A A Mesa native, she received a large scholarship from a program that started with a reality cooking show when she was 4 years old.
Since 2017, the US Foods Scholars program has awarded more than $1.3 million to approximately 70 culinary students.
Now, Vanessa Ruiz is one of 18 students from across the country to win the 2022 US Foods Scholars Scholarship.
Ruiz plans to use his $20,000 prize for his room and board at the Culinary Institute of New York at Monroe College in New Rochelle, New York.
For Ruiz, the award is just the beginning of a lifelong dream of opening his own bakery in his hometown.
“I would love to open a bakery while being familiar with the area and meeting a lot of people,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz attributes much of his current success and good fortune to the East Valley Institute of Technology and its Culinary Arts Careers Program (C-CAP).
Ruiz was concurrently enrolled in EVIT during his junior year at Desert Ridge High School and, through C-CAP, earned a spot in March at the America’s Best High School Pastry Chef Competition in New York.
While there, Ruiz won the title of America’s Best High School Pastry Chef in a national competition in New York.
That earned him a full-tuition scholarship to Monroe College worth about $70,000.
Within two years at EVIT, Ruiz said she became a certified pastry chef by the American Culinary Federation.
His hard work also earned him the distinction as one of two students named EVIT’s 2022 Students of the Year.
Ruiz is now on a fast track to completing his associates in pastry arts and a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management by June 2024.
Currently in her freshman year at Monroe College, Ruiz keeps busy attending classes and spending more than 80 hours a week in the kitchen as a member of the “Core Five” competition team.
Ruiz said he looks to help defend the school’s title in various competitions leading up to the American Culinary Federation Nationals in Las Vegas.
Ruiz said her love for baking began when she was four years old watching the reality show Cake Boss.
“I could literally sit there and tell you how it was all done because I watched it for a long time,” Ruiz said.
But it also helps that culinary arts and entrepreneurship run in Ruiz’s blood.
Ruiz said her mother, Lorena Proctor, worked in a bakery when she was her age and taught her much of what she knows today, including frosting techniques.
His grandfather, George Ruiz, a former bodyguard for civil rights leader César Chávez in the 1960s, also owned a restaurant in Phoenix called Jorge’s Authentic Mexican Food Restaurant.
“I feel like [entrepreneurship] it just runs in our blood because of it,” Ruiz said. “I always want to make sure I’m doing my grandfather proud.”
Ruiz said she also gained real-world experience working for Essence Bakery Café co-founder/owner Eugenia Theodosopoulos.
Ruiz said Theodosopoulos taught him that the fast-paced environment of the kitchen can put you at ease if you have a genuine love for the profession.
“She always told me to put my head down and do it,” Ruiz said. “If you really feel like this is your passion, you will know it, and you will know that there is no other place you want to be besides the kitchen.”
Ruiz said she likes baking because of the creativity you can develop.
“A cake is like a book: it can literally tell its own story,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz said she believes patience and love are part of a great pastry dish, and along with the ingredients, the dedication and time you put into your hard work pay off.
“Everyone can be creative with their own stuff,” Ruiz said. “But someone can tell if you have dedicated your time to something or if you just did it because it was the only thing you could do.”
Ruiz said she doesn’t let her age or ethnicity hold her back and wants to become a role model for others to encourage anyone interested in the culinary arts to “keep pushing to make that happen.”
“Even though I’m young, I know it’s just about showing off and proving who I really am,” Ruiz said. “So I don’t want anyone to be discouraged by that.”