Bakers Journal

Features Business and Operations
Why it’s Important to Compete


December 5, 2007
By Victoria German

Topics

There are many great competitions out there today for industry members
looking to challenge their expertise in the fields of baking…

20There are many great competitions out there today for industry members looking to challenge their expertise in the fields of baking, pastry and chocolate work. Some competitions will test all of the above at the same time.

Some are local, and invite talent from our own backyard. And then there are the national and international events for more experienced competitors.

As instructors or mentors with a passion for improving our skills, an interest in testing our abilities and a desire to grow our industry, we must plant the “competing” seed in up-and-coming talent. We must first ensure that students and apprentices are exposed to the environment. Assisting professionals as they compete, or even watching competitions, is great inspiration. The Food Network is also a great source: whether it be broadcasts of the World Pastry Cup, wedding cake competitions, or the Iron Chef, these shows lead to great excitement and discussion. Many industry magazines also have great coverage of local and international competitions. Establishments that host Chaîne dinners are also an opportunity to see pastry chefs shine. These dinners are a true test of skills, with the food critiqued by experts in the field.

Once they’re exposed to this environment, students and apprentices will eventually ask when they may compete and where they start. As a competitor and a coach, I first ask for a strong commitment of time and trust. In return, I offer the same.
Working at a school like SAIT opens up many opportunities for competing locally and internationally. The annual Skills Canada competition is a perfect training ground for students, with meets for young people held in every province. The playing field is fairly level and offers students a reasonable chance at winning a medal.

This year, we had three students from SAIT participating in the provincial Skills Canada competition in Edmonton. Day one consisted of the preparation and presentation of an occasion cake. Day two consisted of the presentation of French pastries, chocolates in a chocolate box and a mousse cake. This was no small order and required the students to be well-practiced, organized and stick to a rigid time table of more than eight hours. All recipes and ingredients were provided in each category, so there were no surprises. It was a tight

competition and the students used every second, making sure every detail was covered.

Overall there were six post-secondary competitors and 22 secondary students. The secondary students displayed such courage and enthusiasm, with the most perfect sanitation skills that they were all a credit to their high schools and teachers. It was a real pleasure to watch them work their hearts out.

The outcome was a great success. All three SAIT students placed, with pastry arts student Luanne Ronquillo taking the gold medal. She went on to compete in the national competition where she won the bronze medal. All three competitors agreed it was a valuable and fun experience and that they want to train and compete again next year.

If a student is successful nationally they will compete internationally at the WorldSkills event. It’s held every two years, with SAIT hosting the 2009 event here in Calgary.

Live competitions such as this, in my opinion, are the most challenging and the most beneficial to the student. They put the individual on the spot and, if things don’t go according to plan, teach them how to adapt. Competitions teach us to plan, to manage anxiety, to trust your own skills and preparation. They also teach us that if things don’t go as planned, then you try again and again, until you get it right. These are all important life lessons.

Victoria German is a baking and pastry arts instructor with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. She can be reached at victoria.dodd@sait.ca