Kiwi baking pair bound for WorldSkills

Gilbert's Fine Foods' Kevin Gilbert is heading to Russia later this week. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Gilbert's Fine Foods' Kevin Gilbert is heading to Russia later this week. Photo: Gregor Richardson
When it comes to the state of the baking industry in New Zealand, Kevin Gilbert reckons the quality continues to rise.

And ''ground-breaking'' participation in events like the 45th WorldSkills Competition in Russia this month would assist with that, he said.

Mr Gilbert, a qualified baker and chef who owns Gilbert's Fine Foods in Dunedin with his wife, Esther, is heading to Kazan with the New Zealand contingent.

More than 1300 people from around the world will compete in 56 skills, ranging from baking to aircraft engineering.

Mr Gilbert described it as ''like the Olympics'' for young people in trades, who were paired with an expert - ''realistically, we're just old farts that have got more experience'', he quipped.

The experts mentored, coached and helped prepare their charges for the event, before travelling with the teams and making up part of the international judging panel.

Mr Gilbert has been mentoring Neroli Lancaster, from Percival Street Bakery, in Rangiora - the only baking competitor in New Zealand's team.

Callum Dodds, from Harrow Motor Body Works, in Dunedin, is also competing in automotive painting.

The event was ''huge'' in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe, and it was taken very seriously. New Zealand was really only just starting to understand it, Mr Gilbert said.

Ms Lancaster (20) won the national competition in July last year and, after covering the ''basics'', things had got more serious since May, when the pair found out exactly what she had to do.

In a two-day competition, she faced nine and a-half hours of work on the first day and six and a-half on the second, creating everything from baguettes and brioche to a mystery product and a large ''showpiece''.

Looking at it from an experienced baker's point of view, that was a ''tough ask'', but Mr Gilbert expected Ms Lancaster to represent New Zealand ''really well''.

Before winning the national competition in Auckland last year, she had never been on a plane. In March, she travelled to Melbourne for her first international competition, where she finished fourth.

Mr Gilbert was enjoying the role, saying he saw it as a ''requirement'' to pass on knowledge and skills.

And it was also partly for ''selfish'' reasons, as when he grew older, he wanted to ensure he was able to get a decent croissant in 20 years' time - and the only way that could happen was if people knew how to do it.

He was learning as much from Ms Lancaster as he had taught her and would return from Russia with contacts and influences from around the world.

Ms Lancaster had plans to undertake some school visits when she returned to help pass on knowledge.

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