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Epicurean tour through Italy sends budding chefs to school

RehobothFoodie.com/Touch of Italy Culinary Scholarship winners each receive $5,000 over two years if they maintain their high grades. Last week's awards presentation included (l-r) Lori Ewald, public relations for Touch of Italy; Carrie Leishman, executive director of the Delaware Restaurant Association; scholarship winner Beatriz Balderas-Ramirez; scholarship foundation trustee and Touch of Italy owner Bob Ciprietti; scholarship winner Zoe Jeffrey; scholarship selection committee member Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW; scholarship winner Fatima Flores; Delaware Restaurant Association ProStart Director of Education Raelynn Grogan; Delaware Technical Community College Instructional Director for Culinary Education, Chef Ed Hennessy, and scholarship foundation trustee, yours truly. KAREN STAUFFER PHOTO
July 21, 2017

It’s always fun to see hard work pay off. Last week at Touch of Italy in Rehoboth, the efforts of so many people paid off handsomely to the tune of $15,000 awarded to deserving Delaware high school graduates to help further their education in the culinary arts.

Several months ago, the RehobothFoodie.com/Touch of Italy Culinary Scholarship Foundation held its second annual gala Carnevale! event. The Rehoboth Touch of Italy shut down for an entire day so an army of servers, bartenders, kitchen staff, management and generous volunteers could convert it into an Italian street fair - complete with street lights and park benches. Wines and cuisines from five of Italy’s celebrated regions were featured, each under a huge flag representing that area of Italy. Attendance was strictly limited so the 100 ticketholders could stroll freely from region to region while tasting authentic dishes from the Old Country. A spirited live auction topped off the evening, with prizes that included limo trips for lunch and dinner to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx - Touch of Italy owner Bob Ciprietti’s childhood home and the inspiration for the ingredients and concept at his restaurants. 

During that time, the Trip to Italy raffle made its second annual appearance. Last year’s Tuscany trip winner Lisa Doak, along with Karen Stauffer and Raelynn Grogan from the Delaware Restaurant Association, Ciprietti and yours truly were in attendance when the 2017 winning ticket was drawn on the Sip & Bite radio show. When Nina Cameron’s ticket was selected, we called her, but she decided not to answer her phone because she didn’t recognize the number. But her son - noted Rehoboth Beach chef Hari Cameron - happened to be listening, called the show and informed her of the good news. 

As much fun as that was, last week’s awards presentation was better - because all that work, planning, raffling, auctioning, calling, donating, sipping and biting finally came to fruition. Three of Delaware’s budding chefs were selected to win scholarships based primarily on their performance in Delaware’s ProStart culinary program. 

National Honor Society member and ProStart State Champion Beatriz Balderas-Ramirez, from William Penn High School in New Castle, celebrated along with her family. She was happy to relax and enjoy food that she didn’t have to prepare! She loves the savory side of the kitchen: “In this field,” she writes in her scholarship application, “the things that caught my attention were all the savory ingredients and the infinite number of ways they can be used in a dish.” She applied to and was accepted at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. 

Fatima Flores’ dream is to become a professional pastry chef. She attended - and excelled in - the ProStart Program at Hodgson Vo-Tech High School in Newark. In her application, Fatima made it clear why she wanted to become a professional. “My love for baking became the center of my life. When my aunt gave me my first cookbook for baking, I would read every single recipe. I memorized the recipes like the back of my hand. My dad would always tell me stories about how my grandmother would bake and how the aromas filled the house. When I went to my grandmother’s, I would see her make bread from her country and I would always eat the whole thing. Now, when I bake, I think of her.” Fatima will grace the halls of Johnson & Wales’ Charlotte, N.C. campus. 

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Hennessy, the instructional director for the culinary arts program at Delaware Technical Community College in Dover. Ed encouraged one of his DelTech associate’s degree students and Middletown High School graduate, Zoe Jeffrey, to apply for our scholarship. She did, and she won. Ed must have inspired her, because Zoe hopes to emulate her teachers: “Through my years in the culinary field, I found that my instructors had so much knowledge, and that there was always something to be learned. ... I want to shape future chefs by teaching. My instructors inspired me to do so through their passion and care for their students.” In addition to excelling in her studies, Zoe worked her way up to the bakery manager position at a chain grocery store. Her scholarship will help make it possible for her to enter Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. for culinary arts and foodservice management. 

So another big thank you goes out to the sponsors, supporters, purveyors, employees, ticketholders and raffle buyers! Without you, this could not have happened. Watch for next year’s Carnevale and Trip to Italy raffle as we continue to encourage our Delaware high schoolers to become food service professionals.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.

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