Chef Hector Santiago

Q & A with Chef Hector

Why is sourcing local produce important to you and your restaurant? Freshness and quality. Most farmers that we buy from are growing heirloom varieties and are willing to experiment with varieties that we may want (i.e. padron peppers). This is beside the fact that these product travel less to get to us than an hour to get to us… freshness and quality.

What one seasoning can you not live without? Hot peppers

What celebrity or historical figure would you most want to serve a meal to? My first chef, Giovanna Heyke, who is now a celebrity chef in Puerto Rico.

What would you have at your last supper? Rice, Beans, Fried pork and plantains – classic P.R. (that’s Puerto Rican!)

Where would be your ideal location for your last supper and what music would you listen to? I’m too young to answer this…. probably in a tropical mountain, outside, overlooking the sea, just like at my 40th birthday. As for the music, I’d like to listen to the sounds of nature – the ocean, the birds… with some Bossa Nova playing in the background.

Who would you have your last supper with and what would your beverage of choice be? A group of my best friends, family and my wife, and my doggies… people I love.

Hector Santiago is a native of Puerto Rico whose interest in cooking began while he was in college at the University of Puerto Rico. In pursuing this interest, he obtained a job working under Chef Giovanna Huyke at a restaurant in the El San Juan Hotel and Casino. Apprenticing such a well-known Puerto Rican chef helped fuel Hector’s decision to become a chef himself, and after graduating with a business degree he moved to the United States to attend the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park.

While attending CIA, Hector externed at the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia, one of the few Five Diamond Hotels in the United States. After graduating from CIA in 1993, Hector worked in New York City at the Manhattan Ocean Club before being recruited to the Stony Hill Inn, a four-star restaurant in New Jersey by a former CIA instructor, Chef Sam Hazen. When Chef Hazen opened a new restaurant in Manhattan, he took Hector with him. As the sous chef at the new restaurant, Hector helped launch The Heartland Brewery into immediate success by serving an entirely made-from-scratch menu to over a thousand people a day.

In 1995, Hector moved to Atlanta, and worked for the Peasant Restaurant Group for nearly four years and cooked for many special events, including a James Beard Dinner. After Peasant Restaurants was sold, Hector worked at Murphy’s Restaurant and then at Duex Plex.

His passion for international cuisine had risen over the years, however, and his desire to introduce Atlanta to the Latino ingredients he loved inspired him to open his own restaurant. He shared with his wife a desire to open a restaurant of their own, and it wasn’t long before Pura Vida was born. “Pura Vida” literally translates to mean “pure life,” and is a saying used in Costa Rica to express “life is great” or “that’s life.” When Hector and Leslie visited Costa Rica they decided that Pura Vida was a great name for a restaurant. When creating a menu they decided that tapas would be the perfect way for Hector to express his creativity and passion for Latino cuisine. They built a menu for Pura Vida that features dishes with ingredients from all over Latin America and Spain. The menu is heavily influenced by Hector’s background in Latino cuisine combined with both classic and avante garde cooking techniques.

The restaurant has been a huge success, most recently boasting awards such as a listing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Top 50 Restaurants & Restaurant of the Year 2005, the Best Tapas Restaurant by Creative Loafing and, the Sunday Paper and Jezebel Magazine, and Atlanta Magazine’s “Best of Atlanta,” as well as the Best Margarita, Best Group Dining, Best Place for a First Date and Best Exotic Drinks by

Chef Santiago was named “Rising Star Chef” for Atlanta in 2007, by, and was a long-list nominee for “Best Chef of the Southeast” by the James Beard Foundation for 2008 & 2009. Recently, Hector’s brunch menu was named “Best New Brunch” by Atlanta Magazine’s “Best of Atlanta”.

Hector likes to keep things fresh, and keep learning. He does “stages” at least once a year, and has recently done them with José Andres at Café Atlantico, Jaleo & Zatinya in Washington DC, with Wylie Dufres at WD~50 in Manhattan, and at Mugaritz in Spain. These “Stages” are a way for him to see what others are doing, learn about new techniques and ingredients. Chef Hector has also traveled to Costa Rica, Venezuela, Peru, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Nicaragua to explore the food cultures of these countries.

Hector has been able to center his knowledge and food experiences to integrate it into his own cuisine and style. His creations are fresh, bold, creative, passionate and reflection of his roots. His philosophy is “Bueno, Bonito, Barato,” which translates to mean “Good, Attractive & Value.” As Hector continues to learn more about Latino cuisine, he and Leslie strive to integrate this philosophy into each dish created at Pura Vida by providing good food, in an attractive environment, at a great price to their customers.

Comments are closed.