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Bringing home gold

Vancouver Community College baking and pastry arts student Caitlin Mayo brought home dessert gold from the 2009 WorldSkills in Calgary last month.

Competing against the world's burgeoning pastry chefs over four days, Mayo, 20, won the people's choice award and the medallion of excellence.

The WorldSkills event promotes industry excellence on an international level with competitions in 45 skill categories in trades and technologies, including web design, robotics, cooking, welding and landscaping.

Her prized chocolate showpiece, which she described as "a modern and abstract take on the totem pole," took the people's choice award in the final presentation, when technical skills and the creativity of the young pastry chefs are culminated.

"I used vibrant colours and it was flashy, which is a very popular style right now," Mayo said. "Instead of faces, I used different shapes stacked on top of each other and it had a Haida-style raven as the main piece. It was a very eye-catching element."

Each country is represented by an expert who acts as a judge for a portion of the competition.

Mayo explained that the highest and lowest scores are then thrown out and the final score is averaged.

"The judging is very subjective," she said. "There's even a category called 'finesse.'"

She and her fellow competitors called the scoring system "the figure-skating of the 'Skills' world."

Mayo's passion for the art of pastries shows when she expresses her admiration for her competitors' chocolate showpieces.

"One of my favourites was from Austria," she says. "They did a beautiful peacock. How they put the tail together was amazing, and I liked France's showpiece. It was a fashion theme — a woman with a hat — and it had very clean lines."

Inspired by her mother during her childhood through baking cookies and other sweet things, Mayo said she knew what she wanted to do with her life at the age of 16 when she started her pastry-career training.

Rather than letting it be a disadvantage, Mayo in fact embraces Canada's culture and diversity into her pastry arts.

She says she has more creative freedom in a way, without the established influences and old cultural traditions of pastries in some European countries.

"We're a cultural mosaic. We take the best of everything and make it our own."

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