It’s official: they’ve got Skills
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It’s official: they’ve got Skills

When it comes to photography and culinary skills, two of the very best in the province can be found in Woolwich Township. Kristi Rex and Stacia McLean, both residents of Breslau and Grade 12 students at Grand River Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, were gold and silver medalists respectively at the Skills Canada Provincial Finals held at RIM Park on Apr. 30- May 1. Rex won gold for photography, while McLean took home the silver in the culinary portion of the event.

“That was my first time competing in the photography competition, so I wasn’t expecting to place at all,” said Rex, 17, who beat out 30 other competitors from across the province.
“I was thoroughly surprised.”

McLean, 18, failed to make it past the qualifiers in last year’s Skills Canada competition and had a similar sentiment for her second-place finish this time.
“It was surprising. I wasn’t expecting it,” she said.

Skills Canada was founded in 1989 as a national, not-for-profit organization that works with employers, educators, labour groups and governments to promote skilled trades and technology careers among Canadian youth.

There were three components to the photography contest. The first was each competitor had to submit a portfolio of their work, the second was an interview portion with the judges, and the third was a practical test of skills broken down into three challenges. One was a before-and-after test where they had to edit a ‘before’ photo to look like an ‘after’ photo that they had been given.

The second portion involved photographing someone else at the competition – be it a judge, a spectator, or another competitor – and tell a story with that photo shoot.
In the final portion they were given a standard piece of paper and were told to take a creative shot with it.

“I folded mine in different ways and played with the shadows and exaggerated the shadows and put it in black and white,” Rex said.

The competitors were given six hours to complete their assignments and Rex completed the assignments using a Canon Rebel DSLR.

For the culinary competition, McLean had 3.5 hours to make a complete three-course meal from scratch by herself. The first course was minestrone soup, the main course was a beef roulade with braised cabbage, potatoes, and steamed broccoli, and the dessert was chocolate mousse.

“I had known the menu since February because the first competition was at the beginning of March, so I had time to practice and perfect it and get all the nerves out,” she said.
Rex said she was first exposed to photography in her Grade 11 communications technology class, and it was her teacher who encouraged her to enter this year’s contest.
Her passion led her to apply for photography at Humber College, which she will be attending in the fall with the hopes of establishing a successful career in the future.

“Eventually I’d like to do freelance work and travel and take pictures all over the world, but to start off I’d like to work in a studio as an assistant photographer.”

McLean started cooking when she was very young. Her father owned his own catering business and bistro, and eventually opened a kiosk in the airport. It was his death about two years ago, however, that really pushed her into culinary.

“That was the moment where I decided that I really wanted to do this.”

“I was the only one cooking in the household, so I was kind of forced to, but I wanted to.”

She also intends to turn her passion into a career as she will be attending Niagara College in the fall for Culinary Management.

“The head judge was actually my professor this fall, so it was cool to meet him and now he’s seen what I can do, rather than just being another student,” she said.
“Now he can say ‘oh it’s the silver medalist.’”

Neither student can proceed to nationals this year as there is no photography competition and only the gold medalist from the culinary competition moves on, but both say their experience at provincials has given them an enormous boost.
“It’s definitely given me confidence in photography and it showed me that I can work under pressure,” said Rex.

“I wasn’t sure of that, but in the competition I was really calm and that surprised me. It just shows that when you’re doing something you enjoy, you’re OK with that pressure.”

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