Baking with the Best: VCC Student Earns Top Recognition at WorldSkills
At Vancouver Community College (VCC), we’re extremely proud of our skilled trades competitors, whether they’re aiming for medals in regional, provincial, or national competitions. Every two years, however, the WorldSkills competition offers a chance for ultimate international recognition.
After countless practice sessions and advancing through multiple levels of competition over the past two years, in August 2019, VCC baking and pastry arts apprentice Clarissa Roque found herself on the way to WorldSkills 2019 in Kazan, Russia.
The 37-hour journey included stops in Montreal, Frankfurt, and Moscow, before arriving in the riverside city of Kazan. Clarissa and the rest of Team Canada (including VCC culinary arts competitor Leah Patitucci) spent the next few days settling in and sightseeing. Then, following an Olympic-like opening ceremony, the baking battle began.
Over four days, Clarissa was required to create hand-piped and hand-dipped chocolates, marzipan figurines, a two-tiered buttercream cake, petit fours, a plated dessert, and a sugar showpiece – all representing Formula One Grand Prix racing.
When the theme was revealed only three months prior to the competition, it sent Clarissa and her instructors into creative action. “It was bizarre,” she says, “I didn’t even know what Formula One was!” Nonetheless, she got to work researching the rules, traditions, and symbols of this international car racing tournament. In the end, Clarissa’s creations included an ingenious “tire” cake, a buttercream winner’s wreath, sugar cars, and even a marzipan groundhog (Team Canada’s mascot) wearing a little racing uniform.
The stress test
Clarissa knows from experience that competitions never go exactly as planned, even on the international stage. In Kazan, a near-disaster came on the first day of competition when her induction stove stopped working. “I was doing sugar work,” she says. “It’s a good thing I noticed right away.” In the end, the stove replacement put her behind schedule by about an hour, but she stayed focused and, with only an extra 10 minutes granted, still completed on time.
“I always get nervous, no matter how many times I do something,” says Clarissa, “but I know now more of what to expect.” During practice sessions at VCC, instructor Wolfgang Dauke would bring up all kinds of scenarios – including equipment failures – to help Clarissa troubleshoot.
Any chef will agree that unexpected situations crop up in kitchens and bakeries regularly. Thanks to her Skills experiences, Clarissa says she’s now prepared for nearly anything in her day-to-day work. “I feel like I can handle more crisis situations because of the competitions.”
Clarissa’s personal goal was to finish in the top 50 per cent of WorldSkills competitors. In the end, she surpassed her own expectations by placing fifth out of 23 in the Pâtisserie and Confectionery category, and was also awarded a Medallion of Excellence for earning a total score above 700.
“The medallion meant a lot to me,” she says. “I’m happy with everything I made. I’m also very proud that I didn’t back out.”
At only 19, Clarissa has a world of opportunity ahead of her. Thanks to travelling and competing internationally, she’s started to dream of working abroad. For now, she’s enjoying her work in one of Burnaby’s finest chocolate and dessert shops, Chez Christophe.
At the end of a busy day crafting (and tasting) impeccable chocolates and sweets, however, even Canada’s most promising pastry artist needs a break. “Sometimes I just cannot look at any more chocolate,” she says. “I crave steak, fried chicken, anything salty and meaty – especially if it’s cooked by someone else!”