Chef Hector Santiago, originally from Puerto Rico, began cooking professionally in 1988 at the El San Juan Hotel. It was in the kitchens of his homeland that he developed a newfound appreciation for the indigenous foods of the Island. His mentor and executive chef of the El San Juan Hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Don Juan, Giovanna Huyke, introduced him to the kitchen and the world of cooking, as well as the fine art of procuring fresh, local ingredients.
While under the tutelage of Huyke, Santiago graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration. He then decided to attend culinary school and was accepted at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. His studies were supplemented by stages at Aureole and The River Room, a stint with caterer Abigail Kirsch, and a prized externship at the Greenbriar Hotel. Upon graduation from CIA, Santiago worked the line at the Manhattan Ocean Club, and then was soon recruited by his former CIA instructor, Chef Sam Hazen, to work as the banquet chef at Stony Hill Inn in New Jersey. Santiago went on to earn the position as Hazen’s sous chef on the opening team of the original Heartland Brewery in Manhattan.
A desire to move southbound led Santiago to Atlanta, where he spent five years working for Peasant Restaurants. After time spent as Executive Chef of Murphy’s in the Virginia Highland neighborhood, he was drawn to work at a lively restaurant-cum-Latin club called Deux Plex. Secure in his post in the Atlanta dining scene, Santiago took the plunge and opened his restaurant Pura Vida in 2001.
Pura Vida’s tapas-style menu is inspired by traditional Latin American ingredients, and Spanish techniques. Travels to Central and South America keep Santiago’s style in constant evolution. Staging with heavy hitters such as José Andrés at Café Atlantico, Zaytinya and Jaleo, Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz and Wylie Dufresne at WD~50 keep his sensibility and technical skill on track as one of the country’s rising star chefs.