Sask Polytech grad helps Canada cook up a gold medal
At just 23 years old, Sydney Hamelin, a Sask Polytech Culinary Arts alumnus, is already enjoying the sweet taste of success. She was a member of Culinary Youth Team Canada, which won two gold medals and placed fourth in the world in the IKA / Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, Germany in February 2020. It’s the highest finish ever for a Canadian junior national team.
“The competition was intense,” Sydney says. “We were competing against 23 other junior national teams from around the world, first in the IKA Buffet and then in the Restaurant of Nations. You practice and practice what you’re going to do, then on competition day, everything has to fit together like a puzzle.”
The Canadian team performance was the culmination of more than two years of hard work, with the team training five days a week at The Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
“I came on the team as an alternate and had to move to PEI to train,” Sydney says. “It was my first time living away from home, so it was a big move. I was definitely homesick, but the training keeps you busy.”
As an alternate, Sydney had to learn every position, just in case someone fell ill or couldn’t compete—which is exactly what happened. “That was scary and amazing, but we’d all been practicing together for so long together, you know what to do.”
Sydney’s early success is no surprise to Paul Wheeler, program head of Culinary Arts and one of Sydney’s former instructors. “She always put in a lot of effort, was always volunteering for extracurricular things, like special event dinners, and always enthusiastic about what she was learning. It wasn’t a surprise when we heard she was going to Germany as part of Team Canada. We’re very proud of her.”
Sydney was introduced to professional cooking in high school when her home economics teacher told her about Skills Canada Saskatchewan competitions in baking and cooking. Sydney competed in her first Skills competition in 2014, then went on to represent Saskatchewan at Skills Canada National Competitions in Toronto (2014), Moncton (2016) and Edmonton (2018).
During the years she competed in Skills competitions, Sydney graduated high school and enrolled in the Culinary Arts diploma program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. “I always enjoyed cooking, even as a child, and I always envisioned myself working at a hands-on-job, so getting involved in the trade came naturally,” she says.
Sydney enjoyed the program. “I liked the social setting and I liked what I was learning. It was cool being with like-minded people who had the same interests. I also liked how the classes were set up. We had about 30 people in our program, and we were divided into three smaller groups. Each group would rotate through the classes, so you had lots of one-on-one time with the instructors. That’s important, because when you’re trying to learn proper techniques it’s helpful to be able to ask an instructor who’s right there beside you.”
After graduation, Sydney was hired by the Taste Restaurant Group as a chef at Picaro/Cohens, right in the heart of Saskatoon’s booming foodie district. She had just returned from Germany and was settling back to work when COVID-19 led to an unexpected three-month vacation. Now, she’s thrilled to be back at work, even at half capacity.
Looking to the future, Sydney says she’s focused on gaining as much experience as she can and learning as much as she can, but she’s also starting to think about a future career in teaching. “It’s a long-term goal, because I still have a lot to learn, but I would like to teach.”
Wheeler is delighted at this news. “I think Sydney would be a great instructor. A lot of instructors here have gone the same route of getting involved in competitions and building experience in the industry. We hope she’ll come back and share what she’s learned with the next generation.”
Published October 2020.