Her home was flooded out, she has been stuck living in a hotel room for three years -- and now she's getting national glory for her wizardry with blueberries, pears and pork.
Janine Sumner-Traverse lost her family home in the 2011 Lake St. Martin flooding, she said Tuesday while performing magic transformations of basic ingredients in the culinary arts program at Red River College.
It's an example of the type of kitchen magic she'll perform in a national cooking competition in Vancouver this weekend.
Her community of Lake St. Martin "is pretty much gone. There's been some vandalism, some (homes) have been burned down," she lamented.
Sumner-Traverse has lived in a hotel in downtown Winnipeg since the flooding with no idea when, or if, she'll get home. At least it's an efficiency room, so Sumner-Traverse can cook her own meals. Trained as a dental assistant, Sumner-Traverse bounced from term job to term job.
"I'd been doing individual tutoring for grades 7, 8, 9," at the Lake St. Martin school now running on Ness Avenue, she said.
But during better times in Lake St. Martin, Sumner-Traverse's late father inculcated in her a love of cooking.
"Ever since I was young, I did a lot of baking," she recalled. "He bought me pans and whisks.
"I cook a lot of pork. One idea from my dad, I would stuff pork with lots of things. In one of my recipes, I use blueberries and walnuts and pears -- it's worked out pretty well."
Pretty well, indeed. Sunday, the Culinary Student Pear Excellence competition flies Sumner-Traverse to Vancouver where she and four other students from across Canada will compete for a $2,500 grand prize and an impressive addition to their resumes. But that's getting a bit ahead of her story.
"Last summer, I'd been going job to job," she said. A friend had taken the culinary arts course at Red River and been snapped up by an employer right away, telling Sumner-Traverse "culinary arts grads are in great demand."
Short version, Red River accepted the 25-year-old for its January intake.
Barely three months into the program, she's off to Vancouver, to compete in the kitchen of the Dirty Apron Cooking School and Delicatessen.
"Pears would have to be the main ingredient for the dish," Sumner-Traverse said.
She'll cook pork tenderloin stuffed with blueberries and pears, accompanied by a red-wine poached-pear spinach salad.
Her specialties cooking for her family were pork and baked chicken, she said.
"Bannock was one of the biggest things -- I had my own way." She said that recipe is secret, at least until she writes her own cookbook.
Dazzling expert pates in Vancouver notwithstanding, Sumner-Traverse has another 21 months at Red River before she looks for a restaurant job.
Her dream? "(To) one day open my own restaurant, with a bake shop," she said with a laugh.