It wasn’t a traditional schoolroom setting nor the usual lesson plan, but Sierra Passey and Bretteny Jensen learned a lot all the same.
The two Raymond High School (RHS) students, who were joined by a trio from Magrath High School, represented Westwind School Division at the 2014 Southwest Regional Skills Canada Competition at Lethbridge College.
The event is designed to showcase the talents of high school students in the areas of trades and technology and encourage them to consider a career in one of the 11 fields ranging from automotive to fashion, and hairstyling to welding. It is also a stepping-stone to provincial and national competitions.
It was the culinary arts skills of the two RHS students that were being measured. Faced with competing teams both older and more experienced, the Grade 10 classmates were just hoping to use the event as a learning experience.
One thing Passey quickly realized was the reality of those cutthroat cooking shows on television.
“I’d watched all those crazy cooking shows and it looked pretty intense. And (Cardston High School culinary instructor Jamie Moore, who provided some tips to the girls) had told us about this competition being crazy and intense, so me and Bretteny were just like, ‘let’s go in and see how it goes,’ ” she says. “It was a pretty stressful environment, but we just laughed about it and had a good time.”
Late entrants for the competition, Passey and Jensen worked non-stop to hone their skills and learn the recipes for the judged meal of Chicken Velouté, Spanish Rice Pilaf, Broccoli Florets, Maple-Glazed Carrots Batonnet and Apple Tart Tatin.
“They’ve deboned probably eight or nine chickens. They’ve practiced the recipes. They’ve timed themselves and had people come in and taste their meals,” said their RHS Foods teacher, Becky Rompain, as the competition began.
While Raymond High School students have competed in the Skills Canada regionals before, this was the school’s first entry in culinary arts. As such, Rompain was hoping her two charges might discover how much they could accomplish if they really pushed themselves. It was also an opportunity for them to consider whether cooking was something they might want to pursue further.
The team enjoyed the experience but it wasn’t enough to sway them from their preferred choice of careers. Passey wants to be either a veterinarian or a dermatologist, while Jensen is eyeing something math or psychology-related.
Jensen figures the experience was valuable all the same, however, and there are things she learned which will serve her well in the future.
Both she and Passey mentioned time management proved a particular challenge in the contest, as they attempted to have all their dishes prepared for one set time. Jensen also gained a better grasp on the importance of being properly prepared for whatever challenges she might face, and the need to keep an open mind as to the options available.
“I was like ‘oh, it’s just baking and not really my thing.’ But I had fun and it was a better experience than I thought it would be,” she says.
While it was a competition, there were many reminders of the real purpose behind the whole event. As Chef Steven Klassen of Lethbridge College wrapped up his orientation of the kitchen facilities, he had one last word of advise for the students before they started their prep work.
“If you have questions, ask us. This is a learning experience – we don’t want to set anyone up for failure,” he noted.
Over in the wood shop, meanwhile, cabinet making judge Chris Stinson could be seen giving Magrath’s Chelsea Venechuk some tips on the table saw.
In between such teaching opportunities he was looking for students who could demonstrate good, all-around knowledge of all the basic skills required, rather than someone who had just practised that one project over and over.
“You can see here who’s just skating by and doing the bare minimum and who is going above and beyond and trying to excel,” says Stinson, representing Upper Canada Forest Products, a supplier to shops across the country.
Leading the Magrath High School contingent in cabinet making was Rayne Bruised Head. After earning a gold in her first-ever competition in 2012, she won a bronze medal this year. Venechuk and schoolmate Tristan Killian were also competing,
Skills Canada does not release the results other than the medal winners.
The quality of the end product weighed heavily in each student’s evaluation, but judges – and potential employers – were also looking for a certain intangible.
“They want to see someone who is passionate about woodworking. You can teach them skills, but you can’t teach them that,” says Stinson.
The regional competition was a partnership between Skills Canada Alberta, Career Transitions and Lethbridge College.