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Ottawa students cook up success at Canadian Culinary Championship

50 Algonquin College Culinary students were on-site to help top chefs create award-winning dishes

Algonquin culinary students helped prepare several dishes at the Canadian Culinary Competition. Photos provided by Algonquin College.
Algonquin culinary students helped prepare several dishes at the Canadian Culinary Competition. Photos provided by Algonquin College.

Algonquin College student Yessuita (Yessy) Christiyani says she’s already got plans lined up for the next time she’s in Vancouver.

That’s because the Culinary Skills student in her final semester at the college’s School of Business & Hospitality recently assisted Vancouver chef Jasper Cruickshank during his Gold Medal win at the Canadian Culinary Championship 2024 in Ottawa.

“It was a great opportunity,” she explains of her experience joining 49 other Algonquin College students to support 10 competing chefs during the event. Participating in the competition was great for her resume and skills – and for helping build her professional network, she says. 

The Algonquin College culinary team at the Canadian Culinary Championships 2024. Photos provided by Algonquin College.

“We built connections with chefs from all over Canada,” says Christiyani, who was born in Indonesia but moved to Canada in 2010. “And the chef that I worked with told me: ‘If you ever happen to be in Vancouver, come visit our restaurant!”

A two-day culinary competition

Connections weren’t the only things Christiyani made during the two-day Canadian Culinary Championship in late January at the Shaw Centre.

She and four other students also helped the winning team from Vancouver’s Wild Blue Restaurant prepare two meals, including a Mystery Wine Pairing for 250 people where chefs were given a mystery bottle of wine and asked to create a dish with local ingredients to pair with the vintage in a limited time window.

Algonquin College Chair of Culinary Arts Cory Haskins says this is the third year the two-day championships have been held in Ottawa, and the third competition Algonquin students have been on-deck to assist with. 

The fact that students from the Algonquin program are capable of keeping up with award-winning chefs speaks to the level of talent that comes through the program, says Haskins, adding that events like this are a great way to demonstrate how Algonquin College is training and preparing the next generation of culinary leaders in the Ottawa region. 

Along with the Mystery Wine Pairing, the championships include a Black Box competition (where chefs are given a black box of ingredients and asked to produce two dishes) and a Grand Finale (where chefs prepare their signature dish) for 500 hungry mouths. 

Three Algonquin College students were on hand to support each competing chef with preparation and mise en place during the day, with two more students joining the team for plating service each evening because of the complexity of the dishes. 

“And that’s part of being a chef – very rarely are you in an operation where you’re working by yourself,” explains Haskins. “For the students, it’s an unbelievable experience to see food produced at a level which they have definitely not seen in culinary school at this point, and many may not see ever depending on what path they pick. This is a very high-level competition.” 

This year’s event featured chefs from across Canada, including Winnipeg, Edmonton, Montreal, Saskatoon, and Mobile, Nfld. 

Pairing competing chefs with students at the Canadian Culinary Championship

This year’s competition was Algonquin College Chef Instructor Scott Foeller’s second time recruiting student volunteers and pairing them with competing chefs. 

He says that while pure skill in the kitchen is important, he looks for a range of competencies when selecting students for involvement in the competition. “Like how much passion they have,” he explains, “and how reliable they are. How accountable they hold themselves.”

These skills, he says, are just as important in the professional culinary work world as knowing the latest developments in molecular gastronomy. 

“Because in a kitchen, it’s a struggle to get to the top, but you always have to be professional,” he explains, ”and you always have to support each other.”

A recipe for career success

Foeller says the competition can be an important stepping stone for culinary students hoping to get a leg up in the restaurant business. “They’re forming a network that will follow them,” he explains. “It’s helping to hopefully open a path for them when they graduate next June.”   

Christiyani agrees, adding that her career goal is to open an Indonesian restaurant in Ottawa – and that participating in the championship exposed her to dishes she had never seen before. 

Cruickshank’s winning signature dish was a side stripe shrimp terrine with a daikon parcel filled with leek puree and leek wakame tuille, along with a Dungeness crab tartlet with delicate feuille de brick, poached Dungeness crab, crab espuma, and masago rice pearls.

“Cooking has been my passion since I moved to Canada,” explains Christiyani. “Before joining Algonquin I learned cooking skills from my mom, and from the internet. But now I want to be a professional.”