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Have Knives – Will Travel: CIC grad jumps into international culinary competition at last minute

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Sean Burton full length

Preparing for an international culinary competition takes weeks, if not months. Developing and perfecting recipes and timing, ensuring that the kitchen is safe and organized, figuring out contingency plans in the event of last-minute hitches — it all takes time, if a chef wants to maximize their chance of winning.

Or not.

Chef Sean Burton, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of Canada’s Culinary Arts and Pastry Arts programs, stepped into the breach and hopped on a plane to Saint Pierre et Miquelon, an overseas collectivity of France located just off the western end of Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula, with only three days’ notice, to represent the CIC and P.E.I. in a two-day culinary competition – and brought back a silver medal.

Sean was team captain for the CIC in the World Culinary Olympics’ Regional Competition in 2016, which won double gold and placed fourth in the world. He said the Concours Culinaire competition in Saint Pierre et Miquelon was unlike any other. Most of the events he has participated in have been black box competitions in which each team or competitor is provided with a pantry of items, but don’t know what key ingredients they will have to work with until only a few hours before they are expected to present their dishes.

“This competition was based on classical cuisine, so there were very specific dishes that we had to prepare, like souffles. I’ve never done a competition like that before. You need to distinguish your interpretation of the dishes from those of your competitors, you have to re-imagine them,” he said.

The opportunity to compete in the Concours Culinaire came about when the chef who had been preparing for the event had to cancel. Austin Clement, program manager for The Culinary Institute of Canada’s culinary and hospitality programs immediately thought of sending Sean instead.

“Austin asked me if I would be interested in going to France represent P.E.I. in the Concours Culinaire, but I thought he was joking,” Sean recalled.

“By the time we were able to confirm that I was going, we were three days out.”

Chef Austin said he had absolute confidence that Sean was up to the task.

“Sean took on the challenge with just three days’ notice, a case of sharp knives, and his proven ability. After two days of intense competition and the elimination of top competitors from the region, he found himself once again representing PEI and the CIC to the very end. We are proud of his amazing finish. Sean showed the world that our craft is alive and well, and in good hands,” he said.

Unflappable, highly organized, and quietly confident, Sean relished the chance to compete so far outside of his comfort zone.

“It was a whirlwind of excitement and competition that I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to share with my fellow competitors in Saint Pierre Miquelon. I would do it again in a heartbeat!”

After the competition, Sean returned to Charlottetown and his duties as a lab technician for the CIC; but not for long! He is now in China for two months teaching Food Theory and Production to International Hospitality Management students enrolled in the Holland College Educational Joint Venture program.

Trade HERizons program encourages women to consider non-traditional careers

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Trade HERizons ChristineChristine MacDonald quit school at the beginning of Grade 12. After that, her life began to spin out of control.

“I didn’t like school from Grade 7 on,” she explained in an interview recently. “I wanted to go into late immersion, but when I got in, I couldn’t understand anything, and if I’d switch to English, I would have been dropped down a grade.”

She struggled with her schoolwork and became more disillusioned. When she quit school, she started drinking heavily. It all came to a head in the spring of 2013. Her grandmother died of cancer, and a month later, Christine overdosed. At that point, she realized that she was in serious trouble.

“I realized cancer and addiction were both terminal illnesses. I had the chance to turn things around and live, but she didn’t.”

She sought help for her addictions, and after completing an 8-week residential program, she started to rebuild her life.

She began to consider what her job options were. A case worker suggested that she consider Trade HERizons, a career exploration project for women interested in trades such as carpentry, electrical, automotive, and welding. The course is free of charge to participants, and is run by Women’s Network PEI.

In 2013, Christine and the other participants attended the program full time. In addition to participating in team building workshops, the women are taken to sample seven trades training programs offered at Holland College.  Christine was especially interested in the college’s Wood Manufacturing/Cabinetmaking program.

After completing the Trade HERizons program, Christine worked on a construction project for the Reach Foundation from January until August, and decided that she would like a career in the trades.

In September, with help from the Trades HERizons office, she enrolled in the Wood Manufacturing/Cabinetmaking program.

“Trade HERizons have an incentive program, so I was able to build up enough points to cover the cost of my steel toe boots,” she said. “They helped with application fees, and I was awarded two scholarships, one from Holland College and one from the Community Foundation.”

“I like working with my hands and building stuff; but I wanted to work indoors, so this program suits me. It’s much more precise than carpentry,” Christine, who is now 23, explained.

Graham Hicken is instructor of the Wood Manufacturing/Cabinetmaking program. He said he would like to see more women consider a career in this field.

“There should be more women for a couple of reasons. First, it can make the guys step up their game, but more importantly because many women have natural skills that it takes men a while to learn, like attention to detail and manual dexterity. Most women already have those skills, some guys will never get them,” he said.

Christine is not the first student who has entered the program after participating in Trade HERizons, and Graham hopes that she won’t be the last.

“My goal is to have the class split evenly between males and females.”

The Trade HERizons program is currently looking for participants for the next course, which starts in January.

When asked if she has any advice for women who are trying to break free of their addictions and move on with their lives, Christine quoted a friend.

“Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.”

Christine still faces many obstacles, but she has proven to herself and others that a strong spirit and the desire to make a better life can overcome even the most overwhelming situations.

Written by Sara Underwood

December 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm