A sweet legacy

As a young chef, Mandy Wingert earned international accolades. Photo: Submitted

Remembering the lessons learned in her grandmother’s kitchen, internationally acclaimed Chef Mandy Wingert today cooks for residents at a Halifax care home

When you think of care homes, you likely don’t think of internationally renowned cuisine but for almost a decade, that’s what Mandy Wingert has been helping to bring to Shannex Parkland in Halifax, first as a pastry chef and now as sous chef.

Her journey began at age three in her grandmother’s kitchen in Regina, with a scene like something from a children’s book.

She had been watching her grandmother prepare a poppy seed strudel, a traditional German treat, leaving Wingert alone for few minutes to take care of another task.

When her grandmother returned, she discovered her little Mandy had somehow worked her little hands into the dough, finished preparing it for the filling, added the filling, and rolled it up for baking. Her grandmother was astonished: “How did you ever know how to do that?” 

Wingert jokes, “I played chef as a child,” but adds that it wasn’t long before she realized it really was what she wanted to do with her life.

She discovered the harsher realities of the culinary profession as a teenager, apprenticing at a bistro in Regina. After four years of basic tasks like peeling vegetables, she learned at the culinary school at Holland College in Charlottetown. “It caught my attention when I learned it was widely regarded as Canada’s premier culinary school,” she recalls.

She began her studies in 2004, and learned a wide variety of culinary skills, but as when she was a child, desserts were where she really shone. Over three years, she earned her culinary arts diploma and then her pastry arts certificate. 

During this time, as part of Culinary Youth Team Canada, she won four gold medals, a silver, and two Best of the Show awards at a culinary competition in in Grand Falls, Mich.

But there were even more impressive accolades to come.

As captain of Culinary Youth Team Canada, she travelled to several countries, including Wales, where her team won a bronze medal. Later, in Scotland, after four days of fierce competition, they were named the World Grand Prix Champions of 2007.

Their next destination was Erfurt, Germany in October 2008 for the Culinary Olympics. The biggest culinary exhibition in the world, the event featured 1,600 chefs representing 54 countries. Competition was stiff, and the days of preparation in advance of the competition acclimatizing themselves to a new kitchen were demanding. 

“Often our working days were almost 18 hours long,” Wingert recalls. “To add to our stress, intimidating judges from countries all around the world would frequently invade the enclosed kitchen-like area where we were feverishly working … Speechless, the judges would meticulously scrutinize us performing arduous culinary tasks, which included … preparing a three-course splendid and visually appealing meal for 150 people.”

She adds that it was both physically and emotionally exhausting but ultimately rewarding, as her team claimed silver and gold medals.

Today, Mandy Wingert is sous chef at Shannex Parkland. Photo: LinkedIn

Hans Anderegg, her chef instructor at Holland College and the team coach, recalls Wingert’s performance as team captain. “She was an exceptional team leader. Her enthusiasm and work ethic really helped pull the team together,” he says.

After graduation, she cooked for a time in the U.K., then returned to Canada, earing the prestigious Red Seal certification for cooking and baking. Next came a stint in 2010 at the Canadian Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo. In 2011, she became pastry chef at the Delta Barrington in Halifax, where a colleague suggested she apply for a pastry chef position at Shannex.

The move suited her, and she’s been there ever since, becoming sous chef in April 2021. It seems fitting that after her long culinary journey, she’s once again cooking for grandparents, just like when she was a three-year-old.

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