Victoria Anghelus plans to flex her mussels during the Skills Canada National Competition.
The Grade 12 student from Mount Royal Collegiate will compete in cooking at the event May 28-29 in Halifax and mussels Marinièrein is one of the dishes all competitors are required to prepare during the first day.
Mussels are new to Anghelus, both in preparation and taste, but after a trial run in the week leading up to nationals she was satisfied with the result and was ready to fine tune the recipe during practice sessions with teacher Lori Neigum.
"We don't make mussels at home, so I get to learn something new," said Anghelus, who earned the opportunity to compete in Halifax by winning gold at last month's Skills Canada Saskatchewan competition. "I learned a lot of new tastes and different seasonings and different foods."
She is one of nine Saskatoon Public Schools students who qualified for the national competition. They are: Aden Bowman students Emma Gingerich and Zara Goldney for 2D character computer animation and Danielle Kerr for graphic design technology; Ewan Simms of Centennial for job skills presentation; Ismail Hossain from Mount Royal in electronics; Nick Tuteja from Marion Graham for workplace safety; and Roger Lam of Walter Murray in IT software solutions for business.
Muhammad Ahmed, a Grade 12 student at Walter Murray Collegiate, is returning to nationals after winning bronze last year in website design and development. He's spent the last several weeks preparing by using practice materials supplied to all competitors.
"The practice project usually covers the ideas, the code and technology you need to use. You practice doing that well, making it look good, doing it fast and efficiently and doing it until you know it. At the skills competition you don't have access to the internet, so everything has to be in your mind," said Ahmed, who is looking forward to nationals after his initial experience in 2018.
"The way it is held is in a huge hall. Everything is in the hall so as you are sitting down trying to work and there are cooking smells going on, there is a workshop going on. It is really the feel of competition going on. It really adds to that environment."
The goal of Skills Canada is to promote and engage youth in skilled trades and technologies. The range of competition includes more than three dozen traditional trades such as machining, carpentry and electrical, but also new technologies such as robotics, graphic design and photography. Public speaking, workplace safety and job search skills also receive attention.
The program emphasizes 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.
"It engages students because it is a life skill. It is a potential job, it gives them a taste of reality and it challenges them. They are proud," said Neigum, a commercial cooking teacher at Mount Royal. "It's taking it to the next level and being independent. As much as you coach them, on 'game day' it really is their choice what they do."
Many students come to Skills Canada competition from their high school courses, but the learning experience it provides is an extension of classroom offerings and the preparation for the event is an extracurricular activity that represents a significant commitment for students.
"It's definitely beyond school," Ahmed said. "But even if you were to just do it as a hobby, the difference is this has set requirements that you have to meet, and I personally found that I work better because of that. Instead of 'good enough,' I have to master that because I am on my own at the competition. When you master something then you can actually apply it, rather than just being able to do it somewhat."
While Anghelus is an accomplished cook, it is only one of her many interests. Her career goal is to become a social worker, but cooking is a passion
"My mom always cooks at home and we always make homemade food, we never go out. I want to learn from her. I like competition and cooking was one of the things that I am good at. In my culture food is a big part of our tradition," she said.
In addition to mussels, she will prepare a three-course meal in which each cook can apply their own twist and presentation techniques to a set menu of pureed carrot soup, a chicken dish and a dessert of chocolate mousse with a coulis and cookie.
Perfecting her dishes for the provincial and national events has meant hours of after-school time in the kitchen, both at Mount Royal and at home.
"(My family) always gets tired of it because I need to practice more," Anghelus said with a smile. "They always ask me 'What else are you going to make? Are you still making these three recipes all of the time?' "
Ahmed, who plans to enroll in computer science at the University of Saskatchewan this fall, says his involvement in Skills Canada has been an amazing learning experience, offering the opportunity to learn practical, career-oriented skills he may not have otherwise.
"It's fun. When I sit down I don't notice the time pass by. I only notice when I have other homework to get to, so I have to put this to the side. My dream is that all of the classes get out of the way and I can work on this because that's really what I want to do," he said.
"Other people may look at Skills Canada and think it's really daunting the first time, but it is designed so you come back a second year and then you can be successful and learn as you go along. It looked very daunting to me at first, and I almost didn't do it for that reason, but when you start doing it it's a good experience."
A full list of results from the Skills Canada Saskatchewan competition are available on the Skills Canada website.