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All-female NAIT team wins big at IKA Culinary Olympics in Germany

A team of Edmonton chefs — all of them women — was recently awarded silver in the community catering event at a huge international culinary competition.

“It’s the biggest culinary competition you can compete in,” explained Crystal Higgins, captain of the NAIT team. “It’s the entire world all in one building.”

This year, the IKA Culinary Olympics was held in Germany.

“There are a bazillion types of categories you can compete in: fruit carving, chocolate sculptures, glazing…. There’s the national team, the junior national team, they do chefs tables,” Higgins said.

“We were in the community catering competition. We had 22 countries in our competition. We were the only Canadian team. We were the only all-female team and we were the only student team.”

Having all women on the team wasn’t intentional, Higgins said. It just happened during the chef application process.

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“We stumbled upon being an all-female team, that was not something we were going for. When the last male dropped out, we kind of looked around at the end of practice and went: ‘Hey, it’s a bunch of ladies,’” she recalled. “We really worked on creating a good kitchen culture.”

The teams had five hours to cook and 1.5 hours to serve 120 people a three-course conference meal.

The NAIT team created an Alberta-inspired trio that featured red lentils, cherries, radishes and steak.

“The jury was happy,” Higgins said. “Our best feedback was that we cooked with love and that has been our message from the very beginning — at least that was my message, as food is love — and we were honoured to make that.”

“There’s a really big stigma in the industry that sometimes it’s hard — especially as females — to survive a very male-dominated kitchen…. We can do better and we can be better,” Higgins said. “It’s been a wild experience.”

The fact that the NAIT team is the only all-female team in IKA history made the win even sweeter.

“We made waves here in Germany,” Higgins said with a laugh. “Everyone was extremely helpful. The all-girls team that kicked the boys’ butts is the talk of the town for sure.”


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