Shannon-Square(November 2013)…Shannon McNainy has been cooking and baking since she was a child, but it wasn’t until she was about 13 that she set her sights on doing it as a career. At 14 she got her first job in a kitchen, and she has been in the industry ever since.

“I geared my high school education towards cooking, so any chance I could, I would add an extra foods class to my schedule,” says Shannon. It’s easy to see, then, why her foods teacher knew the competition would be a good fit! Shannon competed in the High School Culinary Challenge (HSCC) during both grades 11 and 12 (2009-2010).

“This competition has done so much for me in the last three years,” says Shannon. “It has sped up the pace of my understanding and networking of the industry. All that I have accomplished and all the people I’ve met, without the scholarship it would have taken me years longer to get where I am now.” For Shannon, the HSCC and the scholarship enabled her to make valuable industry contacts she might not have otherwise.

I still run into people who I recognize from the HSCC, whether it be from school or work,” she says, “even the chefs who were judges; some I’ve worked for and with, and some are still judges in competitions I’m doing now.”

She recommends that prospective HSCC participants remember to: “Have fun! This competition isn’t set up to have high school kids try and recreate a Michelin star plate. It’s about seeing who works well together, who uses common sense and who follows the recipes given. It’s the fundamentals of cooking that matter.” The first time Shannon competed, her team placed second, “I can tell you that there were at least five other teams who had much nicer plates than we did. But from what I can remember, we were one of the only teams still smiling and enjoying the experience by the end.”

More about Shannon…

What’s her cooking style?: “I think I am still trying to find my style of cooking. I’ve worked under chefs who all did bits and pieces that I’ve gravitated towards, but overall I still don’t think I have a “style” yet.”

Favourite food to prepare: “I love making sandwiches, always have since I was a kid!”

If she could work anywhere: “I want to work everywhere! Ideally I’d like to work in Bed & Breakfasts, as eventually that’s what I would like to open one day.”

Number one tip: “Try everything. If you don’t know what it taste like, try some. If you want to know how something is made, try it. Great chefs are made by cooks who never stop exploring.”