All it took were two words — chocolate and sugar — to convince Chantal Cheevers to enroll in the OTC Culinary Arts program where she eventually earned a national championship in commercial baking.
Chantal, now a graduate of OTC’s Culinary Arts program, won the gold medal in commercial baking at the national SkillsUSA championships in 2016.
“I don’t know how I did it. I was completely shocked,” she said with the SkillsUSA gold medal draped around her neck.
Chantal came to OTC as a student looking for a career change. She had worked in restaurants for eight years and wanted to go in a different direction.
But when she came across a baking class that involved working with chocolate and sugar, Chantal said, “Sign me up.”
2016 was the third year that Chantal, a Springfield native who attended Hillcrest High School, competed at SkillsUSA nationals. In 2015, she finished sixth, and she didn’t think her chances were much better the following year.
“I was so disappointed with my products that I turned in,” Chantal said and called the competition the most difficult of the three years she has competed.
Contestants were required to make pies, decorate a cake, bake bread, and make butter tea cookies, muffins, eclairs and cream puffs in just seven hours.
“I only had 20 minutes to decorate my cake. I almost didn’t make it,” she said.
When it came time to announce the champion, her mentor, OTC Instructor Chef Jeffrey Ward, knew Chantal had won before her name was called.
“I was standing with Chef Ward and he said my name before they announced the champion. I can’t believe he had that much faith in me. He knew it,” she said. “I jumped, screamed and yelled.”
Chantal gives Ward a lot of credit for her success.
“Chef Ward has taught me more than I ever thought I’d learn. He taught me to practice, do it better and practice more,” she said.
Ward is a big fan of Chantal’s work.
“Chantal is hard-working, dedicated and a bit of a perfectionist. She is passionate about baking and pastries and loves to decorate cakes. She has a very creative mind and is incredibly artistic,” he said. “When you show her a technique or skill, she will work at it until it is perfect. She was a pleasure to have as a student, and any employer would be lucky to have her.”
Chantal said she wants to continue to earn more certifications including that of a certified pastry chef. She also likes making showpieces and decorating cakes, especially for her young daughter, Kali, whom Chantal calls “my life.”
For now, Chantal will try to relax a little from the incredible high of being named a national champion.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m still so overwhelmed. I can’t believe I made it this far,” she said.