Valeria Castro: Living Her Culinary Dream Because of Scholarships

Photo of Valeria Castro, CIA student of culinary arts

“The CIA also offered the opportunity to network and interact with very well-known restaurant groups and world-class chefs, which has entirely changed my life.”

CIA Student Bio

How did you become interested in food?
Being the oldest of four siblings—and the only one with enough free time—I was officially in charge of making dinner for my family every day. There would be days the fridge was almost empty but I still needed to produce dinner for six, so I was forced to get creative and started learning how to utilize everything that I had available at the moment. That’s really how it all began.

Why did you choose the CIA?
I chose the CIA because I immediately felt connected with it. I had never in my life seen so much passion and enthusiasm from the students wanting to learn and grow into professionals in such a tough industry, and I wanted to be a part of that. The CIA also offered the opportunity to network and interact with very well-known restaurant groups and world-class chefs, which has entirely changed my life.

How have scholarships and/or grants helped you reach your goal of getting a CIA education?
During my freshman year I was fortunate enough to win the Food Dreams Scholarship, which comes with a prize of up to $20,000 and the opportunity to work for a year in the Jean-Georges restaurants. After Hurricane Maria happened in Puerto Rico, my family was forced to pull my savings to the point that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to afford the school anymore. But thanks to the CIA, I was able to connect with the Food Dreams Foundation and finish my degree.

What do you like best about the CIA?
The one thing I like the most about the CIA has to be the dedication of our chefs. Nothing motivates me more than having a teacher who genuinely wants to see me grow and be better every day. Every single chef in this institution has shaped me into the person I am today.

Do you belong to any clubs or participate in any activities/sports on campus?
I am currently the vice president of the Tea Club. Previous to that I had the amazing opportunity of being a resident assistant (RA) for an entire semester, and it was an incredible experience.

What is your favorite dish to make?
My favorite dish to make would be a very typical Puerto Rican-style rice and beans. I can still apply all my techniques and make my own sofrito while still making sure it’s 100% authentic. It doesn’t matter where I am, this dish always brings me back home!

How has your CIA education prepared you for the business side of food?
Having the opportunity to do costing assignments—learning how to understand food cost in a restaurant scenario as part of our kitchen classes—has probably been one of the most beneficial things that I will be taking with me.

What is the best lesson you’ve learned while at the CIA?
One of the best lessons I’ve learned has definitely been time management. During my time as an RA I had to juggle a lot, but it all came down to establishing my priorities and being able to organize myself without losing my mind. The best part is that this is one of those skills that also helps you in the kitchen, and having good time management has absolutely made me a better student.

What are your career goals and how will your CIA education help you get there?
After graduation I plan on staying in the kitchen. I want to work in restaurants and hopefully become a sous chef or more in the next couple of years. However, I really aspire to come back to the CIA and be a chef-instructor. I look up to many of my chefs and would love to follow that path and be able to make a change in someone else’s life one day.

What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?
Being a student at the CIA is a beautiful and wonderful thing but it takes a lot of effort and dedication. You have to be focused on your end goal and keep in mind the reason you came here in the first place. There are amazing opportunities for us out there, but we have to work for it and make it happen!

Valeria Castro is a CIA student pursuing her associate degree in culinary arts at the college’s Hyde Park campus in New York. She is from San Juan, Puerto Rico.