Dominique Inguito has come a long way since she almost burned the house down when she was 9 during one of her earliest forays into cooking.
Now, the Queen Creek High School senior and East Valley Institute of Technology culinary arts student will study with the finest chefs at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, thanks to a hefty scholarship.
Inguito won a full bachelor’s degree scholarship of $85,000 to the prestigious school after wowing the judges at the March 21 Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) competition at the Arizona Culinary Institute in Scottsdale. It was her first competition.
Two other EVIT culinary arts students won scholarships at the competition. Katherine Sondergeld, a senior at Mesa’s Dobson High School, received a $40,000 full-tuition scholarship to Johnson & Wales University in North Carolina.
Kolby Gessner, a senior at Chandler’s Basha High School, was awarded a $48,000 scholarship to The Art Institute of Phoenix.
Even though Inguito grew up helping her grandmother bake Filipino delicacies, she really started learning her cooking skills this year when she entered EVIT’s culinary arts program.
“I thought, 'Oh, this is so fun,’” said the 18-year-old, who grew up in the Philippines. “I love this. It’s a new experience every day.”
Bored with her original path of becoming an architectural engineer, the straight-A honors student had to get past her fear of burning stuff in the kitchen. The hands-on activity of cooking and the never-ending knowledge of all things culinary reeled her into her new appetizing world. She had found her passion.
“I like going out there and having fun,” Inguito said. “I don’t see it as work. I just like it so much.”
She spent hours practicing at home and at EVIT during her holiday breaks, and learning everything she could from instructor Michael “Chef Mike” Turcotte and her classmates.
After spending a half-day at Queen Creek High, Inguito travels by bus to EVIT in Mesa and spends two and a half hours, five days a week learning everything from the pressures of working in a professional kitchen to preparing for banquets.
“They’re like my second family,” she said. “This changed my life completely. They’re amazing people.”
Turcotte, the executive chef instructor for EVIT’s culinary program, said he knew from the beginning Inguito was something special. Her determination, dedication, enthusiasm and commitment set her apart.
“She has natural ability and an artistic flair,” Turcotte said. “She has an eye for art, for detail, which is very important in this job. She’s so meticulous. The hardest part for her was to convince her to compete.”
After Inguito graduates in May, she plans to intern and work with a local chef.
She’ll take some basic math and English classes at a local community college in the fall, and then will start at the Culinary Institute of America in January. Inguito also wants to concurrently get a master’s degree in business management at Cornell University.
She loves traveling and wants to possibly be a chef in a hotel chain, working with diverse international foods.
EVIT culinary arts students also won big at the March 14 Art Institute’s Regional Best Teen Chef competitions in Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas.
Phoenix competition winners:
• Jordan Sessions, Gilbert High School senior, gold
• Kimberly Hale, Gilbert High School senior, silver
• Jorge Zuniga, East Valley Academy senior, bronze
Tucson competition winner:
• Gabriela Chavarria, Highland High School senior, gold
• James Hubbard, McClintock High School senior, silver
Las Vegas competition winner:
• Brandon Cote, Highland High School senior, gold
Gold winners will compete for the national Best Teen Chef title May 9 in Charlotte, N.C.