Chef Olaf Mertens to make his Niagara debut at Chef Signature Series event

Chef Olaf Mertens to make his Niagara debut at Chef Signature Series
event March 6.

Chef Olaf Mertens to make his Niagara debut at Chef Signature Series event March 6.

He may be well known in the GTA, but on March 6, Olaf Mertens is planning to win over the hearts and palettes of Niagara residents for the first time.

The chef professor’s dinner event is part of the recently-launched Chef Signature Series, designed to showcase the top culinary talent at Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute.

Through a four-course dinner, guests will experience the contemporary German-Canadian cuisine that chef Mertens has been celebrated for, as well as a dash of his personality - daring, over-the-top and full of surprises. Who else would attempt cooking soufflé for 80 guests?

As well as pampering his guests with a carefully-planned meal, as well as many little extras to take home in true German tradition, Mertens plans to honour two special guests with whom has worked closely in his career - Rob Lussier of & Company Resto Bar in Mississauga and Alex White, executive sous-chef at Richmond Station in Toronto.

Before joining Niagara College as chef professor in 2010, Mertens was executive chef and co-founder/owner of HIP Restaurants in Mississauga, including its three locations: On the Curve Hot Stone and Wine Bar, Ten Restaurant and Wine Bar, and West 50 Pourhouse and Grill, as well as Catering from the HIP. His previous work at Rogues Restaurant in Mississauga led it to be awarded among Canada’s Top 40 Restaurants.

Mertens completed his culinary apprenticeship at some of the finest restaurants in Germany and Budapest, and achieved Master Chef Designation through the grueling Kuchenmeister course in Germany.

Mertens has appeared on Food Network programs including Fresh, Summers Best, as well as on other television and radio programs, and has two cookbooks - Cooking from the HIP and Olaf’s Kitchen: A Master Chef Shares his Passion.

In his most recent role as chef professor at NC's Canadian Food and Wine Institute, Mertens is reveling in his return to the kitchen. His new passion is sharing his expertise with culinary students, along with his unbridled enthusiasm for winning over guests through their taste buds which will undoubtedly shine through at his Signature Series Event.

About the Chef Signature Series

The Chef Signature Series is comprised of six dinner events - each will showcase a different CFWI chef professor. Guests will be served a four-course meal of signature dishes prepared by the featured chef, assisted by a team of culinary students. Each course will be matched with VQA wines or Ontario craft beer, including selections crafted by students at NC’s Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery. All of this will take place at Benchmark, the College’s Teaching Restaurant located at NC’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus.

“It is important for the Canadian Food and Wine Institute to be able

to display the national-level culinary talent we have in both our

professors and students, and what better way to do that than to have six of our professional culinary staff bring together a student team and showcase the best of all their skills to the public,” said dean of the CFWI Jon Ogryzlo. “I expect to see exceptional dishes and fun nights as the chef professors educate us about their selections and unique taste profiles.”


The events also provide new learning experiences for students who have an opportunity to work closely with the chefs for the event.


Mertens’ event will be the second to be held as part of the series,

which each showcase the unique talents and expertise of a different CFWI professor. The series kicked off with Mark Picone on Feb. 7, and will continue with Osvaldo Avila (March 22), Tony de Luca (Apr. 4), Avi Hollo (April 25) and Michael Olson (May 9).

The Canadian Food and Wine Institute, located on Niagara College's Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus, is the College’s centre for food wine and beer education. The CFWI delivers culinary, wine and beer programs that are unique in Canada, including Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management, Wine Technology, Wine Business Management and Culinary

Innovation and Food Technology. It is home to Benchmark, the College’s teaching restaurant, as well as the Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery.

Niagara College offers more than 100 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs at campuses in Welland, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Niagara Falls; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Continuing Education courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, horticulture and esthetics.

For more information visit

A profile of the chefs

Mark Picone

With his grandparents emigrating from Italy in the early 1900s and consequently establishing Picone Fine Food in Dundas, Ontario, Mark was inspired to obtain his degree in hotel and food administration from the University of Guelph in 1986.

