At just 19-years-old, Leah Patitucci has nearly completed her Red Seal certification as a chef – and her cooking abilities were recently recognized when she won student of the year for Vancouver Community College's culinary program.
"It feels good to have won because I have worked really hard to get here, but I had a lot of support from my chefs along the way," said Patitucci.
Patitucci is a graduate of the Culinary Arts program at Carson Graham Secondary, which is an ACE IT (Accelerated Credit Enrolment in Industry Training) program. It is a partnership between the North Vancouver School District and Vancouver Community College that provides a special opportunity for secondary school students to complete their grade 11 and 12 graduation requirements while earning post-secondary credits and certification as a Professional Chef Level 1 in the culinary arts industry. Patitucci completed the program in 2014 when she was in grade 11.
"I knew that cooking was something I really wanted to go into, so I took the culinary arts program. I really liked it. We were a small, close-knit group and we learned a lot," said Patitucci.
Throughout the 10-month program, students learn all of the professional cooking basics. Near the end of the program they put their skills to the test, providing real dinner service to paying customers twice a week for several weeks.
"This program is such an amazing opportunity for high school students that already know they want to be chefs one day. I take the responsibility of preparing them for the 'real world' of cooking very seriously; giving them as close to a real life experience as possible provides them with the skills and mindset to be successful in professional kitchens," said Scarlet Gaffney, instructor of the Culinary Arts program at Carson Graham Secondary and a Red Seal chef.
After completing the Culinary Arts program, Patitucci went on to do ACE IT Pastry at VCC downtown while in grade 12. After graduation from secondary school, she went to VCC for Cook Apprentice Level 2 and is currently in Cook Apprentice Level 3, where she is earning her Red Seal certification. As part of this program, instructors select students of the month and then at the end of the year these students compete to be named student of the year.
"A week before the competition we were given the list of ingredients we had to use. We needed to use prawns and scallops for our appetizer, lamb for our main and gala apples for dessert," explained Patitucci.
The actual competition took place over several hours on a Saturday. Patitucci made prawn and scallop mousse with shrimp bisque and confit sunchokes as an appetizer, roasted lamb loin with handmade pasta, vegetables and a lamb reduction as a main course, and caramel mousse with compressed apples and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Her culinary creations won over the judges, earning her the title of VCC culinary student of the year.
"It was really cool to win," said Patitucci.
"Leah is a credit to the culinary high school ACE-IT program. Her dedication and preparedness throughout her training paid off when it came to the VCC Student of the Year awards; it was one of the most impressive showings we've seen to date. Her positive attitude and willingness to go the extra mile will serve her well in her culinary path," said Collin Gill, Culinary Arts, Department Head, Vancouver Community College.
Once Patitucci has completed her Red Seal certification in cooking she plans on getting her Red Seal certification in baking. She currently works at Temper Pastry in West Vancouver. She is also already registered to take business at Capilano University this coming fall.