Culinary Arts Sweeps SkillsUSA Competition

TMCC student-chefs at the SkillsUSA Competition with their awards.
Rebecca A. Eckland

Imagine you have three and a half hours to make three loaves of bread, a pie, chocolate chip cookies, and a commercial-quality decorated cake… all from scratch. Not only that, but you’re in a kitchen crowded with sixteen other bakers and a pile of prescribed ingredients, and it’s a competition. For many people, this might sound like a real-life version of Kitchen Nightmares, but for Ann Barkdull, this is just another day in the life of what it means to be a student in Culinary Arts who dreams of owning her own food truck business one day. 
In the recent SkillsUSA Regional Competition that was hosted at the TMCC Dandini Campus, Barkdull joined several other student-chefs in a competition that paired mastery against the challenges of happenstance and time. Paradoxically, one of the biggest lessons Barkdull has learned from the Culinary Arts program–and specifically from baking–has been lessons in patience. 
“It has been the bread that has taught me that lesson. You think that it would be easy, but with bread, it’s the waiting game,” she said. “You really just have to be patient. I used to bake bread, and wonder why it wasn’t as good as the bread I ate at school or the kind you buy at bakeries. It was because I was impatient. When I learned that you have to give bread the time–even just a couple of minutes—there is nothing better when it is right.”
The morning of SkillsUSA, it was the bread that once again gave Barkdull another lesson in patience. “I was the very first person in the competition to put my bread dough over there [to rise] and I noticed it was not working,” she said. 
The stakes were high: Barkdull had auditioned to take part in SkillsUSA. It was the accumulation of years of taking classes, of working full-time… a  lot of hard work that was meant to culminate in her success. “And then I knew, I just had to let the bread [rise on its own,] and waited. I had to have faith. When I saw my scores for the competition, I was happy because I had worked hard for that. One of my strengths was actually making that bread.”

SkillsUSA: Winning the Gold 

SkillsUSA is an annual competition in which TMCC students across Career Technical Education (CTE) fields try their hand at doing the best at the disciplines they are not only studying, but (importantly) doing
Despite the busy season—TMCC’s Culinary Arts program not only fully catered the recent gala and fundraiser event in honor of TMCC’s 50th Anniversary—they also out-performed other regional chefs in this annual competition. “As many times in the past, our students put their best foot forward and shined, sweeping both Culinary and Commercial Baking in SkillsUSA,” said TMCC Culinary Arts Professor Chef Karen Canaan. “Our students are awesome!” 
Barkdull took home the Gold in Commercial Baking, and will advance to the SkillsUSA Nationals Competition that will be held in Atlanta, Georgia in June.  
“I wouldn’t have made it, if not for all the training and support they gave me in the kitchen. They really encouraged me to do this. [Winning Gold] was a way for me to thank them,” she said. “When I tried out… I just really wanted the experience. I wasn’t expecting to win.” 

A Lifelong Passion for Cooking

Barkdull has been a full-time student at TMCC since 2018, and a full-time student in the Culinary Arts program since 2020. A native of the Philippines, Barkdull literally grew up at the center of a family-owned diner. “I was brought up to understand that cooking is essential. My family was not well off or anything like that… so I had to learn how to cook, and I never knew that I would learn to love it,” she said.
It wasn’t until Barkdull began cooking meals for her own family and children that she noticed others were quick to give her compliments on her skills in the kitchen. “Hearing that made me happy. That is how cooking and baking became my language of love,” she said. Even as a student who is currently enrolled in 19 credits and who is often attending Culinary Arts classes for twelve hours a day, returning home to cook a meal for her family is an essential part of her day. 

Cooking is about more than the food–although, as Barkdull herself asks: “Who doesn’t like food, right?”—instead it’s about conveying care. “A few years back, I didn’t cook when I was mad, because I didn’t want to translate my anger into what I’m serving. But now that I’ve been in the Culinary Arts program for a while, I feel like I’ve been able to overcome that, and I can make sure that the person eating what I have prepared will be happy. They are putting their trust in me when they eat my food… so I have to do it special, even if it’s something simple, like a grilled cheese sandwich.” 
Even so, when Barkdull pursued an associate degree in English in 2018, it didn’t quite speak to her soul in the same way that cooking did. “When I started at TMCC all those years ago, it was just for the sole purpose of getting a degree. And I finished it with flying colors, but the kind of happiness that gives you is short-lived because it was not truly something I loved doing. When I got into the Culinary Arts program, that changed everything.” 

It’s All About the Journey

Barkdull has a passion not only for baking, but for learning. She looks forward to classes and has yet to enroll in a semester that does not include at least 18 academic credits. “I just feel like you should never stop learning,” she said. Every class, every baking project, every task in the kitchen carries with it a lesson that Barkdull understands is necessary to learn. 
For her, this means there is no task that is too large or small; learning to clean a cooking or baking space is valued in equal measure to baking the most complicated soufflé. “Whatever profession you want to follow, whether it’s culinary or something else, it has to be something you want to do and that will make you happy,” she said.
This is a kind of happiness that is synonymous with focus and dedication. “Whether you’re doing dishes, you’re mopping the floor, you’re chopping, baking, or cooking…. Culinary is not just about cooking, it’s everything. And if that doesn’t make you happy, then find what does. It has to be what you really want to do…you have to do it with your heart and soul,” she said.

TMCC Students Win SkillsUSA

Barkdull, along with five other TMCC Culinary Arts Students, received awards at the Regional SkillsUSA competition across two competitions that included Culinary Arts and Baking: 
Culinary Arts:

  • Gold: Kaylend Villalon
  • Silver: Ian Liberto
  • Bronze: Mary Pipkin 

Commercial Baking:

  • Gold: Ann Barkdull
  • Silver: Cristal Arriola
  • Bronze: Jainiha Palmer

For more information about the TMCC Culinary Arts Program, contact them at 775-673-7132.