NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- While most college students are strictly thinking about acing their finals this week, Monroe College culinary student Denise Aguayo must also stay focused on a test of her knowledge and skills to come next February. Denise, who won a full scholarship to Monroe College to study culinary arts on the New Rochelle campus, was just selected to compete that month at the American Culinary Federation's prestigious NE Regional Student Chef of the Year competition.
It's quite a feather in her cap, as well as that of Monroe's culinary program. Only four culinary students from the entire region are invited to compete. It's worth noting that Monroe College's Rossella Cangialosi, under whom Denise apprenticed, was chosen to participate as a national finalist last year. Considering the number and caliber of the culinary schools in the New York area, it certainly says something about the strength of Monroe College's program to have two students selected to compete in these competitions two years in a row.
Denise's invitation to compete followed a rigorous application process, which required endorsements on her culinary knowledge, skills, and artistry from her instructors at Monroe. Those recommendations came easily, including one from Frank Costantino, the dean of Monroe College's School of Hospitality Management and the Culinary Arts. Indeed, he was the one that first put the bug in her ear to compete, telling her on the return flight from last year's national competition that she was ready. His confidence so early in her training gave her the boost she needed to apply.
Worth noting: Back in Glendale, AZ where she's from, Denise was part of the first class of students to attend a culinary arts vocational C-CAP program at Glendale HS. C-CAP stands for Careers through Culinary Arts Program. They are a national non-profit that works with public schools to prepare underserved high school students for college and career opportunities in the restaurant and hospitality sectors. It was through a statewide competition in Arizona sponsored by a C-CAP that she won the scholarship to Monroe.
Although many in Denise's family work in professional kitchens, none had had the opportunity to formally study the culinary arts and, had it not been for C-CAP and the scholarship she won through it to Monroe College, she wouldn't have either. She gives great credit to the program for helping her find her professional passion.
"When I was in high school, I enjoyed cooking but didn't think I would have the opportunity to study it properly at college," she said. "But Glendale High's C-CAP program and, of course, Monroe College changed my future. Once I got into a real, professional kitchen, all possibilities opened up to me. It is a great honor to be selected to compete in the NE Regional Student Chef of the Year competition and I look forward to doing what I love best before the judges in February."
Should Denise win the American Culinary Foundation's NE Regional Student Chef of the Year competition, she will advance to the prestigious national competition next summer as one of only five student competitors.