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Norwich Tech senior headed for Navy culinary career

Vidianny "Vidi" Vera Gonzalez spent many childhood hours in the kitchen, watching, and eventually helping, her grandmother prepare specialty dishes like lasagna or macaroni and sausage with Alfredo sauce.

The 18-year-old New Londoner is now making plans to spend some of her adult years in a culinary setting, too.

Within weeks of her June 19 graduation from Norwich Technical High School, Gonzalez, who has enlisted in the Navy, said she would be headed to basic training in Chicago, and then on to nine weeks of culinary school in Virginia before being assigned to a duty station.

"I'm not scared about it," she said during a recent phone interview. "I'm ready for the world and for life."

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Gonzalez moved to Connecticut with her family 15 years ago. She attended the Jennings Elementary School in New London and went to middle school at the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication.

Transitioning to the culinary program at Norwich Tech was hard, Gonzalez said, because English is her second language. She said that as soon as she learned to trust herself, and to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly, she began to succeed.

"When you go into culinary, you think you know everything about cooking, but it's like there's a new wave of information," she said. "I never loved cooking or baking or plating as much as I loved it when I went to Norwich Tech."

By the time her junior year rolled around, her friends had become like family and she was winning contests for her skill at plating desserts. She made it to the state and national SKILLS USA competitions for her presentation of a chocolate mousse bomb with whipped cream, strawberries and a garnish of vanilla toast.

Her pitch to the three-judge panels was that, "You could take a mousse bomb that's $2 and turn it into $6 at any fancy restaurant just by the way you plate it."

Gonzalez also gained employment experience during her high school years, working in the bakery at the Shop Rite in New London and as a dietary aide at a nursing home.

The last three months of her senior year have been hard, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and she was disappointed that she and her culinary classmates were unable to participate in the annual tradition in which graduating seniors in the culinary program write a message to the next class on a table in the culinary shop.

"She's just an all around good kid," said Jason Bentley, head of the Norwich Tech culinary department. "It's sad to see her go. She was a class leader, someone you could depend on. She could get things done. She's going to do great in food service in the Navy. She's going to go to the school and they're going to teach her good stuff, but stuff she has a good base on."

k.florin@theday.com

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