Jordan LeBel, who began working in kitchens when he was 12 years old, was destined to be a chef. But his parents weren’t so sure. They persuaded him to take a hospitality management course instead, putting him on a career track that would include restaurant reviewer, author, and a renowned chocolate expert who colleagues and students call Dr. Chocolate.
Now LeBel, 44, teaches Concordia’s highly popular, one-of-a-kind food marketing class, where he shares his passion with students. It’s his enthusiasm for his subject—consumer psychology and the pleasure of food—that makes him a favourite among students and one of 10 3M National Teaching Fellows for 2013.
“There is just so much to learn about it from so many different angles,” says LeBel. “I want to open people’s eyes and teach them everything they can learn about food.”
After getting his master’s degree in marketing from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., LeBel taught in Norway. He joined the faculty at Montreal’s Concordia University in 2000 after receiving his Ph.D. from McGill with a thesis about the relationship between pleasure and the consumption of chocolate.
As a professor, LeBel says his first priority is to energize his students. One method he favours is to have small groups take over the first 10 minutes of class to talk about something “hot and new” in the world of marketing.
“It’s a good way for me to take a pulse on what they notice, and often someone will come up with something that I can use to relate that week’s material and make a connection. I’m always looking for a level where I can make a connection and relate to them,” he says.
LeBel also tries to maintain an innovative approach toward class assignments, balancing the necessary exams with more practical and engaging activities. For the past few years he has assigned a term-long group project that concludes with marketing presentations to executives from Canadian food companies. These are among some of LeBel’s proudest moments.
“Last semester I had tears. A few of the teams just hit the nail on the head. I’d put their presentations against any marketing agency in Montreal or Canada.”
It’s seeing his students achieve that makes it easy for LeBel to put teaching first. “We get a lot of pressure to focus on research and it’s very easy to let teaching become something you have to do, but I look at it the other way,” he says. “I learn as much from the students as they do from me. When you approach it like that, a certain magic sets in.”
LeBel looks beyond grades when it comes to his students, which helps him connect on a more personal level. “The point I try to convey to students is that they’re still a human being,” says LeBel. “We’re shaping young minds. They’re individuals and you have to try to relate to them at their level.”
While the fellowship came as a surprise to LeBel, he couldn’t be more grateful. He credits his past professors for inspiring a love of teaching, and his students for challenging him to improve every day.
“It makes me feel like I must be doing something right. I am ecstatic and quite humbled to join in the ranks.”