Inspired to Succeed
Charles “Chuck” Cruz has always found inspiration in the people around him. His family cooking together at home planted the seeds for what was to become his career goal. And the many stories he heard from relatives about his grandfather playing basketball in the Philippines sparked a love for the sport he now plays intercollegiately at the CIA.
“Since he lived in the Philippines, I didn’t see my grandfather much, but my mother shared a lot of memories of growing up watching him playing basketball,” Chuck says. “I guess that always stuck with me. He also bought me one of those little three-foot basketball hoops and basketball shoes when I was a toddler. He definitely passed along that passion to me.”
Chuck went on to play for a travel basketball team while in high school; during that time he also began to feed his other passion when he landed a job as a busboy at a local restaurant. He eventually was allowed to do some prep work, and he was hooked.
After dabbling in fine arts at a community college, he decided that a food career was the path he wanted to take—and that his path would begin at the CIA. “I did some research and visited the campus,” Chuck recalls. “It was very clean and beautiful, and had the name recognition. Plus it wasn’t too far from home—or too close!”
While scanning the CIA website, he happily discovered that his new college had a basketball team, and it didn’t take him long to get involved once he arrived on campus. “Some of my friends were on the team, and they encouraged me to try out,” he says. “It felt good! I hadn’t been on a team since high school, and it brought me back.”
The experience was all the more positive thanks to the inspiration provided by Coach Tim McEnroe. “His style of coaching was pretty straightforward—you put in the work, you play” Chuck explains. “Coach really motivated us. He meant a lot to the overall experience, brought our team together, and made me appreciate playing basketball again.”
Chuck has appreciated his time in the CIA kitchens and classrooms as well. “We study the fundamentals, really learn a lot,” he says. “The basics are important, and the school has a very diverse curriculum as well. I found Gastronomy very interesting. It had a cultures focus, and you get into the mindsets of the cuisines.”
He’s benefitted from getting into the “mindsets” of his fellow students as well. “If you put yourself out there, you’ll meet a lot of different people with different backgrounds,” he says. “You learn a lot not only from the chefs but from other students. I’ve grown a lot since I’ve been here.”
After graduating, Chuck plans to continue to draw inspiration from as many people and cuisines as possible. “I want to do a lot of traveling, anywhere, everywhere,” he explains. “Learn about different cultures around the world, and eventually settle closer to home in New York City, maybe even own a restaurant.”
And no doubt serve as an inspiration to the next wave of aspiring chefs.