Mark’s Italian family of food purveyors gave him an early start in culinary appreciation. He trained in a variety of restaurants across Ontario before working abroad in France (Trianon Palace in Versailles, Perraudin in Biarritz, Chez Chamille in Burgundy) and Italy (Antica Dolceria Bonajuto in Modica, Ristorante Tivoli in Cortina, Risorante Arnolfo in Colle di Val d’Elsa) for six years. Upon his return to Canada in 1996, he was hired by John Howard to head up his new venture where Mark became a pioneer of culinary excellence in Niagara and secured his Certified Chef de Cuisine designation in 1999, with many decorations to follow.

Chef Picone has been the recipient of many awards and accolades including multiple AAA/CAA 4-Diamond Awards, Fellowship in the Hostelry Institute and DiRoNa recognition. Although a rare distinction outside of Europe, Mark was appointed to the Order of Professional Italian Restaurateurs in 2002 as a result of bringing Italian culinary standards to a new level. Mark has also been featured on various Food Network programs and accepted an invitation to be a guest chef at the James Beard Foundation in New York.

Mark has become known for his uncompromising passion for excellence and his deep respect and commitment to the local Niagara purveyors. Working closely with them, he develops menus based on farm fresh ingredients often highlighting and promoting his purveyors on each of his custom created menus. In an environmental effort Mark Picone Culinary Studio is also a Bullfrog powered property.

Currently Mark Picone is a Chef Professor at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute and member of Slow Food Canada.

Olaf Mertens

From childhood summers in Germany stirring his Oma's giant pots to washing pots for other chefs, Olaf Mertens always wanted to be a chef. He left his lifelong home in Canada for Germany at 18, starting a culinary apprenticeship that led him to cooking in some of the finest restaurants in Berlin and Budapest. One of the highlights for Olaf, was being a part of helping a grand five-star hotel celebrate Berlin's 750th birthday. He earned the honour of Top Skilled Apprentice for the Class of 1989 and was awarded Berlin's Apprentice of the Year in 1989.

Upon returning to Canada, he spent the next eight years at Rogues Restaurant in Mississauga, Ontario, leading it to be awarded one of Canada's Top 40 Restaurants. He returned to Germany where he successfully completed the gruelling Kuchenmeister course (a Master Chef Designation) in the Steigenberger Hotelier School in Bavaria. As Captain of Team Canada in international competitions, he led a talented team of chefs to compete for two consecutive silver medals in Limerick, Ireland and Dallas, Texas.

For the next 10 years he put his heart and soul into being the Executive Chef and Co-Founder/Owner of Hip Restaurants and its three Mississauga restaurants; On the Curve Hot Stone and Wine Bar, Ten Restaurant & Wine Bar and West 50 Pourhouse and Grill, as well as his catering division, Catering ... from the HIP.

His experiences have led him to where you can find him now, as Chef/Professor at Niagara College's innovative new Canadian Food and Wine Institute. When he's not cooking up a storm, he is at home with his wife Jennifer and his three sons, Nicolas, Taylor and Owen.

Olaf has had appearances on the Food Network including Fresh, Summers Best, and guest chef spots on other television and radio broadcasts. His cook books are Cooking from the Hip and Olaf's Kitchen: A Master Chef Shares His Passion.

Osvaldo Avila

Osvaldo Avila was born in Havana, Cuba in 1974. In 1995, he graduated from Sergio Perez College from the Technical Culinary Arts Program. Following his graduation, he proceeded to work at such renowned places as the Hotel Melia Cohiba, Morro Cabaña Resort, and the Tocororo Restaurant where he honed his culinary skills and expertise in various international cuisines.

