products, different companies and different needs, which always keeps me on my toes and keeps my brain going.”