(December 2015) Long before he took his first cooking class at age ten, TJ Pennington was joining his mom in the kitchen to cook family meals. And he regularly watched the Food Network before going to school in the morning. Not surprisingly, at St. Albert Catholic High School, he chose the Foods class option in grade 10 and then started the Registered Apprentice Program (RAP) in grade 11, working at Earl’s while going to school.
Unable to fit practice into his schedule, TJ had to wait until grade 12 to participate in the High School Culinary Competition (HSCC). It was very different from the line cooking he was used to, with some tangible benefits. “In the HSCC, you focus a lot more on time management and finesse, making everything perfect,” says TJ. “It was exciting to add that element to the cooking experience. Plus you get to work with so many amazing local chefs.”
When asked what advice he’d give future participants, “Make lists,” was TJ’s immediate response. “List what you need to do and your timelines, and figure out how to cut down time for the actual competition. And keep refining your detailed lists.”
Before starting his scholarship apprenticeship at The Marc Restaurant, TJ spent August pursuing his long-planned “great eating experience.” Money saved since he was in grade 10 funded his travels to Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark. “I fell in love with Copenhagen and its food scene, with restaurants like Noma. My goal is to save my money and eventually go work there.”
This and that about TJ …
On cooking tasks: “Honestly, I like prepping quite a bit, working against the clock to have everything ready. I like the pressure.”
On learning: “Lately, I’ve been experimenting with baking bread, and I’m really enjoying that. I’m also into foraging.”
On surprises in the workplace: “I can’t get over all the random burns that show up on you—with no recollection of how they happened.”