In 1998 he was presented with the opportunity of travelling to Spain where he attended the University of Saint Paul de Mar for post-graduate courses. His academic travels continued onward to Niagara College in Canada and then to the University of Mexico in Mexico City. Upon his return to Cuba, Osvaldo worked in the Japanese Embassy in Havana. During this time, he also cooked for various international personalities such as Fidel Castro, Gabriel Garcia Marques and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

In 2002, he came to Canada and since then has become a Canadian citizen. He started his career in Canada at Casino Niagara and the Fallsview Casino and Resort since its opening in 2004. In 2008, Osvaldo joined NC as a part-time teacher and sous chef at Benchmark restaurant.

Osvaldo’s flair for bringing the creative aspect to the culinary arts continues to flourish as he introduces the North American culture to the warmth and passion of Cuban cuisine.

Tony de Luca

Tony considers himself blessed to have worked alongside some remarkable people in some beautiful locations, during his 30 plus years in the hospitality business.

From the very beginning, learning his family heritage recipes by his mother's side in their family’s humble Trattoria, cooking was in his soul.

“What can you say about a profession in which one’s very nature is defined?” he says. “My friends, my family, my travels my highs and my lows are all built on the foundations of hospitality which in many ways has defined my life.”

Tony has worked in the United States (Jean -Louis at the Watergate Hotel and The Inn at Little Washington), France (Troisgros), England (The Chewton Glenn), Germany (Hotel Bayerischer Hof) and Italy (La Ginestra).

In 1996, he became opening chef of Hillebrand Estates Winery Restaurant in the Niagara region. He worked Chef de Cuisine, Epcot International Food and Wine Exposition, in 1999 and 2000.

He was the owner of de Luca's Cheesemarket and Deli, de Luca's Wine Country Restaurant and The Old Winery Restaurant.

Tony has published two cookbooks: Recipes from Wine Country (2005) and Simply in Season (2009) both from Whitecap Books. He has also had numerous TV appearances on Food Network Canada.

He has been a Chef Professor at Niagara College since August 2011.

Avi Hollo

Born in Istanbul, Turkey; Avi Hollo discovered his life’s passion of food at an early age. Alongside his family, who also shared his passion, the most memorable times in his life were spent around a dining room table.

A graduate of Niagara College’s Culinary Skills program, Avi apprenticed at the prestigious, Gate House Hotel Ristorante Giardino, in Niagara-On-The-Lake. In 1999, he was chosen by the Italian Trade Commission and travelled to Emilia-Romagna region of Italy as one of Canada’s chef representatives. In 2002, he successfully completed his Certified Chef de Cuisine certification and for the next 10 years continued to work around the Niagara Region’s best hotels and restaurants. In 2003, he opened the signature restaurant of Niagara Fallsview Casino and resort, 17 Noir, where he became Chef de Cuisine. In 2007, Avi joined Niagara College as chef professor, where he shares his life’s passion with his students.

Michael Olson

Known as the ‘father of Niagara’s regional cuisine’ Michael is widely recognized as the pioneer of the Niagara’s farm-to-table food movement and promoter of Canadian cuisine.

Before arriving in Niagara, Michael worked in quality restaurants including Coco Lezonne and the Liberty in Toronto and Navy Blues in Oakville. In the Niagara region, he worked at Inn On The Twenty, the first full-service winery restaurant in Canada, and 17 Noir at the Fallsview Casino.

He is co-author of Inn on the Twenty Cookbook and Cook at Home with his wife Anna Olson. Both books are Canadian bestsellers and winners of Cuisine Canada Cookbook awards.

Michael is a Fellow of Ontario Hostelry Institute and recipient of Independent Restaurateur, Educator of the Year and Lifetime Achievement awards through the OHI.

His television experience includes Fresh with Anna Olson and Canada in the Rough. Michael writes a food column for the St. Catharines Standard, Taps Magazine and is also an amateur photographer. He is an active participant in several charitable causes in the Niagara region

Michael has been Niagara College faculty for 12 years, and is the previous recipient of the NC Award of Excellence for faculty.

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