SOURCE: Olive Garden

Olive Garden

March 07, 2012 08:00 ET

Olive Garden Announces the Winner of the "Cocinando un Sueno" Contest

Aspiring Chef Olga "Mimi" Henriquez-Isles Receives a $10,000 Culinary Scholarship and a Trip of a Lifetime to Italy

ORLANDO, FL--(Marketwire - Mar 7, 2012) - Olive Garden has announced that Olga "Mimi" Henriquez-Isles is the grand prize winner of the "Cocinando un Sueño" contest. Fans voted on the contest Facebook page ( and selected Henriquez-Isles to receive a $10,000 culinary scholarship along with a trip for four to Italy, where she, along with three guests, will visit Olive Garden's Culinary Institute of Tuscany and other sites in Italy.

In its third year, the "Cocinando un Sueño" contest is a signature Olive Garden program that helps make an aspiring chef's dream come true. Through the "Cocinando un Sueño" contest, Olive Garden recognizes exemplary Hispanic culinary talent by awarding the top three finalists with culinary scholarships. The other finalists received $1,500 scholarships and were also featured on Univision's top-rated entertainment show, "Sábado Gigante," where they had an opportunity to win other prizes.

"Olive Garden believes in the value of education and making a difference in our communities. 'Cocinando un Sueño' exemplifies our commitment by creating a platform to support culinary talent and education within the Hispanic community," said Jay Spenchian, executive vice president of Olive Garden.

"Cocinando un Sueño" Contest and Winner
To enter the "Cocinando un Sueño" contest, culinary enthusiasts had to submit their nominations by January 22 on the "Cocinando un Sueño" Facebook page ( On February 13, Olive Garden announced the top three finalists: Henriquez-Isles, Shanelis Villanueva and Juan Pablo Esteva, and encouraged America to vote for their favorite finalist on Facebook. Today, Henriquez-Isles is announced as the 2012 "Cocinando un Sueño" winner after receiving the highest number of votes.

Henriquez-Isles resides in the Bronx, NY. Two years ago, with her husband, she launched a Latin cuisine catering service, Mimi's Fusion of Flavors. As a child she remembers watching her mom work with various foods and spices at her supermarket, and since then it was her childhood dream to become a chef.

"Cooking is my passion and winning this contest will help me reach my full potential and help make my personal and professional dreams come true," said Henriquez-Isles, 2012 "Cocinando un Sueño" winner. "I'm very grateful for this opportunity that Olive Garden is providing me and I'm looking forward to traveling to Italy and visiting Olive Garden's Culinary Institute of Tuscany."

Olive Garden's Culinary Institute of Tuscany
As part of the "Cocinando un Sueño" grand prize, the lucky winner will visit Olive Garden's Culinary Institute of Tuscany (CIT) located in the Chianti Classico region of Italy. Since 1999, more than 1,200 Olive Garden team members have traveled to CIT to learn about Italy, its food, wine, culture and people. Visiting CIT inspires attendees to share the Italian culture of hospitality and passion with their restaurant teams and guests back home. By attending the CIT program, Henriquez-Isles 2012 "Cocinando un Sueño" winner will be able to amplify her culinary skills and learn from distinguished Olive Garden chefs.

Ongoing Commitment to Community
At Olive Garden, we want the experience of warmth and caring to extend beyond our restaurant walls and into every community where we live and serve. Below are a few of our programs that exemplify our commitment to education and our communities.

  • "Cocinando un Futuro": This year, Olive Garden and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund launched the first-ever scholarship program to award ten talented students $2,500 scholarships. Recipients exemplified a passion for culinary arts and selection was also based on their academic achievements and endeavors.
  • Olive Garden's Pasta Tales: An annual essay-writing contest for students in first through 12th grade in the U.S. and Canada. This year's essay question focused on supporting education in local communities. The grand prize winner received a three-day trip to New York City and a $2,500 savings bond. In addition, Olive Garden will provide a $5,000 grant to support education in the winner's local community. The winners in each grade category will be awarded a $500 savings bond and a family dinner at their local Olive Garden restaurant.

Join Olive Garden's online community at,, and follow the conversation on Twitter @olivegarden.

About Olive Garden:
Olive Garden is the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment with more than 750 restaurants, more than 88,000 employees and more than $3 billion in annual sales. Olive Garden is a member of the Darden family of restaurants (NYSE: DRI), the world's largest full-service restaurant company. In 2012, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the second year in a row and is the only full-service restaurant company to ever appear on the list. Olive Garden is committed to making a difference in the lives of others in the local community. For more information, visit

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