VIU Trades Students Showcase Their Skills at National Competition in Winnipeg

Culinary Management student Amanda Rizzo is ready to rock the Skills Canada National Competition this week. Rizzo and Leesy Ferguson, a Hairdressing student, are representing VIU and BC in the competition.

May 29, 2017 - 9:15am

Two VIU students, one from Culinary Management and the other from Hairdressing, will compete in the Skills Canada National Competition May 31 – June 3

Two Vancouver Island University (VIU) trades students are about to step onto a national stage to show the world their skills in cooking and hairdressing – and compete for a chance to be best-in-Canada.  

Culinary Management Diploma student Amanda Rizzo and Hairdressing student Leesy Ferguson are representing BC in their respective trades at this year’s Skills Canada National Competition in Winnipeg May 31 to June 3. To get there, the two students had to outperform dozens of the province’s best students at the Skills BC competition, held at the Abbotsford Tradex in April.

Rizzo, who turns 20 on the first day of competition, has been practicing five days a week since she won the provincial competition. During the two-day competition, she will be challenged to make, in a very limited timeframe, an appetizer on the first day, then a main course and dessert on the second. Rizzo chose what she was going to cook in April and she has been making the dishes over and over to ensure perfection.

“It’s intense ­– sometimes I make it, sometimes I run over my time,” she says. “My goal is to achieve my perfect practice day during competition. I just want to do the best I can do and see how I stack up compared to everyone else.”

Competitors are judged on a whole host of other things besides taste, including cleanliness, safety, organization and how closely they follow the work plans they make for themselves.

“Cooking is all about organization and timing – someone’s not going to wait an hour for their dinner in a restaurant,” Rizzo explains. “My organization and speed have increased immensely over the past three weeks.”

Rizzo, who started cooking while at Bishop Grandin High School in Calgary, chose VIU partly because of the small class sizes, which means more one-on-one time with instructors. She credits the close relationship she has with her instructors for her successful bid to go to nationals. It also helps that she enjoys high-pressure environments. 

“I’ve always been competitive – even just playing games with friends, I always want to win,” she says. “And I don’t really get super stressed out – I know I can do it.”  

Ferguson, 26, from Nanaimo, has been practicing every chance she gets while working full-time at Master Cuts in Woodgrove Centre. She admits there have been a “lot of late nights” while she gets ready to take on nationals.

The competitions really push you because you’re on a tight timeframe and you have to be perfect,” she says. “It’s also really fun, too. There will be thousands of people from all across Canada there watching – that blows it up a bit. Even if I don’t place, just having it on my resume is going to be strong.”

Colours and styling techniques are drawn out of a hat at the national competition, so Ferguson is practicing mixing the different colours from scratch and doing different cuts without the help of textbooks. Her coach, Hairdressing Instructor Joanne Slocum, is helping her prepare.

“She has to be able to think on the spot and be creative on the fly,” says Slocum. “We are so excited that she’s gotten this opportunity. For me, it’s also a validation of the teaching and learning that goes on here.”

Debbie Shore, Chair of VIU’s Culinary Arts program and BC’s representative on the National Technical Committee for the cooking competition, says it’s an unforgettable experience for students.

“The national competition is the Olympics of skills rather than muscle and speed,” she says. “All the provinces parade with their teams and they get to meet like-minded people from all over Canada.”

For more information, visit Skills Canada.

*NOTE: VIU's Culinary Arts and Professional Baking programs are still accepting students for the late summer intakes. To learn more, check out a free info session on June 1. 



Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6559 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

Tags: Student Success