Louis Santiago, CIA Food Business Management Student

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Louis Santiago is a culinary arts management bachelor's degree student at The Culinary Institute of America.
Louis Santiago is a culinary arts management bachelor’s degree student at The Culinary Institute of America.

Major: Bachelor’s Degree in Food Business Management
Campus: Hyde Park, NY
Hometown: Sayreville, NJ

How did you become interested in food?
When I was young my parents had divorced and we had to scramble to make dinner every night. This usually consisted of a lot of frozen, canned, or premade food as well as going out frequently. At the age of 14, I had an idea to try and make dinner myself. I was always fascinated with cooking shows and had remembered important details. One day I figured I’d give it a try and the food turned out a lot better than my parents’. Eventually, this turned into a weekly event and I started doing more and more cooking. I had a moment that I realized this is what I wanted to do with my life and that I was good at it. Eventually I got my first food-service job and met people who had the same intentions as me about food. Senior year was upon me and I decided to apply to the CIA, hearing about how great this school was…and I got accepted! Now I am almost two years in and I’m going to graduate and fulfill my dream of being a chef. Without my parents’ cooking, I wouldn’t have discovered my own hidden cooking talent.

Why did you choose the CIA?
Attending the CIA has been a passion of mine. When I was a sophomore in high school, I started to look around at different schools and one of my teachers recommended the CIA. She told me that it was the best school in the world and that if I wanted to be a chef this would be the place to go. Eventually, senior year came and the hunt for culinary schools was on. I took a tour of another school but didn’t quite fit in. Then I had a tour here at the CIA and I was blown away by the professionalism and the standards were amazing. Seeing the school buzzing around me, I wanted to make this place my home. That night, I signed on to become a CIA student.

What do you like best about the CIA?
I like the fact that I was able to network and connect with many different types of people from different countries and cultures. From the career fairs to meeting students from around the world every day, I’ve learned about different people’s lifestyles and, of course, their food backgrounds. The CIA is very diverse when it comes to the student body and faculty. Being able to meet people and chefs from around the world really had an impact on me.

Do you belong to any clubs or participate in any activities/sports on campus?
I’m a member of the CIA GSA—Gay Straight Alliance.

What is your favorite dish to make? Why?
This is tough question I get asked a lot. I think one of my favorite dishes to make is Mac and Cheese. This has been a huge staple food for me because I used to sell it in high school and always had satisfied customers. I have been making this dish for quite a long time, testing different techniques and recipes—and I think I’ve finally figured out the best one.

How has your CIA education prepared you for the business side of food?
At the CIA, we are required to do an externship for 15 weeks. During this time we get to see what the industry and business looks like. We are able to see firsthand the business side of a kitchen, like costing and food purchasing. This shows us what it is like to be an owner or manager of a business.

What is/are the best lesson(s) you’ve learned while at the CIA?
One of the best lessons I’ve learned here at the CIA is that, no matter what, you keep going. Whether you’re sick, getting yelled at, or have a shortage of your main ingredient in your most popular dish, you always learn how to keep going. The CIA classes are like being in a real kitchen and sometimes you experience difficult situations but you make it work and keep going no matter what.

What are your career goals and how will your CIA education help you get there?
I hope that when I leave the CIA I can be a manager of a kitchen, running the show with my own team. Being at the CIA, I have seen many different management styles and using all those plus my personal style, I believe I can run a successful kitchen and be a good manager.

What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?
Follow your heart and do what you love. The CIA is the best place to become a chef. You learn from the best chefs and professors. They wrote the books, they’ve been in your shoes, and now they want to help you be the most successful person you can be.