Third in a series
As the “Outstanding in Our Fields” fundraiser for Sampson County’s United Way draws closer, the five chefs chosen to prepare the special dinner for the event are hard at work.
One of those chefs is Debbie Valenti, a local private chef who never cooked much before deciding to enroll in culinary school about four years ago.
“I remember my grandmother cooking Italian so I grew up watching her,” recalled Valenti, who now also loves to cook Italian foods. “I really didn’t cook much though. I took it up as a hobby when the kids were little and I was at home with them. Michael (her husband) actually taught me to cook and I just took it from there.”
Valenti enjoyed her new hobby so much that she decided to go to culinary school and eventually enrolled in the culinary program at The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham.
“Classes were at 7 a.m. so I had to leave here at 5 a.m. in order to get there, and I did that with three kids for two years,” remembered Valenti of balancing school and motherhood.
Valenti learned a lot in culinary school, more that she had originally anticipated. “I thought I’d just go and learn how to cook, but no, there was a lot more to it. I had to take an English class, a nutrition class, a management class. They really prepare you so that you can open a business and be more than just a chef.”
Culinary school afforded Valenti many unique experiences, including cooking for a major recording artist. “I cooked for Sheryl Crow twice when she was in Raleigh on tour,” shared Valenti. “Her personal chef knew he was going to need some help so he called the school to see if anyone was available and I volunteered.”
“I had the greatest time, it was so much fun, and I got to meet Sheryl Crow,” continued Valenti, adding that she became good friends with Crow’s personal chef. “When she came back to Raleigh, when she was there touring with Kid Rock, her chef called me and asked me if I would like to help out again.”
Since graduating from culinary school two years ago, Valenti is now enjoying being a private chef. “I really enjoy going to people’s houses and cooking dinners for them. It’s not as much work as a restaurant would be.”
However, memories of culinary school are never far from her mind. “During school, they (her colleagues) called me ‘Debbilicious,’ so that’s the name I use for my private chef business now.”
Valenti also enjoys using her culinary skills and talent to help with community events like United Way’s “Outstanding in Our Fields” fundraiser. “I’m honored that they thought of me and asked me to help.”
Valenti will be preparing the dessert for the United Way dinner event.”I think doing the dessert is good for me because I do not have a commercial kitchen and lots of space like the other chefs do at their businesses.”
Careful not to let the details of her dessert slip, Valenti explained that she “picked recipes that I know I can do and prepare like a day ahead of time. I have actually already done a test run of the recipes.”
While Valenti isn’t nervous about the actual cooking, she admits that preparing desserts for the fundraiser’s big crowd, 100 people, is a little daunting. “That will be a little challenging, fixing desserts for 100 people, because that is not what I normally do. I think the most I have prepared for has been around 25 people.”
“But I like the challenge. It’s something different to do,” continued Valenti confidently. “I know that if I focus and stay organized there will be no problems.”
Even though she is excited about preparing and serving her dessert to the fundraiser supporters, she is also excited about working with the four other chosen chefs. “I’m really looking forward to being in the kitchen, working with the other chefs, and just getting to know them all better. Our chefs’ meeting went great and I think it is going to be a really good experience.”
United Way’s “Outstanding in Our Fields” fundraiser will be held Saturday, April 20, at the Prestage Hunting Lodge located in the South River Hunting Preserve near Harrells. Cocktail hour will begin at 7 p.m. with a five-course dinner following at 8 p.m.
Only 100 tickets are being sold so those interested in attending should not wait too long to purchase them. Seating is available for $100 per person with a limited number of VIP seats available for $125 per person. The select VIP tickets will include VIP parking near the lodge, indoor seating for dinner, and the chance to meet and mingle with the chefs.
To purchase tickets or to find out more information, please contact Nancy Carr with Sampson County’s United Way at 910-592-4263 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information, you can also visit www.unitedwaysampson.org.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at email@example.com.