Just a few years ago, Selah Schmoll was travelling abroad when she first decided to turn her passion for cooking into a career. Now, as a Culinary Management student, her aspirations are taking her all the way to India to compete against top chefs from around the world.
Schmoll, who is currently in her second year of the program, will represent Canada at the Young Chef Olympiad. To be held from January 27 to Feb. 1, the international culinary competition is expected to draw more than 60 top student chefs from around the world who are vying for the championship title and top prize of $10,000 USD. Schmoll will compete for four days, from January 29 to February 1, in four rounds of competition.
Schmoll chuckles when she thinks back to her journey to becoming a culinary student. While she always loved being in the kitchen as a child, she had her sights set on nursing after graduating from Eden High School in 2011. She changed her mind after high school, while travelling to Africa and Italy where being immersed in the culture led her to “fall in love with cooking.”
The decision led her to enroll at Niagara College when she returned from her travels. At the time, she never imagined that her decision would take her all the way to India to compete at an international level. In fact, she never imagined she would be competing at all.
Yet the Young Chef Olympiad will mark the second major culinary competition for the 23-year-old lifelong Niagara Falls resident who won a silver medal in culinary arts at the Ontario Technological Skills Competition last year.
“I’m so excited about this opportunity. While I have one competition under my belt, I know what I’m going in for, but this time, I’m competing against 60 other countries,” she said. “I’m the only person representing Canada and I’m not scared but I feel the pressure.”
The fact that the Young Chef Olympiad was won last year by Niagara College student Daniella Germond of St. Catharines – a member of Junior Culinary Team Canada – is also not lost on her.
“I have to not ‘get into my head’ too much, knowing that Canada won last year,” she said. “I’m trying not to think ‘what are the chances that we’ll win again?”
Training for the competition has been a delicate balancing act for Schmoll, who also works part-time in the pastry department at Trius Winery and Restaurant. She has been training for the event for about two months, under the direction of chef professor Scott Baechler.
Baechler, who will be accompanying Schmoll to India, said she was selected to compete not only due to her success at the provincial level, but also for her personal qualities.
“She takes direction very well and comes to training days with a smile,” he noted.
Baechler believes that the experience will benefit Schmoll whether or not she brings home the top prize.
“It’s important that students push themselves way beyond their comfort zone. That’s not easy, sometimes even scary – the balance of work, school, life, then training – but, in the end, it refines their skills,” he said.
Baechler noted the importance of discipline and consistency in competition training. “It needs to be practiced enough. If you’re sick or tired, you still get the same result,” he said. “In my mind, that is why competition students excel past a student that doesn’t compete: it’s all about the time dedicated to training.”
What advice does he give to Schmoll as she prepares her biggest culinary challenge to date?
“Continue to train hard now, cook your heart out and enjoy your journey,” he said.