Maximo Santiago of MUNDO NEW WORLD CAFÉ (Now Closed)
Max Santiago grew up in Southwest Miami. After high school, he completed a four-year tour of service in the US Air Force before turning to a career in culinary arts. Santiago received a diploma in cooking from the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, where he learned the fundamentals of cooking and pastry.
While he excelled as a chef, Santiago clicked right away with pastry. He worked his way through a number of Florida’s top pastry kitchens, including Mark’s on Las Olas, Max’s Grille, Mark’s at the Park, Paramount Grille, Chef Allen’s, and the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove. In 2003, he joined Star Chef Norman Van Aken’s team at Mundo New World Café, where he oversees a team in producing creative desserts and pastries.
Santiago dedicates 100% of his life to creating artful desserts. For him, pastry is his mode of expression, and he takes his art seriously. Organized beyond belief, he photographs every dish and writes down every recipe he creates. He even keeps an alphabetical book of every original recipe. Santiago’s latest project is a line of healthy desserts that are low carb, low fat, and gluten free.
Interview with Pastry Chef Maximo Santiago of Mundo New World Café - Coral Gables, FL
Amy Tarr: What is your philosophy on pastry?
Max Santiago: Pastry is my life – I eat and sleep, always thinking of it. I express my creativity, art, and individuality through pastry. It’s a true passion.
AT: Where did you train? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
MS: Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale. I absolutely would recommend culinary school. Most of the things you are going to learn as a chef are on the job, but school is helpful, and in today’s world, chefs needs to have a degree. There are so many things – nutrition, sanitation - you need to be certified in those things if you’re going to be a head chef in this field.
AT: What pastry or kitchen tools can’t you live without? Why?
MS: My laptop computer was the best investment I made – that’s my favorite tool. I use it every single day. Also my 12-inch chef’s knife - I call it my baby. And my multi-wheel cutter – it has 5 wheels and allows you to get equal distance in cuts to make more accurate portion sizes.
AT: What are your favorite ingredients?
MS: I use a lot of luster dusts – they make a big impact on presentation. They come in all different colors like Aztec gold, ruby red, and bronze. Cotton candy is really cool, too – you can purchase a small home machine and use all sorts of wacky flavors like lavender and honey to make spun sugar.
AT: What are your top three tips for dessert success?
MS: 1- Put all of your passion and creativity into everything you do. 2- Research your product and use the Internet to your advantage. 3- Keep yourself organized and keep a record of everything you create. Take down your recipes so you can replicate them.
AT: Who are your mentors/pastry heroes?
MS: My mentor without a doubt is Paul Hayward – I consult with him on a regular basis. His whole approach and creativity is everything I want to be. He taught me a lot about the way you should work with other people. In terms of more celebrity chefs, I look to Charlie Trotter and his pastry chefs – he’s the most renowned for putting a lot of savories into the pastry world. Now it’s everywhere, but he was really the leading person in that.
AT: What are your favorite desserts?
MS: I love pastry; I never get tired of it. Also anything with tropical fruits. Chocolate is my favorite medium to play with, but I like to eat tropical fruits like mangoes, coconuts, and bananas.