Sask Polytech Culinary Arts Program Shines at Canadian Youth Competition

Culinary Arts alumni and students earned wins at the Canadian Culinary Federation’s national competition


Makenna Rai, Saskatchewan Polytechnic student and local chef, was awarded second place in the Canadian Culinary Federation’s Young Chef Culinary Challenge against six other competitors from across Canada. The unexpected win caught the Culinary Arts student off guard. “When they told me that I got second, I was a little stunned. I couldn't believe it!”

Rai, who is nearing completion of her Culinary Arts diploma at Sask Polytech is also Sous Chef/Chef de Cuisine at Stoked Kitchen and Bar in Saskatoon. A spark ignited in Rai after she learned about the Canadian Culinary Federation competitions. She also found out that Sask Polytech Culinary Arts instructor and mentor Anthony McCarthy was the president of the Culinary Federation Saskatoon chapter when she signed up for the federation. Rai adds, “He was also hiring at Stoked Kitchen and Bar so I applied and got the job.” McCarthy is the executive chef at the restaurant.

In February Rai began training for the Saskatchewan Young Chef Culinary Challenge under the mentorship of McCarthy and Justin O’Reilly, executive sous chef at Stoked Kitchen and Bar. After securing first place at the provincial competition in April, Rai set her sights on the national competition.

Sask Polytech chef instructor Todd Clark says, “Chef McCarthy and his team helped Rai come up with the idea of her competition dish. They're given the proteins from the Culinary Federation that they have to use.” Rai had to prepare trout for an appetizer and duck for an entree. The competition also requires a sauce, a starch and a vegetable with the entree.

With clipboards in hand Sask Polytech instructors Joel Hassler, Anthony McCarthy, Everett Nelson and Kevin Soloski mentored Rai in dish trial runs on campus. Clark says Rai’s ability to cook was already well established, “She knows how to cook at this level so it's basically just tweaking the finer details, like watching the thickness of the sauce, checking the acidity, adjusting flavors. Makenna went through over 14 trials of plating fish and many, many rounds of duck preparation before the competition.”

Clark stressed timing is everything, “Time can impact your points. We made sure her dishes were timed to the minute or even half a minute, so she is exactly where she's supposed to be within the hour. Other things judges watch for are cleanliness, preparation and plating.”

According to Clark other tweaks can be made by cutting different shapes into vegetables or setting up a different flow on the plate, “Changing how it's going to look or adding more texture can make a difference. It essentially comes down to the food and presentation.”

Sask Polytech’s Culinary Arts program also picked up a win in the family food trivia team challenge at the national competition. Coming in first place, the six-member team was made up of recent graduates and current students.

Clark says, “The family food challenge is like Jeopardy. You've got categories, first and second rounds and so on. The only prep materials provided was a sponsorship package. Nestle was one of the sponsors so they asked some Nestle orientated questions. Information like when the company was founded, their most popular chocolate bar, etc.” He adds, “Other categories were based on food, meats, fish, seafood, vegetables, health and safety, vocabulary, kitchen mathematics, everything that students learn in the program.” Nelson, Culinary Arts program head, assisted in mentoring the family food competitors with study rounds and flashcards.

Clark says, “It was touch and go. We definitely did not start out of the gate like we were prepared to.” Rai who was also one of the competitors in the team challenge says, “It was crazy, we were at minus 900 for the first 10 minutes and then we picked up steam and came back and we won!”

Rai says her love for cooking started at a really young age, “Cooking was all around me growing up. My dad used to cook a lot, so did my mom and my baba. I spent time helping baba create traditional Ukrainian dishes like perogies and cabbage rolls.” Once Rai figured out the basics of cooking she started experimenting. “I made cakes for friends and family. My mom, who heads up a large agency wasn't home as often as she would have liked, so I made many dinners for myself and my little brother. I started to realize I was pretty good at it. I also took classes in middle-school and commercial cooking classes in high school.”

Rai was nervous when she first started the Culinary Arts program, “I'm an introvert. But I was so excited to learn everything I could about cooking, to learn about things I've never even heard of.” Rai says “I learned a lot. At first, we learned how to make stocks, soups and sandwiches. Then we moved into cafeteria production. The aspects of setting up items we had to sell was cool. And then we were taught to prepare ducks, fillet trout, make pastries.” Rai discovered a love for molecular gastronomy, “I find it very interesting. Something I will continue to pursue.”

Proud of her accomplishments Rai says, “I didn't go into this competition looking for a win. I went for the experience, to meet other chefs and travel to Niagara Falls. This was my first time on a plane. It was such an amazing experience. And I'm very happy that I did it.”

As for future competitions Rai says she hasn’t thought about that yet, “I'm focused on my studies right now.” Rai indicated she would like to pursue some additional culinary training. “I really want to go to France and work in kitchens there, gain some knowledge of French cuisine.” Rai adds, “I'm not really sure where I want to work. Maybe France for a couple of years. That has always been a dream of mine.”

Rai plans to travel with her mother to Egypt. She is also planning to spend some time in India and would love to visit Italy. Rai says, “Then maybe I will settle down and open up my own restaurant.”

Learn more about the Culinary Arts diploma program.


June 2023


Saskatchewan Polytechnic serves students through applied learning opportunities on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 Territories and the homeland of the Métis.