• Top Chefs

What follows is a list of some of Puerto Rico’s top chefs who have turned the world’s attention to our cuisine and are currently shaping our vibrant food scene.

Carlos Portela

With over 24 years in the industry, Chef Portela is a graduate of the prestigious Johnson & Wales University. In 2005, he was a member of the Puerto Rico Culinary Team. That same year, Chef Portela was awarded the title of “Best Chef of the Caribbean” during the Taste of the Caribbean competition. In 2007, he went on to the kitchen of Ramiro’s Taller de Cocina at Valladolid where he got the opportunity to learn from masters such as Ferrán Adriá and Andoni Luis. After that, he worked in various kitchens in the United States before returning to Puerto Rico and establishing his restaurant Orujo. The restaurant’s menu is heavily influenced by the seasons since Chef Portela makes a point out of using local ingredients in each dish. The cuisine at Orujo can be best described as Puerto Rican with Spanish, African, and Asian influences.


Javier Nassar

A graduate from Johnson & Wales, Chef Javier Nassar also holds a sommelier degree from the United States Sommelier Association. He has worked at the Biltmore Hotel in Florida, with the international catering company Do&Co, at the 7th Floor restaurant in Vienna, in The Forge at Miami Beach, and as a private chef to celebrities such as Jennifer López, Ben Affleck, Alonzo Mourning, María Celeste Arrarás, Cristina Saralegui, Gloria and Emilio Estefan. He also provided catering services to Miami’s elite. After moving back to his native Puerto Rico, he opened Sonne Latin Steakhouse and later moved on to become the executive chef of the prestigious Banker’s Club in Hato Rey. Currently, chef Nassar is the chef and owner of A La Carte Catering Co. and Tras-Patio Bistro, a small and inviting restaurant serving local and international cuisine with a gourmet twist.


José Santaella

Chef Santaella learned to cook alongside his father, a restaurateur in San Juan. He was trained with globally renowned chefs such as Ferrán Adriá at El Bulli in Spain, Eric Ripert at Le Bernadin in New York, and Gary Danko at the Dining Room in San Francisco.

After years running a successful catering company, in 2011 he opened Santaella at his old catering workshop at La Placita de Santurce. A place to see and be seen, it is one of the most popular restaurants in La Placita. The menu at Santaella focuses on local dishes, but incorporates flavors and fusions from cuisines from all around the world. In 2014, Chef Santaella was named “The People’s Best New Chef Gulf Coast” by Food and Wine Magazine.


Juan José Cuevas

After graduating with honors from the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Cuevas began his career working at the three Michelin star Arkelare in San Sebastián, Spain, but his culinary journey would take him to the kitchens of Raco de Can Fabes in Barcelona; Jardiniere in San Francisco; Ducasse at the Essex House in New York; Lespinasse in New York; the Blue Hill in New York, where during his tenure there the restaurant received a Michelin star, and Puckemin Inn in New Jersey.

He is the executive chef of 1919, one of the most popular fine dining restaurants in Puerto Rico, located at the Vanderbilt Hotel in Condado. His menu focuses on farm to table dishes prepared with freshest organic and local ingredients.

In 2009, Chef Cuevas was awarded Chef de L’Avenir by the Culinary International Academy. Most recently, in 2013, the Puerto Rico Chapter of the Food and Wine Society awarded him with a certificate of recognition for his culinary accomplishments.


María T. Mercedes Grubb

A graduate of the French Culinary Institute, now known as the International Culinary Institute, Chef Maria’s resume includes working at recognized restaurants such as Pastis, The Modern, Maialino, and Bar Basque, among others. After spending years working in the kitchens of New York City and perfecting her culinary techniques, she decided to move back to Puerto Rico. Then, on 2013, the restaurant Gallo Negro made its debut. Her brother John Mercedes owns the restaurant and she is the executive chef. Gallo Negro is a whiskey bar with an extensive menu featuring international flavors with a New York feel.


Mario Pagán

Chef Pagán attended the prestigious Johnson & Wales University in Bay Harbor, Florida. Prior to opening his restaurants in Puerto Rico, Chef Pagán spent several years in Miami working at the kitchens of The Grand Café in The Grand Bay Hotel, Bugatti, Tamarind Restaurant and Norman's New World Cuisine.

