Rising Star Chef Val Cantu of Californios - Biography

San Francisco, CA

September 2017

Raised in Texas, Val Cantu grew up hunting with his father, who owned a Mexican restaurant that was like a second home. Cantu studied business and English literature at the University of Texas-Austin, graduating in 2006. In 2009, he began working at Uchi with Rising Star alums Tyson Cole, Philip Speer, and Paul Qui. He went on to stage at Benu and Saison in San Francisco, moving to the city to work at Sons & Daughters. There, Cantu began thinking about fine dining as it pertained to Mexican food. He wondered why no one was doing anything fun and playful in that vein. With the seeds for Californios planted in his imagination, Cantu took off for Mexico City to stage at Enrique Olvera’s Pujol.

Bolstered by the warmth and generosity of the cooks there, and by his own deep dive into Mexican cuisine, Cantu returned to San Francisco, hosting several pop-ups as he carved out his vision. Californios opened in 2015 with a tour-de-force tasting menu steeped in tradition, progress, and the true romance of fine dining. Since, Californios has earned a Michelin star, and Cantu was named a StarChefs Rising Star in 2016 and Food & Wine “Best New Chef” in 2017.