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This article was published 23/4/2021 (269 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With an ounce of passion, a dash of ingenuity, and a whole lot of hard work, two students from Kildonan-East Collegiate’s pastry arts program took home top honours at the 2021 Skills Manitoba baking competition earlier this month.
Michael Abellera, a Grade 11 student, won gold, while Raija Ryynanen, a Grade 11 student, took home silver.
"KEC has been one of the top schools in this every year," said Ainsley LaFleche, an instructor in the program who acted as coach for the KEC students in this year’s competition. "We have a great facility for students to learn here. We take a lot of time to train them to do well."
Abellera said he was "shocked" when he heard he had won gold.
"I didn’t have much expectations," he said. "I feel proud. I’m not usually like the winner."
Ryynanen said the competition was both challenging and enjoyable.
"It helped to have a friend also competing," she said. "We were able to bounce ideas off each other, or even joke around if things didn’t go the way we wanted."
Like almost everything this past year, the 2021 Skills Manitoba competition looked a little different, owing to COVID-19. Instead of travelling to Red River College to compete in the baking contest, students competed in their own school facilities, in Winnipeg and in Brandon, Man.
Students were given four hours to bake a chiffon cake with Swiss butter cream and filling of choice, with an enchanted forest theme, and 16 macarons, a notoriously tough cookie to perfect.
"Lots of practice went into trouble shooting those cookies," LaFleche added.
Each submission was marked, measured, and weighed in the end.
"They implemented their ideas through colour and icing," LaFleche noted.
Abellera’s cake featured chocolate shavings along the side, colourful icing, and mushrooms and little mushroom houses made of fondant. Abellera added that he drew inspiration from the Smurfs in his design.
"They’re cool," he said.
The centre piece of Ryynanen’s cake features a chocolate fairy gazing into a fondant mirror. Purple icing covers the cake, with fondant flowers and butterflies adorning the sides.
"We don’t work with fondant often, but it’s something that I enjoy, so I take my time doing it," she said.
Along with the baking, students were expected to follow all cleaning and sanitary protocols, do dishes, and manage waste during the course of the competition.
Both Abellera and Ryynanen are at home in the pastry arts program.
"I grew up in a bakery, where my family would bake cookies, breads, I got used to the smell of certain products," Abellera said.
"I’ve always loved baking, even when I was younger," Ryynanen added. "My mom was a stay at home mom, and that’s what we did during the day."
Generally, students in the pastry arts program at this level would be in KEC’s state-of-the-art pastry shop daily. However, owing to COVID-19, students are only in the shop every other day.
"They didn’t get the training they normally would," LaFleche said. "It was a little more rushed."
If there’s a silver lining to the situation, Abellera said it is easier on the body not to have to stand for hours each day in the shop.
"It’s a break for us," he said. "It’s hard standing there for three hours every day."
Both Abellera and Ryynanen are excited to continue with the program next year.
"Everyone, the staff and my classmates are very nice and supportive," Abellera said. "They push us to do great things for our future careers."
Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at email@example.com Call him at 204-697-7112