To take home a medal at the WorldSkills Competition 2022, calmness is key, according to Korae Nottveit, who competed in the culinary arts category last month.
Some of the world's brightest young chefs take part in the event, each put to the test through a number of intense challenges.
And calmness would be recommended, considering participants have to hold any number of hand-whisked creams and sauces on top of their heads to prove they're whipped just right.
"You'll have five judges that you can see out of the corner of your eye, and then, you know, the nerves start coming and you start shaking," Nottveit said in an interview on The Homestretch, adding she'd give herself an internal pep talk.
"'Calm down, breathe, get the food on the plate and make it look as good as possible. You know how to do this.' I think that was something I had to do the entire time."
Clearly, her strategy worked.
Nottveit, a SAIT graduate from Rocky View County, won the gold medal in her category, celebrating the victory at a ceremony last week in Lucerne, Switzerland.
WorldSkills is described as the Olympics of the trades. It's typically held every two years, and students in various specialties, such as cabinet making, car painting and welding, compete provincially and nationally — with Skills Canada Alberta and Skills Canada, respectively — before making it to the world stage.
Competitors are usually 21 and under, but organizers tweaked this year's rules to allow students who couldn't take part before because of the pandemic.
That allowed Nottveit, now 23, to have her shot.
About one month out from the competition, she was sent some basic information as to what tasks she'd need to complete and what foods she'd need to include in her final dishes.
She spent between eight and 10 hours in the kitchen at the restaurant where she currently works in California preparing and practising.
Her former culinary instructor at SAIT, Michael Dekker, acted as her trainer. They've worked together to prepare for competitions since she first started at the Calgary school, Dekker said, with Nottveit already cooking her way to three provincial golds and three national golds over the past few years.
"There's an incredible amount of hard work. You know, she put in countless hours on weekends and during the day," he said.
"Really, that mental game as well … staying healthy, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, you know, and focused on what we were there to do."
Showcasing the trades
The culinary competition took place over four days.
Participants had to prepare appetizers, hot components and desserts, and complete certain timed tasks common in the industry, like creating and rolling lasagna sheets in 10 minutes or separating as many eggs as they could in two minutes.
Organizers would also throw in mystery ingredients or local food to be incorporated on the fly, Dekker said.
The judges considered taste and presentation, but they also looked at each chef's overall organization.
"Your cleanliness, your food storage, your operation, how you interact with the judges. Your uniform. That's a big one as well," Nottveit said.
She went up against 30 competitors, tying with two others from Portugal and France.
The win marks Canada's second-ever gold medal in culinary arts at the competition, and the first for Alberta, according to SAIT. In total, 10 Alberta students made it to WorldSkills this year, with competitions continuing to run until Nov. 28.
Dekker says it's nice to have an international competition uplift students involved in the trades.
"We don't typically always celebrate our skilled workforce, and maybe it wasn't always the first pick for people when coming out of school," he said.
"Having individuals like [Nottveit] being able to show the dedication, let it pay off, all that hard work and really set her up for an amazing career, I think really showcases the power of our skilled trades."
As for what's in Nottveit's future, some more competitions aren't out of the question. One day, she'd also like to open her own restaurant.
For now, though, she's enjoying a well-deserved break after a big success.
"It's still a little unbelievable, but I'm super proud to be able to bring it home to Canada," Nottveit said.