Salmon is a key ingredient in Gintere Cemerkaite’s recipe for success.
The Grade 11 student from Centennial Collegiate was among 36 Saskatoon Public Schools’ collegiate students who took part in the Skills Canada Saskatchewan competition and one of the competitors who claimed a gold medal and the chance to compete at the national level.
Competing in the Job Skill Demonstration category, Cemerkaite’s salmon dish showcased culinary skills first inspired by a home economics class as an elementary school student. They have since been honed through home cooking and opportunities such as a boot camp led by professional chefs, something that helped fuel her desire to compete.
“That is what motivated me to go to Skills Canada and show off my skill and I got gold in my demonstration,” she told the Board of Education during its May meeting. “I am really excited to go to Moncton and show my skill to other judges.”
The chance to compete against students from across Canada at the upcoming Skills Canada national competition in Moncton, N.B., is another opportunity for Cemerkaite to explore a passion for culinary arts that is already an important part of her life.
“I started cooking at home and teaching myself through cookbooks, watching Food Network and celebrity chefs and learning from YouTube,” she said. “Just recently I started watching gastronomy and culinary arts documentaries on Netflix, which isn’t really what a teenager does but that is what I like.”
Other Saskatoon Public Schools’ students who will compete at nationals in various disciplines are: Riayad Hossain, Carlene Lummerding, Reydel Gabriel, Ray Valentino and Kayla Denaka of Mount Royal Collegiate; John McEwan, Chase Seale and Jun Zheng from Walter Murray Collegiate; Vaidehee Lanke of Aden Bowman Collegiate; and Minnah Butt from Centennial.
The Skills Canada program offers competition in more than 40 categories for both high school as well as post-secondary students at a provincial, national and international level.
Lori Neigum, a commercial cooking teacher at Mount Royal Collegiate, says the program provides an opportunity for students to showcase their learning and offers them a realistic view of career possibilities.
“Skills Canada further develops students’ independence, organization skills, creativity and their confidence. I have observed students become more passionate and take pride in their learning and the task they are performing and celebrating it with their peers and their teachers,” Neigum says.
“I have seen the increase of dedication towards training and the determination for students to get better. There is something about seeing a student’s excitement and success to make you, yourself, be better. We (at Mount Royal) have had huge success but we have also had some tears; it is emotionally draining to work so hard and so long and put it all out there for a long, strenuous competition day.”
Carlene Lummerding spent weeks perfecting the dishes for her cooking competition -- mussels Provençale; a pork tenderloin with dauphinoise potatoes and carrots with lemon and thyme; and a carrot cake with cream cheese icing garnished with candied carrot curls and candied walnuts.
“Going into it was kind of scary because I had no idea what to expect. I practiced for a couple months – three hours a couple times a week after school – practicing the recipes and bettering my skills,” says the Mount Royal student who finished with a bronze medal. “Going into the competition I was expecting something from MasterChef or Chopped or Hell’s Kitchen – lots of yelling – but it wasn’t quite that, it was very calm.
“The competition was pretty stressful, just because you are competing and there is a lot of pressure on you. I came out of there happy with how I did and I enjoyed it.”
Jill Konkin, a career facilitator at Centennial Collegiate, says the Skills Canada program emphasizes the nine essential skills -- continuous learning, digital, document use, numeracy, oral or communication skills, reading text, thinking, working with others and writing – that are important for students both now and in their future careers.
“These are skills we use at the work place and in every day of our lives but at different levels of complexity -- that’s what Skills Canada is about,” Konkin says. “When they talk about Skills Canada it is really talking about the nine essential skills and trying to display those and compete in this kind of event.”
“In the school, in each of the subject areas, we need to have teachers who know the literacy of these because this is what is going to be happening in the future.”
The opportunity to embrace learning and then showcase it has been inspiring for Riayad Hossain, another Mount Royal student. After arriving in Canada from Bangladesh four years ago Hossain was amazed at the availability of technology in his school. A teacher’s suggestion he take a media studies course led to an interest in Skills Canada and then to a provincial gold medal in TV and video production with his partner in 2015. This year, Hossain and another partner wound up with second place after some technical issues, but he says the competition was still a positive experience.
While winning is the goal, Konkin says the opportunity for students to compete while doing something they are passionate about is the real prize.
“When we go to nationals it really is an Olympic event. The values are excellence, friendship and respect and that’s really what this is teaching our students all the way through,” Konkin says. “I had a student that went to nationals and was competing in baking. At the end of the competition she came to me and said ‘Mrs. Konkin, this is so cool! I got to meet girls from across Canada that are as passionate about cooking as I am!’ “