He currently has two restaurants in Puerto Rico. Laurel Kitchen and Art Bar located in the Puerto Rico Museum of Art in San Juan where he showcases his take Caribbean cuisine inspired by locally sourced ingredients. His most recent addition is Sage Steak Loft located at the Olive Boutique Hotel in the heart of Condado where he provides a modern twist on traditional steakhouse dishes.

Chef Pagán has received accolades in a variety of publications such as Food and Wine Magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Esquire Magazine, and Travel and Leisure. He was a contestant in the Next Iron Chef and was featured as a guest chef at the James Beard House in 2014.


Martín Louzao

Born in Buenos Aires Argentina, since he was young he had a passion for cooking which began by cooking succulent dishes for his family and reading as many cookbooks from around the world as possible. He studied at the Escuela de Artes Culinarias Gato Dumas in Buenos Aires. To enhance his cooking techniques, he has taken courses at the École Lenôtre de Paris, with the famous chef Albert Adriá, among other well-respected chefs.

His international resume includes working in the Michelin starred Koldo Royo in Mallorca, at Bruschetta in Italy, and as sous chef of DeChandon Bar in Buenos Aires, just to name a few. He came to Puerto Rico in search of new experiences and never looked back. In 2003, he was named executive chef of Baires Restaurant & Blend. He then moved on to become executive chef of Ummo Argentinian Grill in 2008. At the moment, he is the owner and executive chef of Cocina Abierta and Nonna Cuccina Rustica.


Enrique Piñero

Chef Piñero’s passion in the kitchen began as a child, when he helped his mother in the kitchen. At the age of 18, he worked at Ciao Mediterranean Café in the San Juan Grand Beach Hotel where he started as a prep cook and moved forward to other stations. He loved cooking so much, that on his days off, he worked for free at Mangere, an Italian restaurant in Dorado.

He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Arts Management. Chef Piñero then went on to work for a year at the three Michelin star restaurant El Raco de Can Fabes with Chef Santi Santamaria in Barcelona, Spain. He also worked as chef de cuisine at Restaurante Madrid-San Juan located at the Caribe Hilton Hotel. All this experience paved the way for Chef Piñero to open his first and now defunct restaurant Bokaito. Currently, he is the chef and owner of Mesa 364, a chef table restaurant located in San Juan where he receives groups by reservation only. At the restaurant, Chef Piñero features tasting menus using the freshest local ingredients.

In 2004, he was a member of the Puerto Rican Culinary Team where he won gold and silver medals. That same year, he won the “Buen Provecho” culinary contest at the Caribe Hilton Hotel. In 2006, he won “Operación Chef” a reality show which aired on Telemundo. He had a cooking show that was featured in Univisión Puerto Rico and worked with Utilissima/Fox channels in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2007, Chef Piñero was named one of the best 10 Chefs Novel of Puerto Rico and in 2009 he was selected as the Culinary Ambassador of the Puerto Ricans in the National Puerto Rican Parade in New York.


Raúl Correa

With over 20 years of experience in the food industry, Chef Correa is at the top of his game. On 2012, he took over as executive chef of Zest at the newly renovated San Juan Water Beach Club Hotel where he showcases his innovative cooking techniques in his modern Puerto Rican dishes.

His many culinary achievements include a nomination for Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef of 2013 and a silver medal in the “Best Chef of the Caribbean” category of the prestigious Taste of the Caribbean, where he was captain of Puerto Rico’s culinary team. That same year, the team was crowned as the "Best Culinary Team of the Caribbean."


Roberto Treviño

Born and raised in San Francisco, California, this chef is happy to call Puerto Rico his home. He has three highly successful restaurants in Condado. The first one and most popular is Budatai, where you can experience his unique style which fusions Latin and Asian flavors in every dish. Then there is Casa Lola, where you can enjoy local dishes just like at grandma’s house. Finally, there is Bar Gitano, a Spanish tasca where you can sample a wide variety of tapas and traditional Spanish dishes.

Chef Treviño has appeared on several television shows such as Iron Chef America, the Next Iron Chef, and “$40 dollars a day” with Rachael Ray. He has also been featured in Condé Nast Traveller, The New York Times, Bon Appétit, and Gourmet.


