In their own words: The journey of Executive Chef Saul Montiel

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Saul Montiel is the executive chef at Cantina RooftopCantina 48 and Stage 48 in New York City. He was born in Atotonilco El Grande, a small town outside of Pachuca in Central Mexico.

He was kind enough to share his journey with us about crossing the border as a teenager and working his way up through the kitchens of New York.

The Chef Works blog is pleased to present Chef Saul … in his own words …

When I was growing up in Mexico, I always wanted to go to Madison Square Garden to watch Michael Jordan play.  My father died when I was three, and my mother had to raise four children on her own. So my dream was just that … a dream.

When I was a teenager, I took my first steps to making that dream come true. I crossed the Arizona border when I was 16, armed with zero English, $20 and a lot of hope.

The plan was to establish myself and send money back to my family. I was going to be the “man of the house” for my younger siblings.

Saul Montiel in his Executive Capri Chef Coat.

My mother and grandmother owned and operated a small fonda (bistro/inn) and that’s where I got my first taste of culinary. I did everything from cleaning, bussing, serving, shopping and cooking. By the time I was 9 I was well known in the market. I was a shrewd shopper — always helping my mom to buy fresh produce, meat, poultry, fish, etc.

Eventually, I made it to New York and threw myself into the only occupation I had known – culinary. It was rough for a 16-year-old … and at times it felt like it would be too much. But the chef saw my hard work as a dishwasher. I came in early for shifts and the chef team recognized my commitment. There was an opportunity for us both.

I focused all of my free time on how to be a better cook. I spent hours at Barnes & Noble reading cookbooks and working for free. As a result, I was rewarded with promotions and opportunities at other restaurants.

Like many starting chefs, I bounced from restaurant to restaurant, learning what I could.   I experienced many different cuisines and worked with some amazing chefs: Sara Jenkins, Amanda Freitag, Anne Burrell, Jody Williams and Josh Capon to name a few.

Now I am happily married and my amazing, supportive wife, Eliana, and I have two beautiful daughters. I am a legal permanent resident, and the executive chef of Cantina Rooftop, Cantina 48, and Stage 48. I also own a small restaurant in my home town in Mexico, called La Unica.

I continue to support my family back in Mexico, but my mother refuses to retire!

I love the United States as much as I love Mexico.

The journey was long and hard, but absolutely worth the struggle.

I never did get to see MJ play. But I’ve seen more than a few games at The Garden.


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