BRADENTON – Dante Valenzuela, a culinary arts student at Manatee Technical Institute, was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Vietnam to assist with next year’s Village de Chefs in Hanoi. The group of distinguished chefs from around the globe made the decision to give an MTI culinary arts student this opportunity after spending two days working with the MTI students to prepare for and present their annual food and wine fest, which was held at the Crosley Mansion on October 10.
Valenzuela will be the first student ever selected to join the chefs for their global event. One of three finalists, he was dumbfounded when his instructor Garry Colpitts announced him as the winner. “At first, I didn’t know what I had won. I thought it might be a chef’s jacket, and I would have been very happy about that! It took a while for it to sink in that the chefs were giving me a trip to Vietnam.”
Valenzuela is one of the top students in MTI’s Culinary Arts career prep program. After graduation, he plans to open a restaurant and his younger brother Luis, who is also in the program and who was also a finalist for the trip to Vietnam. The other finalist was Marlene Romo from Braden River High School who attends MTI as a dually enrolled student in culinary.
Jose Martinez, chef owner of Maison Blanche on Longboat Key and one of the co-founders of the Village de Chefs, was clearly very impressed with the MTI students, as was local businessman Peter Laughlin. In a spontaneous toast to the whole group, Laughlin said he had been living in Sarasota-Bradenton for 24 years and had never been as impressed with an event as he was with this one. He referred to MTI and the event as “world class.”
Close to a hundred students had the opportunity to work side by side with twenty of the Villagers, as they call themselves, all day on Tuesday, October 8. Among them were 53 Manatee Tech culinary students, 20 Southeast High culinary students, and 23 University of South Florida hospitality students. About 40 residents from the community enjoyed culinary demonstrations and tastings presented by four of the chefs on Wednesday, while the students worked with about a dozen of the chefs to prepare for the Crosley event that evening. About 300 guests sampled original artistic dishes paired with American and French wines while enjoying the revival-style ambience of the Powel Crosley Estate on a beautiful evening by the bay. Chefs and students worked side-by-side to serve their creations.
Valenzuela has lived in the U.S. for 14 years after emigrating from his home country of Peru. He is no stranger to MTI. He first came to the school to improve his English. Several years later, he enrolled in MTI’s Web Design program and went on to garner a silver medal in the national SkillsUSA Championships. Valenzuela is married with one child and has another on the way. He and his brother both work at the Ritz Carlton in addition to attending Manatee Tech.
This was the first time the French association of chefs from five continents hosted their annual event in the United States. The primary purpose of their annual gathering is to share their culinary passion and expertise with students and the community.
Chef Colpitts summed up the sentiment of the group at the end of the evening, saying, “Of course our successes are meaningful, but I have found that more important than these successes are the people we meet along the way.” Valenzuela has been gifted with a beautiful opportunity for both.
PHOTO: Jose Martinez (right), chef owner of Maison Blanche on Longboat Key and current president of the Village de Chefs, and Didier Corlou (left), chef owner of three restaurants in Hanoi, presented MTI Culinary Arts student Dante Valenzuela an all-expenses-paid trip to Vietnam to assist with the 2014 Village de Chefs. Valenzuela will be the first student ever selected to join the chefs for their annual global event.