'Awesome' experience for 2 Crucian chefs at Facebook

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ST. CROIX - Two of St. Croix's budding culinary artists say they are living the experience of a lifetime, as they wrap up a two-week internship at Facebook's headquarters in Silicon Valley, Calif.

Denika Boyd, 20, and Aaron Tutein, 21, have spent the last two weeks teamed with chefs in the company's corporate headquarters.

Tonight, they will get to try their wings, applying what they've learned so far as they implement a Caribbean happy hour menu they developed and created, which will be served to Facebook staffers at one of the eateries there. They are scheduled to return to the territory this weekend.

The entire experience has been amazing, they told The Daily News on Thursday in phone interviews from California.

"It's awesome! I am enjoying it very well," Boyd said. "This is like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. No one gets an opportunity to do this."

Tutein said he has enjoyed all aspects of the experience.

"Workwise, oh, man. Every day it's a blast," he said. "They have us on a schedule so we can get a feel for different jobs in there."

Tutein and Boyd are both former students of the St. Croix Career and Technical Center Culinary Program. Tutein currently works as a line cook at IHOP, while Boyd cooks at Napolean Pizza.

According to the St. Croix Foundation, the internship is the result of a meeting with Facebook Culinary Executive Chef and 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 them 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," according to the St. Croix Foundation.

After returning to California from the Food and Wine Experience last year, DeSimone pledged to continue his relationship with CTEC and help train culinary students.

But he was killed two weeks later in a motorcycle accident.

His brother, chef Billy DeSimone, and colleagues Tony Castellucci and Dean Spinks carried on Josef DeSimone's vision.

Castellucci and Spinks committed to fulfilling Josef DeSimone's promise of providing a career boosting opportunity for St. Croix youth, while Billy DeSimone established the Josef DeSimone Giving the Dream Memorial Foundation, which will begin providing scholarships to aspiring young chefs next year.

Tutein and Boyd said Thursday that their experience has been invaluable.

They have worked at two of the restaurants at Facebook headquarters, Epic and Living the Dream, Tutein said.

"We did so much," he said. "We basically joined in as an employee, and we helped out who needed to be helped."

The curriculum for the internship involves strengthening the interns' culinary skills, ranging from teaching them kitchen etiquette and creating innovative recipes to wielding chef knives with precision.

Boyd said she particularly enjoyed working with pastries and baking and getting to know others working there.

Tutein noted that there is so much to be learned.

"Wow. It's so much," he said. "The most important thing, to me, is to keep learning. Every day. Don't stop. This whole experience is once-in-a-lifetime, but I'm living that right now."

The pair enjoyed representing the Virgin Islands and getting to cook with different chefs.

"As chef Josef would say, it's living the dream," Boyd said.

The two came up with a Caribbean happy hour menu that will be served at one of the cafes today, they said.

It includes, among other things, Johnny cakes, sliders and fried chicken, according to Tutein.

They also have planned some interesting culinary twists, including mango fritters for dessert and banana Johnny cakes, Boyd said. A vegetable curry - which was a winner at the Taste of St. Croix last year - is also part of the menu.

Both Boyd and Tutein are hoping to parlay their internship into permanent jobs.

"I've got my fingers crossed," Tutein said.

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