2007 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Hector Santiago is a bundle of ideas, and energy – at Pura Vida, the Atlanta restaurant he opened in 2001, he regularly experiments with chiles, indigenous Latin ingredients, and the latest tools from Spain. Santiago began cooking in 1988 at the El San Suan Hotel in his native Puerto Rico, where his mentor, Giovanna Heyke, taught him about food and encouraged him to attend culinary school. After earning a college degree from the University of Puerto Rico, Santiago went on to the Culinary Institute of America, where he spent weekends staging at Aureole and The River Room in New York. Post-graduation, Santiago took a position at the Manhattan Ocean Club until recruited by a former instructor, Chef Sam Hazen, to work at the Stony Hill Inn in New Jersey. Later, he went as Hazen’s sous chef to open the original Heartland Brewery in Union Square.
Santiago then moved to Atlanta, where he spent five years working for Peasant Restaurants. His next position, at Duex Plex, was French-focused, but the Latin night club downstairs inspired him to finally begin cooking the Latin cuisine on which he was raised. He opened Pura Vida, where the tapas-style menu is inspired by traditional Latin American dishes and products. Since opening in 2001, Santiago has traveled to Central and South America whenever possible, and has staged with Jose Andres at Café Atlantico, Zaytinya, and Jaleo, Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz, and Wylie Dufresne at wd~50.
He is a James Beard nominee for "Best Chef, Southeast” for 2008 and 2009. He recently opened a sandwich chain called Super Pan Latino Sandwich Shop.