When 23-year-old Korae Nottveit's name was announced as the first-place winner in cooking at the WorldSkills Competition 2022 last month in Lucerne, Switzerland, she didn't hear it. It was her coach who heard that his protege had captured gold.
"He was screaming because it was so loud in that room. Then I got up there, and I thought was my name really called? I need to check the screen. Am I supposed to be up here?" she said. "[When] I got first place, there was that feeling of I did it; I gave it my all and was rewarded. I felt so proud to bring home gold to Canada."
This year, WorldSkills Competition took place across Europe, North America, and East Asia, showcasing 61 skills in 15 different countries and regions around the world. The event is held every two years, and according to WorldSkills, represents the best of international excellence in skilled trades and technologies.
The 23-year-old resident of Rocky View County (Chestermere), who is now in California working as a sous chef in the luxury Rosewood Sand Hill hotel in Menlo Park, said that during the fierce competition she had to block out everything around her and hone in her focus and energy onto the tasks at hand. But before Nottveit would compete in the international arena, her love of cooking started at home with her mom.
"I was homeschooled, so, my mom always made me cook at home. That led me to really enjoy cooking and it was my hobby. Then I started working at a senior's home when I was 14, and then I was a server," Nottveit said. "I was always baking bread at home and looking back on it, I was so happy because one of the competition pieces [at the WorldSkills Competition] that I had to do was make a bread basket."
While most of her competitors would bake one or two different types of bread, she ended up making three types; brioche bread, a roll stuffed with Gruyère cheese, as well as a pasta dough cracker. But bread-making was only a portion of the competition. The four-day competition would test Nottveit's food preparation skills as well as her execution of various appetizers, main courses, vegetarian dishes, and of course desserts.
She would cook potato Rösti (a type of potato pancake), quail egg appetizers, Russian salad (Nottveit described it as a type of potato salad), Chicken Kyiv, a vegetarian buffet-style dish, as well as an intricate dessert plate. Reflecting on which dish was the most challenging, she said the dessert dish was perhaps the most technically sophisticated as it required 13 different components.
"There was chocolate and quince Bavarian cream. There was a tempered chocolate cup filled with quince puree, there was a tiny meringue, raspberry mousse, tempered chocolate feathers, orange chiffon sponge cake, sugar spirals and almond trailing. So, there were a lot of components and each of them takes so much time."
Working in a mostly-dominated male industry, she said that the key to success is work; hard work.
"There's gonna be so many guys, especially when you start off, that will make fun of you. They'll say things like you won't last in this field and treat you like you're below them. But you just have to put your head down and ignore them," she said. "Don't get offended. Just show them that one day you'll be better."
Prior to her winning culinary gold in Switzerland, Nottveit studied at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) and jumped into the skills competitions through school. She competed in 2019, 2021, and 2022, winning the Skills Canada National Competition in all three years. She also joined the Culinary Youth Team Canada (2019), then competed at the Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, Germany, (2020).
Though she believes that while skills are a vital component of achieving mastery in the kitchen, there is something that you can't learn: talent.
"In order to get to an executive chef position, you have to have both. But for me, when it comes down to it, I think having the talent in and of itself is the most important because you can learn the skills. When I first started, I definitely had the talent for it, but I didn't have the skills for it yet. I had to really work on those skills and I'm still working on them."
Nottveit added that apart from talent and skills, the chefs that have come before her, namely her coach, Chef Michael Dekker, a culinary instructor at SAIT and former executive chef at the fine-dining restaurant Rouge in Calgary were instrumental in her success. And the decadent dessert? She said it was pastry chef Victoria German who helped her create the masterful piece.
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