August 10, 2017
Solange Ordonez’s journey from passionate hobby chef to champion of a nationwide culinary challenge was not a simple one. Before Ordonez landed first place in the Canadian Culinary Federation’s National Junior Culinary Challenge, she grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador with an interest in cooking and a burning desire to learn more about the industry.
From Ecuador, Ordenez moved to Texas with her husband who was working on his PhD at A&M University. Despite having two children to support – a daughter attending the University of Toronto and a son who just finished high school – she decided it was time to follow her dreams. That was when she moved to Toronto (while her husband had to return to the states for his job) and enrolled in the Culinary Management program with Humber’s School of HRT.
“My kids were already grown up, so I decided it was time to finally follow my passion for cooking and make it more than a hobby,” says Ordonez. “I knew that formal classes were the key to becoming competitive in any profession and although Humber was far from my apartment, it was clearly the best choice for me.”
As soon as Ordonez arrived at Humber’s School of HRT, her journey filled with incredible ups and downs began. But no matter what challenges were thrown her way, she made a firm decision to work to become the very best at Humber. What was her inspiration for this decision? A female Humber instructor who lead with incredible energy and enthusiasm in a profession largely dominated by men.
“During my first semester at Humber College I volunteered at the Open House where I would cook and speak to future students. During the Open House, Chef Shonah Chalmers would speak to everyone in the room,” says Ordonez. “She was full of energy and immediately became my role model. It was during her speeches that I decided I wanted to be the best at Humber.”
And that’s exactly what she did. Among some of Ordonez’s most memorable accomplishments at Humber are assisting Chef Michael Allamier with his Certified Master Chef examinations, being part of the winning team at the Iron Chef competition, and last but not least, winning the National Junior Culinary Challenge. All of these experiences helped open her mind to a world of possibilities in the culinary industry.
But these incredible accomplishments didn’t come without their challenges. While attending Humber and preparing for her culinary competitions, Ordonez was working three jobs – at the O&B Café Grill, the Humber Room and Woodbine Racetrack.
Despite the long hours, packed schedule and busy weekends, Ordonez says it was actually an advantage for her. “Working was part of the key to my success because I had the opportunity to practice and I was blessed with excellent mentors.”
These mentors also included Humber instructors and coaches, Chef Kire Boseovsky and Chef James Bodanis, who were indispensable in helping her achieve her goals.
On top of her inspiring professional mentors, Ordonez says she could never have accomplished everything she did without the full encouragement of her family. Both her husband and her children were steadfast supporters of her in both the good and bad times, helping to keep her mind in the game and everything in order back at home.
“My husband was there to listen to me when I was happy with my performance, but also when frustration took over,” says Ordonez. “And when I was fully immersed in the program and competitions, my kids were there to help with all the chores so I could focus my full energy on achieving my dreams.”
Now that Ordonez has conquered the first few big steps on her path to success, she plans to continue learning as much as she can. She hopes to find the perfect mentor in a team that is dedicated to culinary innovation and creativity.
The best part? She has passed her love of culinary education onto her son, who is now considering enrolling in the Culinary Management program at Humber, himself.
The advice she gives both her children is the advice she’d give to anyone who wants to go back to college to pursue their passion: “Everything is possible; just aim high,” says Ordonez. “Attending school is not just about taking classes and getting good grades. Humber College has all the resources, networking and instructors available to learn exactly what’s needed to become a talented chef – you just have to give it your all.”
Most of all, Ordonez wants aspiring chefs to know that mastery takes time, but it’s all worth it. As someone who began her first class unable to put anything on the plate, to becoming a national culinary champion, Ordonez is proof that hard work, dedication and passion pay off in the end.