For the Love of Science
How did a pre-med student with an interest in science and the inner workings of the human body come to study culinary arts at the CIA? For Meg Santoni ’12, cooking was a way to help defuse the stress of difficult classes in her chosen field of study at San Diego State University. “I found reading recipes and studying techniques relaxed me,” she says. Meg subsequently changed her major to food and nutrition, which allowed her to satisfy her creative side while still examining the science behind how food works in the body.
“I became enthralled with chefs like Grant Achatz, Ferran Adriá, and Heston Blumenthal,” said Meg, catering chef at Urban Kitchen Catering in San Diego, CA. “I loved how they look at food in a different manner and manipulate textures and flavor combinations.” Switching majors delayed graduation for a year, but it gave Meg the opportunity to explore her growing interest in cooking. “I did an internship with restaurateur and cookbook author Isabel Cruz during my senior year,” she said. “I got core line experience and learned the flow of a kitchen.” The training prepped Meg for the next big step in her education.
“I knew I wanted to go to culinary school and looked to the chefs I admired in the industry. Most of them graduated from The Culinary Institute of America,” Meg explained. “I wanted to learn from the best and have the most rounded education possible.”
Meg’s research led her to the Accelerated Culinary Arts Certificate Program. “I’d been in college for five years and I didn’t want to go into another two-year program,” she said. “The ACAP was condensed and fit my personal timeline. It seemed tailor-made for me; I could focus on core fundamentals and get practical cooking experience, and I loved that the education was so in-depth.”
The program takes time and commitment but Meg feels strongly that it was worth the effort. “I know a lot of people say you can learn just as much by working in a kitchen as going to culinary school, but I highly recommend the ACAP,” says Meg. “If you work in a kitchen, you may get very little instruction and have to figure things out on your own. At school, you get a broad overview and understand each step along the way, and you get the opportunity to try things you haven’t done before. You’re shown how to do a roux and all the possibilities in which a roux can be used. You learn butchery and product identification, and you’re exposed to new ingredients and philosophies of food from different regions in the world. It’s great to have an hour lecture and then implement what you just learned.”
Meg had plenty of learning opportunities outside of class as well, thanks to the vibrancy of the Greystone campus and its prime location in the hear of the Napa Valley. She worked with the Catering Department on Greystone’s many conferences, served a teaching assistant for Chef Patrick Clark in the Advanced Sous Vide class, and staged in Chef Douglas Keane’s restaurant, Cyrus.
After graduation, Meg returned home to San Diego and quickly landed a position with Tracy Borkum’s Urban Kitchen Group, which includes the award-winning Kensington Grill and Cucina Urbana. Meg credits her education with getting her foot in the door of such a successful business. “The combination of my bachelor’s degree and my certificate from the CIA was a big plus on my résumé and indicated that I’m serious and qualified,” she says. “I now have the best of both worlds—a great job in my hometown.” There Meg is happily creating innovative, locally sourced, and sustainable cuisine in a collaborative environment—which satisfies her love for cooking and her inquisitive, scientific nature.