Sophia Dao is a winner of the 2018 #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Contest hosted by the Institute of Culinary Education and ABC's The Chew

Get to Know Our 2018 #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Winners: Meet Sophia D.

Learn more about the winners of this year's #CulinaryVoice scholarship contest

This year, the Institute of Culinary Education partnered with ABC's The Chew on the third #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Contest, in an ongoing effort to find the next generation of culinary talent. Together, they challenged aspiring chefs around the nation to submit a 60-second video explaining why he or she should be given a full scholarship to attend ICE. Five winners were chosen from hundreds and now, we're sharing their stories on DICED — learn more about Sophia's journey below.

Sophia wasn’t working in the pastry industry when she entered an amateur cake decorating contest in 2015...and won. Though she wasn’t unhappy working as a web developer, she knew it wasn't going to fulfill her like a career in pastry would. At the insistence of her husband and mother-in-law, she revisited her love of baking, taking orders for custom cakes and cupcakes, and then entered the 2018 Find Your #CulinaryVoice scholarship contest. As one of the winners, she’ll be joining ICE as a Pastry & Baking Arts student.

Here’s a bit about Sophia...

sophia-dao-personal.jpgName: Sophia D.
Age: 31
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Program: Pastry and Baking Arts
Campus (NY/LA): New York

Her earliest memory of food or cooking is...

It’s probably buttered rice. I went over to a friend’s house for dinner and their rice had butter in it. I remember it being so much more delicious than the plain rice we ate at my house that I couldn’t stop talking about the flavor of it. I discovered that butter made things delicious. When I was young and saw Bronwen Weber in cake competitions on the Food Network, I was in awe of her talent. I think seeing all of the cakes and the work and creativity that went into making them really spurred my passion for pastry and my desire to create edible works of art.

Her favorite dish to prepare is…

I don’t know if I have a favorite yet! I love cake decorating because when I get a specific order and then get to put my artistry into it and then deliver my cake to a celebration and see and share in the client's excitement, it brings me a lot of joy knowing that I made someone happy. I also like making croissants and cooking pasta — I just love eating tasty food!

If she could eat anywhere in the world, it would be…

In Japan. They have such a love for all types of food, I feel like you can eat anything there. I’m a huge fan of tsukemen — dipping ramen, and their noodles are incredible. I would love to travel more of the world, taste different cuisines and experience more cultures through food.

When she’s not cooking, she likes to…

Watch and play different sports. I like indoor rock climbing and practicing yoga . The sports I love to watch (but don’t play) are NBA basketball and tennis. I don’t have a favorite team, although being from LA, I am happy when the Lakers do well. I am excited to see a Knicks game once in New York.

You can also find me eating. Can eating be a hobby?

She was inspired to enter the Find Your #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Contest because...

From the time I was about 17 years old, I wanted to go to culinary school but my parents discouraged it and I was told to attend a traditional four-year college instead. When I graduated, I couldn’t find a job in my field so I worked an unpaid internship, a paid internship, and was a cashier at Michael's. There I started teaching myself Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and I eventually became the communications specialist where I took care of graphics, email marketing and their website. I was then recruited as a web developer in 2012 and have been working as a web developer/computer engineer ever since. But on the weekends, I operated a bakery out of my home, where I decorated cakes and cupcakes. Although I’ve enjoyed the career I've had thus far, when I would watch food or pastry competitions there was always a sad ache in my heart that I would brush off. When I saw the contest, I thought “Why not me?” So I entered and hoped. I didn’t want to let what could be an amazing opportunity and dream come true pass me by.

(Watch Sophia's #CulinaryVoice Scholarship entry video below.)

The experience of competing for the scholarship on The Chew was...

It was crazy, exhilarating, intense, stressful, fun and I learned a lot about myself and my capabilities! It was so great for me to be around other chefs and aspiring chefs, and hear their stories. The group of finalists was so fun to be around, there was a lot of laughter and support throughout the entire competition. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I’m so grateful I was able to be a part of.

Once she starts culinary school at ICE, she’s most looking forward to…

Learning from my teachers, my peers and especially Chef Michael Laiskonis! This field is my passion and there is so much I want to learn — especially sugar and chocolate skills — to enhance my baking creations. I am coming in as an empty cup to be filled.

(Watch as Sophia presents her stir fry to be judged by Chef Michael in the final challenge of the #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Contest.)

In five years from now, she will be…
 
As I think about it, I would like to either work in a fine dining restaurant as a pastry chef, or possibly open my own bakery, pouring all of my passion into my creations.

Her culinary voice is…

Bringing joy to people through food. I want to share my passion with the world and express my creativity through pastry. This scholarship for me means the culinary world is my oyster and ICE will help me develop my unique voice.
 

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