Winning has never felt sweeter for Emma Kilgannon, a Humber graduate who recently won bronze in the WorldSkills 2022 Special Edition competition in the patisserie and confectionery category.
Kilgannon was the first representative from Canada to make the podium in her category at the WorldSkills competition ever.
WorldSkills Competitions organizes global skills championships every two years in different countries. According to WorldSkills, their competitions are “the gold standard of skills excellence” and feature different skills such as robotics, hair dressing, and automobile technology.
Kilgannon travelled to Lucerne, Switzerland, and competed against students from France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Austria. She went head-to-head against 15 of the top junior bakers in the world.
She travelled to the competition with her former professor and mentor, Kenneth Ku.
Ku is a WorldSkills coach and currently works as the baking and pastry arts management professor at Humber College.
The competition was a two-day event that took place in early October. Each day was seven hours of baking.
Kilgannon was nervous in the beginning of the competition but she says her feelings quickly changed when it got underway.
“The second that timer goes off, all the nerves go away,” Kilgannon says.
Each baker had to produce two marzipan figurines, two entremets (a layer cake), 100 centimetre-tall chocolate showpiece, a sugar stand, and 14 chocolate bonbons.
Competitors had to create their pieces based on the chosen circus theme of this year’s competition and finish their pieces by the allotted deadline.
Ku says judges mark competitors based on cleanliness, organization, creativity and “the most important thing is you have to finish on time.”
Kilgannon designed two circus monkeys for her marzipan figurines, a carousel for her sugar stand and a circus elephant with dancing acrobats for her chocolate showpiece.
The competition was going well for Kilgannon until the final hours it took an unexpected turn.
“My sugar stand actually broke… I tried fixing it but [the pieces] wouldn’t adhere together because it was so humid.”
Kilgannon explains she had a problem with the humidity in Switzerland. The humidity makes working with sugar difficult because the moisture in the air makes the sugar extra sticky and causes gloves to stick to the sugar, according to Kilgannon.
The humidity caused Kilgannon’s fingers to stick to her sugar piece and made it difficult to place the broken sugar pieces back together.
Kilgannon says “you have to think on your feet and improvise and try to make it as best as you can.”
She says her training prepared her for mishaps like these.
Sergio Shidomi, another mentor of Kilgannon and a former Humber College professor, prepared Kilgannon for the competition by creating and working through mistakes during her training.
“You have the plan, plan A, plan B, plan C,” says Shidomi. He says bakers need to know how to fix their mistakes in the moment and most importantly to stay calm, something he calls “switching.”
The “switch” happens when a baker shuts off their anxiety and panic and refocuses themselves on the situation with calm emotions.
Shidomi says “to be calm is an art, you have to be able to control yourself. Because if your head is not in the right place, nothing works.”
Kilgannon was able to troubleshoot, redesign her piece and finish before her deadline.
She was surrounded by friends and family when she heard her name announced for third place. Kilgannon says she was very emotional when she walked onto the podium.
“I honestly didn’t think that I would have placed,” says Kilgannon.
However, Kilgannon’s mentors were less surprised that she scored a spot on the podium.
Mentor Sergio knew Kilgannon could “be a winner” and says, “you believe in someone for so long… So I’m very proud.”
Kilgannon celebrated her win with her family in Switzerland and at home in Milton. She even went out for a celebratory dinner with her mentors Shidomi and Stefanie Francavilla, who is a former baking and pastry management alumni from Humber.
KIlgannon plans to take a long and rewarding break after her huge accomplishment at the WorldSkills competition.
Her next steps are to look for jobs in the industry, potentially in the hotel business and she says she hopes to compete in more competitions in the future.
Kilgannon’s journey may be solo but knows she will be supported by her family, friends and mentors like Shidomi.
“I am always going to be on her path,”Shidomi says. “Kilgannon is like family.”