Chef Sara Quinteros-Shilling ’12: The CIA was the Foundation of My Education


“The CIA has an outstanding reputation. I did not attend culinary school for the same reasons that most people do. I wanted to understand basic culinary techniques in order to be a better clinician.”

CIA Alumni Bio

Sara Quinteros-Shilling ’12 has a love of food that is based in science and nutrition. As a pediatric metabolic dietitian for the University of Maryland Medical Center; owner of QuinFer LLC Nutrition & Hospitality Consulting; and partner and director of Business Development for the restaurant Shilling Canning Company, Sara is taking full advantage of her extensive education. She received a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management from the Pennsylvania State University, then entered The Culinary Institute of America’s Accelerated Culinary Arts Program (ACAP) at the St. Helena, CA campus where she met her future husband, Reid. Determined to learn more about nutrition, she earned a Master of Science in Nutrition Science and Dietetics at Syracuse University and completed her residency at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Sara shares her culinary expertise with her community through Little Chef’s Kitchen, an organization she founded as an undergrad at Penn State with the goal of empowering children and their families to make healthier food choices, utilizing local and seasonal ingredients.

How did you come to the realization that your life would be in the food world?

I have always been surrounded by it; it’s part of my culture, how we interact with family and build relationships. Most people remember cooking or learning from their grandmothers. I am no exception. But what always intrigued me the most was how food connects people from drastically different backgrounds. Food is also what keeps us alive, so the nutrition part of it has always fascinated me— especially in areas where food is not readily available and people suffer from hunger. Without food we don’t survive, so it has been very interesting to see how food culture has changed in the last decade and how food is now seen as more than a basic necessity but as something glamorous and high-end.

Why did you choose the CIA?

The CIA has an outstanding reputation. I did not attend culinary school for the same reasons that most people do. I wanted to understand basic culinary techniques in order to be a better clinician. As a metabolic dietitian, I work with patients who may never know what protein tastes like, so I am able to use my culinary background to create menus for patients who have an extremely limited diet. That doesn’t mean that I don’t put my skills to good use when I consult within hospitality, creating special menus or opening restaurants.

How did the CIA prepare you for your chosen career?

It gave me a better understanding of food. Although at the time I did not realize it, some of the early classes—the ones that teach you the foundations of culinary technique—have been the most useful for me.

How did scholarships and/or grants help you reach your goal of getting a CIA education?

I received a small scholarship from The International Foodservice Editorial Council, which allowed me to subsidize the cost of attending culinary school for eight months without having to work and allowed me to focus on my education.

“The CIA has an outstanding reputation. I did not attend culinary school for the same reasons that most people do. I wanted to understand basic culinary techniques in order to be a better clinician.”

What did you like best about your CIA experience?

I loved being in the heart of Napa Valley because we were able to apply our classroom knowledge in the field every day. Being surrounded by some of the best restaurants, farms, and vineyards added immeasurable value to our experience. Of course I have to add that I met my husband during my time at the CIA!

What are the best lessons you learned at the CIA?

Patience and dedication. They say anyone can cook…well, maybe. To cook well takes a lot of patience, practice, and dedication.

What class at the CIA had the most impact on you?

Baking and Pastry and Contemporary Cuisines were my two favorite classes. I had great instructors like Chef Brown and the late Chef Briwa, who gave me the tools to be successful. Baking and Pastry was a favorite because it required a strong math and science background, and I got the opportunity to do some research in these areas connecting culinary technique to nutrition research, which was amazing.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I wear multiple hats each day, so I will have to describe each:

As a pediatric metabolic dietitian, I get to have an impact in the medical care of patients who have metabolic (genetic) disorders. I get to work with families and “normalize” meals and eating in a situation where it will never be normal. I work with extreme cases that often require nutrition support such as tube feeds or IV nutrition, and many specialized medical foods that you don’t find at the supermarket, but I am able to still talk about food and use my creative side.

As an owner and consultant, I get to use both my culinary and nutrition degrees developing recipes that are both nutritious and taste good. I work mainly with kids, so as a mom myself, I can relate to the challenges parents face when feeding their children.

As partner and director of business development for Shilling Canning Company, I don’t use my culinary skills every day, but my deep understanding of restaurant operations helps me create and set up effective systems to run a successful business as well as to lead our management staff.

Overall, my favorite part of my jobs is how different they are and how lucky I am to be able to be creative as well as utilize the skillsets I have interchangeably. I work in three very different areas yet I use the same basic skills every day.

What are some challenges that students may face in the industry?

Many students have an idea that being in the food industry is very glamorous, and it can be, after many years of hard work and experience. Many think they will walk in a kitchen and be the next Food Network star or Thomas Keller (which some might be!) but it’s rare. It’s a harsh reality but this is a tough industry and it takes a lot of long hours and dedication to truly be successful in it.

What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?

Don’t give up, be organized, and create a healthy routine. Most important, don’t be afraid to fail. The key is how you learn from that experience and grow. Make long-term goals, but create small short-term goals that are attainable along the way.

Chef Sara Quinteros-Shilling graduated with an Accelerated Culinary Arts Program (ACAP) from The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, CA. She is a dietitian, consultant, and partner of the Shilling Canning Company in Washington, DC.