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Fort Erie Pastry Student Was A ‘Choux-in’ To Win Bronze At National Skills Competition

by Unknown | Jun 27, 2024

Grade 11 pupil Autumn Wartman aspires to open a bakery after post-secondary studies.

Autumn Wartman, Afshin Keyvani - Skills Canada

Autumn Wartman with Greater Fort Erie Secondary School hospitality teacher Afshin Keyvani at the Skills Canada National Competition in Quebec City at the end of May.  



For Autumn Wartman, it was like being in a realty TV cooking show.

She stood in front of a panel of judges and explained what she planned to bake, mixing ingredients together while discussing each of their functions within her choux pastry recipe.

With a 30-minute time limit, Wartman “cooked” the French pastries by swapping out a tray of raw, piped dough for already-baked cream puffs, eclairs and crullers.

The experience at the Skills Canada National Competition, which took place in Quebec City on May 30 and 31, was the culmination of a year-long learning process for Wartman, who just completed her Grade 11 year.

After taking gold at the provincial competition last month in the job skill demonstration category, the Greater Fort Erie Secondary School student earned a bronze medal at the national level — one of the 38 medals won by the Ontario team.

Wartman did not have high expectations heading into the national competition — it was a quick turnaround, with only 20 days between the two events — and was just excited to have an opportunity to compete.

“As I watched all the presentations at nationals, I knew that everyone was amazing and I was just unsure of what I would place — so when I got bronze, I was just absolutely thrilled. I was so happy,” she said.

“Seeing the people who got gold and silver, it just made sense because they did have such amazing presentations and they absolutely deserved it.”

Before Wartman’s high school hospitality and tourism teacher, Afshin Keyvani, approached the culinary student about taking part in skills competitions, she had no idea that was a thing.

She has baked at home for as long as she can remember, but baking for fun is different than doing it competitively.

“Before this, I wasn’t really much of a competitive person, but I always knew that I wanted to pursue baking in my future career,” she said.

“Going from just baking at home to something as serious as this was, honestly, really cool and a really great opportunity so that I can develop these skills and have this experience for my future career in baking.”

Wartman’s presentation was pâte à choux, which she discovered and “fell in love” with at school. It’s a delicate pastry dough — essential ingredients are butter, water, flour and eggs — that uses high moisture content rather than a rising agent to create steam. When baked, the water in the dough evaporates, puffing the pastry.

Autumn Wartman works toward he gold medal in the job skill demonstration category during May’s 2024 Skills Canada National Competition


To get ready, she practised once a week since September, preparing for the first competition in February at the board level before earning her spot on Team Ontario — a team of 139 students and coaches from across the province.

Wartman was the only District School Board of Niagara student to compete at the national level this year.

“I was not the strongest speaker, so all those hours of practising and working on my speech and working on my enunciation and the speed of my words really, really helped,” she said.

“I was still nervous … I was able to just calm myself down and focus on what I’ve been working on for the past five months.”

With 20 years of experience as a teacher, Keyvani has been to nationals three times, helping students in his program win four medals. Each year, he selects one student he believes has the ability and commitment to take part in the months-long process.

He called Wartman “unbelievable and hard working.”

He said culminating activities like skills competitions give students a chance to put what they have learned into action, while also developing holistic skills they can use later in life.

“When they compete, their self-confidence goes up and opens up so many more doors for them,” said Keyvani. “I want to push them to show their talents, even beyond high school.”

Winning a medal was an unexpected surprise, but Wartman said being surrounded by talented kids her own age, with the same long-term goals, was particularly special.

“Baking is very popular, but I haven’t met a lot of people who actually want to pursue it as a future career,” said the teen whose dream is to own a bakery.

“It was just really cool being able to see everyone’s different ideas and their passion about the culinary world, just like mine.”

Wartman hopes to compete again next year, while in the meantime continuing to develop her pastry skills ahead of a post-secondary education.

“I learned a lot. I feel like I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself and my speaking skills and I had opportunities that I would never had,” she said.

“One of the gold medallists showed us how to clean an airplane engine, which was really cool. You get to learn a lot from everyone.”

Original Article