This past weekend, two young Virgin Islanders embarked on a chance of a lifetime internship with Facebook Executive Chefs at the social media Mega Corporation in prestigious Silicon Valley. For 21 year olds Aaron Tutein and Denika Boyd, both former students of The St. Croix Career and Technical Center (CTEC) Culinary Program, the opportunity is a dream come true.
Their internship is the result of a meeting with Facebook Culinary Executive Chef & Director, Josef DeSimone, and his team of executive chefs who participated in the 2013 St. Croix Food and Wine Experience. The chefs spent a week working with young people from CTEC, mentoring the burgeoning young cooks for the annual Sunset BBQ event on the Frederiksted Pier. Chef DeSimone formed a strong connection with the CTEC students and, in turn, handpicked Aaron and Denika to attend a two week internship in Facebook’s corporate kitchen.
Upon Chef Josef DeSimone’s return to California after the 2013 St. Croix Food and Wine Experience, he also pledged to continue his relationship with CTEC and help train culinary students. Sadly, just two weeks later, Josef passed away in a tragic motorcycle accident. In memoriam of his commitment to young people, his brother Billy DeSimone, and colleagues, Tony Castellucci and Dean Spinks, made Josef’s vision a reality. Remaining in direct contact with the St. Croix Foundation, Facebook Chefs Castellucci and Spinks committed to fulfilling Josef’s promise of providing a career boosting opportunity for St. Croix youth. Billy, Josef’s brother (also a chef) went on to establish the Josef DeSimone Giving the Dream Memorial Foundation, which will begin providing scholarships to aspiring young chefs in 2015.
Located in San Francisco Bay Area, Facebook’s headquarters is in northern California’s Silicon Valley, home to many of the world’s largest technology corporations and thousands of small startups, including a large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers for the United States’ high-technology sector.
Prior to their departure on Sunday, February 23rd, Aaron and Denika were sized for chef jackets and readying themselves to study under the tutelage of Executive Chefs at Facebook’s California Headquarters. St. Croix Foundation staff provided the interns modern computer tablets and installed contact information and other critical information based apps to facilitate their travel and success. In addition to technical support, staff assisted the interns with building professional resumes and cover letters and coached them on interview skills. According to Deanna James, Chief Operations Officer of the Foundation, “We are so proud of these two young people, and we have confidence that they understand this opportunity means more than just what it can do for them individually. It is affording them the chance to be role models for other Virgin Islanders who aspire to part of this global environment.”
Students will be provided with a rigorous curriculum in which they will strengthen their culinary skills ranging from learning kitchen etiquette and creating innovative recipes to wielding chef knives with precision. Aaron believes the opportunity will be a life changing event: “Cooking, to me, in one word means, ‘Life.’ I’m ecstatic to have this privilege to intern at Facebook– this is a next step up the ladder for me, and I thank the Facebook Culinary Team and the St. Croix Foundation.”
Denika said of her experience, “It was a great opportunity to work with Chef Josef. I only wish that I’d had more time so that I could have learned more from him. He encouraged me to move forward with my culinary career, and I thank him and Chef Anton Doos (CTEC Culinary Instructor) for that. It is even more exciting to intern at Facebook.”
Roger Dewey, President of the Foundation, stated that, “As the St. Croix Foundation’s annual fundraiser, the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience funds critical projects focusing on public education reform, public safety, and community & economic development. We also estimate that this event series has brought nearly 4 million dollars of economic activity into the US Virgin Islands economy since its inception.” He continued, “This event is the catalyst that nets positive benefits for the Virgin Islands as evidenced by this partnership with Facebook.”
Named as one of the top 10 food and wine festivals in the world by Forbestravel.com, the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience is a weeklong event series that began with its anchor event, A Taste of St. Croix in 2001. With 14 events that range from kids cooking classes to elegant private dinners to barbeques on the waterfront, the 2014 theme is “Culinary Futures” and it aims to promote the future of St. Croix’s diverse and expert culinary industry, including showcasing and supporting St. Croix’s younger talent pool. As their newest 365 Project, A Taste of St. Croix built the St. Croix Culinary Juniors, a team of four seventh and eighth grade students who will learn the basics of a kitchen, be trained by a St. Croix Executive Chef Gary Klinefelter, and cook with celebrity Chef Todd Gray, First Lady Michelle Obama’s favorite chef, at the 2014 St. Croix Food and Wine Experience. The project serves to complement existing programs and helps create a pipeline of opportunities to interest, engage, and prepare St. Croix youth for a career in the culinary arts. Katherine Pugliese, Co Founder of A Taste of St. Croix, believes that these experiences lead to opportunities like internships at Facebook and stated that, “We are very fortunate to have known Josef. He saw talent here on St. Croix that might have never been brought to light. It is our hope that these students continue his legacy of the love of food, people, and giving back to their community.”
St. Croix Foundation and A Taste of St. Croix are still seeking partners to fund this extraordinary opportunity, asking corporate citizens and community members to band together to sponsor Aaron and Denika’s travel and hotel stay for their culinary internship at Facebook.
The St. Croix Foundation would like to thank A Taste of St. Croix, Facebook and their extraordinary Culinary Team, Watkins PR, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Education Foundation, Kazi Management, TEAM Consultants, the Career and Technical Education Center, and Chef Anton Doos.
To support this and other worthwhile efforts of the St. Croix Foundation, contact at 340-773-9898 or visit their www.stxfoundation.org. The Foundation will also be following Denika and Aaron on their Facebook page. For more information on the 2014 St. Croix Food and Wine Experience visit Stcroixfoodandwine.com.