Washougal High baker heads to national competition

Victoria Leavitt will compete in SkillsUSA National Conference

Victoria Leavitt learned to bake when she was a little girl, inspired by the tutelage of her grandmother and aunt, who owns a bakery in Utah. Just as importantly, she also learned about all of the good things that food can bring to people other than nutritional value.

“(My love of baking goes) about as far back as I can remember, since someone put a spatula in my hand and gave me the opportunity to use an oven,” Leavitt said. “I’ve always really enjoyed the feeling that you can give people with food. I like the aspect of bringing people together. I love that you can make memories with food, not only by eating it, but through the conversations that come while sitting down at the dinner table.”

The Washougal High School senior put those lessons to good use as she got older and her passion for baking continued to escalate. Now she’s going to have an opportunity to test her skills on the national stage.

Leavitt has qualified for the commercial baking competition at the SkillsUSA National Conference, to be held June 20-23 in Atlanta, Georgia.

“This is a big deal for anyone who is in technical trades,” said Washougal High culinary teacher Brenda Hitchins. “SkillsUSA gives students from each state a chance to participate against each other, network, show leadership and develop their self-confidence. This is the first time ever a Washougal High School student has completed at this level.”

Leavitt and the other qualifiers from across the United States will have seven hours to make yeast dough, cookies, apple galettes, corn muffins and puff pastries, and decorate a cake. A panel of judges will then sample the baked goods and rank the competitors’ efforts.

“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Leavitt said. “I’ve heard from many people that it’s a great way to network and meet new people. If you win nationals, you get a full-ride scholarship to Culinary Institute of America, so I am hoping for that.”

Leavitt is hoping to place first in the national competition, but said that, even if she doesn’t snag the top prize, the event “is an awesome opportunity, and the things that I’m going to get out of it can’t be valued.”

Hitchins said Leavitt “has the work ethic it takes to compete” at the national level.

“I have taken students to nationals when I taught in Las Vegas and had one champion. The distinguishing factor for any competitor is their organization and ability to pivot when obstacles arise,” she said. “Victoria is very conscientious about her work and is organized, which will bode well for her.”

Leavitt qualified for the national competition by placing first in the commercial baking competition at the SkillsUSA Washington State Conference, held in Tacoma in April.

“We had to make a pie, a cake, muffins, cookies and bread, and they only gave us the recipes two weeks ahead of time,” she said. “I had confidence, but I don’t think I was overconfident. I was still nervous. But I knew that when I finished the competition, I gave it all that I had, and I knew that if it wasn’t good enough, that was going to be OK because at least I did everything that I could’ve done.”

Leavitt is a member of Washougal High’s SkillsUSA after-school club, which she describes as “a group of kids that practice to compete in competitions.” Every Tuesday and Thursday, she goes to Hitchins’ classroom after school to bake and test recipes for up to four hours at a time. She also attends the Cascadia Technical Academy in Vancouver.

Leavitt said her skills have improved tremendously during the past several years.

“Not only that, but my demeanor in the kitchen has changed,” she said. “I’m a much more organized person. I’ve been able to learn how to work with a team and communicate my thoughts – what I should be able to do and what they should be able to do. When I was little, I did not have the patience. My parents always say that when I was little, I would have breakdowns when something wouldn’t turn out. Now, I’m able to handle it.”

Leavitt “will do very well in the baking industry as she grows and continues to develop her skills,” Hitchins predicted.

“Victoria is a kind and caring individual. At the state competition, she helped many competitors with their needs as she competed. This skill alone is a win for her,” Hitchins said. “Technical skills will get you an interview, but soft skills will get you the job, and Victoria has developed her soft skills through school, her job, and her family values she was raised with.”

Leavitt is planning on taking a “gap year” after graduating from Washougal High in June, and is going to explore the possibility of starting a bakery in East Clark County.

“I’d love to be able to run my own business and decide what I want to do for the public,” she said. “That’s definitely a goal of mine.”

Hitchins said that Leavitt has also expressed an interest in working on a cruise ship, “a great way to see the world and hone (her) skills.”

“Victoria’s parents believe in her passion so much they are converting a trailer into a bakery for her,” Hitchins said. “Her dream is to do birthday parties with the portable bakery. Victoria has a smile that will brighten any room. She listens to instruction and applies new techniques. But, most of all, she cares for others and wants everyone to succeed, and this trait alone will take her far in this industry.”