K-Urness(December 2015) Kara Urness has always been interested in cooking and food, and received her first culinary training at Salisbury Composite High School. She chose the Commercial Foods cooking program, which involved cooking for the school cafeteria.

Based on her interest in class, teacher Herb Hess suggested she enter competitions. In grade 12, Kara participated in the High School Culinary Challenge (HSCC), earning a scholarship, and in Skills Canada, making it to the regionals.

Counting both as great experiences, Kara especially credits the HSCC with giving her a taste of what to expect in a professional kitchen. Her biggest take-away? “Definitely the importance of timing. Working under pressure, you really need to time your tasks and pace yourself.” That insight has carried over into her apprenticeship placement at Zinc restaurant at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

“Zinc is the first kitchen I’ve worked in, and I was surprised at how busy it got with both the restaurant and all the catering. And yet how easily and smoothly people did what needed doing, how organized it was, the amount of teamwork—contrary to TV shows like Hell’s Kitchen!”

Going into the HSCC, Kara received a lot of information from previous student-competitors. The advice she was most thankful for and that she’d pass on to future participants is: Remember to communicate.

“Use key words or phrases to make others aware of your movements or of things to beware of,” says Kara. “For example, call out ‘behind you’ or ‘sharp knife,’ or knock on the fridge door before opening it.” It’s advice she puts into practice every day in her apprenticeship.

More to know about Kara …

Favourite guilty-food pleasure: “Nice cheeseburgers. Like those served at The Chop, or the elkburger at Zinc.”

Favourite dish to cook: “I love making things like stir frys or noodle dishes. I make butter chicken quite often.”

Self-discovery: “I learned I wasn’t squeamish about butchering—handling parts of animals doesn’t bother me. And I’m not squeamish about trying foods I’d never eaten before—like heart.”