HomeNewsPress ReleasesNiagara College coordinator Chef Catherine O’Donnell hand-picked as juror for World Chocolate Masters

Niagara College coordinator Chef Catherine O’Donnell hand-picked as juror for World Chocolate Masters

Niagara Falls, Ont. – Award-winning chef and Niagara College baking and pastry arts program coordinator Catherine O’Donnell has been selected as a juror for the World Chocolate Masters competition at the Chocolate Academy in Montreal in late May. Along with other leaders in the industry, O’Donnell will review, taste and assess the competitors’ creations.

Checking email is like a box of chocolates-for baking and pastry arts program coordinator Catherine O’Donnell – and on a day in mid-January she received the sweetest surprise.

O’Donnell learned that she had been selected as a juror for the World Chocolate Masters and she didn’t even know she was being considered for the honour.

“I was truly shocked. It’s a dream come true,” said O’Donnell, who enjoys both eating and working with chocolate. “I watch the World Chocolate Masters every year but, when I decided to become a judge, I didn’t think that was even in the equation for someone like me.”

In late May, O’Donnell will travel to the Chocolate Academy in Montreal to participate as a juror in the North America pre-selection for the World Chocolate Masters. The jury for the North American Selection consists of leaders in the industry, known for the contribution to the pastry and confectionery industry. These experts will review, taste and assess all creations.

O’Donnell was chosen as one of five jurors—and the only woman – among the distinguished judges for this event including Olivier Tribut (Canada), Michel Ernots (U.S.A), John Kraus(U.S.A.) and president of the jury Yvan Chevalier (France).

“Catherine O’Donnell’s selection as a judge signifies our commitment to diversity and excellence in the culinary world. As the only female chef on the panel, Catherine brings a unique perspective and expertise that enriches the evaluation process,” said Laurence Torcherie, Chocolate Academy Project Coordinator – Montréal. “Catherine embodies unparalleled dedication, with a career coaching and judging top pastry chefs worldwide. Her diverse roles as a business owner, professor, mentor, and coach underscore her unwavering commitment to excellence.

“Catherine’s title as Pastry Judge A, bestowed by the World Association of Chefs, highlights her remarkable contributions to the culinary world.”

National selections for the World Chocolate Masters for Canada and the United States will take place on May 29 to 30, 2024 in Montreal ahead of the world final in 2025.

Catherine O’Donnell guides NC Baking and Pastry Arts in chocolate flower-making at NC’s Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, home of the College’s School of Culinary Arts. Photo: Niagara College Canada

O’Donnell, who has been teaching at Niagara College since 2015 and is currently Professor and Program Coordinator of NC’s Baking and Pastry Arts program, has been making her mark as a world-class pastry chef in Nagara and beyond.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake resident is widely known as the talent behind Willow Cakes and Pastries. She is well known for creating exquisite wedding cakes, providing delicious desserts to the area’s finest restaurants, and offering a selection of unique breads and delectable cakes and pastries.

She has worked as Pastry Chef in Toronto for Oliver-and Bonacini, the King Edward Hotel, and in Niagara for the Vintage Hotels, Hillebrand’s Vineyard Café, and Peller Estates Winery Restaurant.

Just a couple of years ago, O’Donnell was one of just five chefs inducted into the Canadian Culinary Federation Honour Society during the Federation’s national conference in Saskatoon and one of few women to hold the esteemed title Pastry Chef A.

In 2016, O’Donnell was part of the coaching crew behind Junior Culinary Team Canada , which captured a gold and silver medal at the Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany. She also coached the senior team.

Later, she earned the title of Certified International Judge from the World Association of Chefs’ Societies, recognizing her as a senior-level culinary professional with advanced judging experience.

Despite her accomplishments, O’Donnell doesn’t consider herself to be among the world’s elite pastry chefs. Even with a successful career spanning more than 40 years, she has seen how both women and pastry chefs can be overlooked in the industry.

“Nobody ever knows the pastry chef at a restaurant, male or female,” she said. “But behind every great chef is a great pastry chef.”

O’Donnell is currently writing a book which sheds light on the life of a pastry chef that the public rarely sees.

“People don’t realize how hard we work. Every holiday,” she said. “They don’t see what we sacrifice and what our kids sacrifice.”

These days, O’Donnell is as passionate about teaching as she is about baking and the pastry arts.

“You get to teach somebody what you love to and make a difference in their lives,” she said. “It doesn’t get better than that

“Chef Catherine has dedicated a lot of time and effort to become a top level international judge and its exciting she can share her expertise with future chocolate champions,” said Craig Youdale, Dean of NC’s Culinary, Tourism and Beverage Studies division. “Having one of our faculty involved in the judging of such a prestigious event is a testament to the quality and dedication of our faculty.”

O’Donnell hopes to inspire her students so they may someday enter a global competition like the World Chocolate Masters.

“I think this will open doors for other women in Canada to actually see that they can get there,” she said.


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