MANATEE -- Dante Valenzuela, a culinary arts student at Manatee Technical Institute, was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Vietnam to accompany the French Association of Chefs to Hanoi in 2014.
Valenzuela was chosen when the distinguished chefs spent two days working with MTI students to prepare for their annual food and wine festival Oct. 8-9 at the Crosley Mansion.
The French Association of Chefs, also known as Village de Chefs, work around the world. The chefs travel to different cities, bringing techniques and knowledge to prepare dishes for student and community events. Jose Martinez, co-founder of Village de Chefs, now works on Longboat Key as chef and owner of Maison Blanche.
Valenzuela, a top student at the Manatee Technical Institute, said he did not know the trip was going to be awarded when the chefs were visiting.
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Gary Colpitts, MTI culinary instructor, said the prize came down between three students with the winner determined via raffle. Valenzuela's name was drawn from a wine glass.
"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," Valenzuela said. "It took a while for it to sink in that the chefs were giving me a trip to Vietnam."
Valenzuela is the only student going on the trip to Vietnam with Village de Chefs next year. He will shadow the chefs for a learning experience as they present courses on how to prepare and present a variety of dishes. One of the missions of Village de Chefs is to educate students and communities about the culinary arts.
Colpitts said this year is the first time Village de Chefs decided to meet outside Paris.
"We were lucky enough to get that opportunity," Colpitts said. "Dante is very humble and well-deserving. There were others who were just as deserving. It was just the luck of the draw. All of the students have a passion, love and curiosity for food and cooking."
The other two student finalists for the trip include Valenzuela's younger brother, Louis, and Marlene Romo, a dual-enrollment student who attends Braden River High School.
Dante Valenzuela, 36, said his dream is to open a business with his brother.
"More than anything, I want to try to build a business in Sarasota with my brother," Valenzuela said. "We have worked at the Ritz-Carlton for 11 years as servers."
The pair enrolled in MTI to "learn more about cooking and restaurant management," he said.
Valenzuela will leave for Vietnam next September. He does not know how long the trip will be, although he said the chefs were in Bradenton and Sarasota this year for three or four days.
Valenzuela said if everything goes according to plan, he will be finished with school by the time he jets off to Vietnam.
"This is one of the most fulfilling learning experiences that I will have," Valenzuela said Friday. "It will be such a great experience to learn from the culture. I will be observing and helping like we did for the event at MTI."
This will be Valenzuela's first time to Vietnam, but not his first time traveling abroad. Valenzuela said he has visited Japan, and he and his brother grew up in Peru.
They have lived in Sarasota for 13 years.
Valenzuela said he is impressed with the MTI campus as well as the Village de Chefs event.
"Everything went perfect," Valenzuela said.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.