“We Wanted to Show up in a Big Way” Let's do this: the Canadian team at the opening of the IKA 2024.

We spoke to some of the participating chefs about their experiences at the IKA/Culinary Olympics 2024. This time, Crystal Higgins, captain of the Nait Culinary Team Canada, talks about her food philosophy, how the all-female team prepared for the IKA and what hurdles female chefs face in the cooking profession.

Photos IKA/Culinary Olympics, Nait Culinary Team

Crystal, how would you describe your culinary strategy for the 26th IKA/Culinary Olympics?   

Captain Crystal Higgins and her team were awarded the silver medal for their performance.
Captain Crystal Higgins and her team were awarded the silver medal for their performance.

The team and I came into the competition wanting to showcase Alberta on a plate. We were focused on showing the rest of the world what this student team had to offer. 

The Community Catering competition was revised and updated for the IKA 2024 (conference food & vegetable as the main component). What is your feedback? 

My food philosophy has always been: ‘Food is Fuel, Food is Medicine, Food is Love.’ To have vegetables as the main attraction made cooking with love easy. The conference food and its criteria were an awesome challenge. Everything about the scope was fun and interesting and it forced the team to think outside the box. 

How did you prepare for the competition in Stuttgart?   

The team practiced for 18 months. We were either students or recent grads with full time jobs and families. We spent every other weekend practicing, even starting at 4am to be able to adjust. If it wasn’t a practice weekend it was a fundraiser weekend. We put all our spare time into the competition, we wanted to show up in a big way. 

You are the only IKA team that consists exclusively of female chefs. How did your team composition come about? 

This was not intentional, it just worked out that way. Once the final male had dropped out, we all looked around at each other and thought it was neat that the best of the best was all female.  

What particular challenges do female chefs still face in their day-to-day work and why do you think more women should still take up the cooking profession? 

I can only speak from my experience. When I was a student gender didn’t matter, the instructors treated us the same and respected anyone that showed drive, ambition, and hard work. As for industry, there have been more obstacles. You must work harder than the males with less appreciation and gratitude. You got to have a thick skin.  

So as a female, why do it? When it all comes together, and you have gotten through the highs and lows. You look around at what you have created, the team you helped build and there is no better feeling. For me, the kitchen is the only place I want to be, its’ my utopia. You just have to stay strong and find your “right” kitchen.  

Thank you! 

Impressions of the IKA 2024

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