Celestino “Tino” Feliciano

Chef Celestino Feliciano, or Chef Tino as he is more commonly known, has no formal education in the culinary arts. However, his experience in the industry dates back to 1991. At the early age of 15, along with his father, he opened El Patio Garden in Aguada. This would provide him with his first restaurant and kitchen experience. From there, he went to study at the University of Puerto while maintaining jobs in various restaurants including Choices at the Embassy Suites and Outback Steak House International. In 1998, Chef Tino began traveling around the world, capturing the different flavors that he would later make his own. During this time, he worked in New York City in "AZ" with Chef Patricia Yio, at WWE with Chef Sean Guy, and Planet Hollywood.

In 2002, he moved back to Puerto Rico and landed a job at the Mayaguez Resort & Casino with Chef Efraín Cruz. In 2007, Chef Tino opened Yia’s by Chef Tino in Isabela where the menu showcases his take on contemporary cuisine. On 2016, he changed the concept and name of the restaurant, which is now known as Chef Tino Latin Bistro.

Chef Tino is the host of Tino’s Latino, a show featured on the Cooking Channel. He has also been featured as a guest judge on Chopped Junior and Chopped that airs on the Food Network.


Javier Meléndez

Chef Javier Melendez got involved in the kitchen at an early age. He has always been a fan of pleasing people with food, so he always had an idea that his passion would end up being his career. After acquiring his degree in Administration and Culinary Arts, he worked in various restaurants before moving to New York to work alongside the best chefs in the city to continue perfecting his craft. During his time in New York, he worked at the renowned Michelin star restaurant Nobu where he reached the position of junior sous chef. In 2010, he was invited to join the W Retreat & Spa in Vieques. Since then, Chef Meléndez has been responsible for all the food and drinks sold at the hotel, including the exclusive restaurant Sorcé where he presents a varied menu with dishes that feature a distinct local touch. He is adamant about using fresh seasonal ingredients and local products in all of his creations.


Wilo Benet

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Benet’s impressive resume includes working in the kitchens of Le Bernadin, The Water Club, The Top Hub in Boston, and as chef to the governor of Puerto Rico. On 1990, he opened Pikayo, one of the most popular restaurants in the Island, located at the Condado Plaza Hilton.

Known as the unofficial culinary ambassador of Puerto Rico, his style can be best described as classic Puerto Rican food with an international influence. He has been a guest chef at the James Beard Foundation and has been featured on popular shows such as Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman, Martha Stewart Weddings, Top Chef, and Top Chef Masters.


Xavier Pacheco

Since an early age, Chef Pacheco always felt a passion for Puerto Rican cuisine. A graduate of the prestigious Johnson & Wales University, Chef Pacheco worked as a trainee at Nobu Restaurant in New York, as cook at the Four Seasons Hotel in Brickell Avenue, and as executive chef of Sushi Samba in Miami, just to name a few, before returning to Puerto Rico on 2011 to open his popular restaurant La Jaquita Baya. His style is reflected in every dish of the restaurant. Being a promoter of the farm-to-table movement you can expect classic Puerto Rican dishes featuring local ingredients. Chef Pacheco is also the founder and president of the Puerto Rican Gastronomic Association, known as AGPR for its acronym in Spanish, a gastronomic movement focused on creating links among the different divisions of locals gastronomy such as chefs, farmers, bakers, butchers, fishermen, etc.


Robert Valle

Edwin Roberto Valle Padilla was born in Mayagüez, PR on November 10, 1972. He had a normal childhood growing up along with his 2 other siblings and parents, Edwin Fernando Valle del Toro y Ederlinda Padilla Montalvo. His passion for gastronomy started at a very early age helping out at his grandparents’ food businesses. He graduated high school on 1991, and decided to keep working at the family’s business where his interests towards the culinary arts flourished. Married to his wife since 1993, they procreated 2 children which he considerers his biggest inspiration to continue to grow on a professional level.

By 2009, he decided veer away from his normal life and officially started his studies on the Culinary Arts, graduating as a Specialist on 2010. By that same year Piñeiro’s Latin Cuisine opened its door to the public and with it, a chance for Chef Robert to prove himself. He started on kitchen personnel but quickly ascended to Sous Chef due to his great work and dedication, until he ended up with a managing position supervising the kitchen staff.

On February 2013, another great opportunity surfaced for Chef Robert at Royal Isabela Resort, where he currently works as Head Sous Chef, hand in hand with the Executive Chef, Jose Carles.

Since his time working in Royal Isabela he has participated on the following events:

  • 2016 Porta del Sol Gastronomic Fest – won the award for Top Chef
  • Competed for the Puerto Rico National Culinary Team – for 2015 and 2016
  • Annual Chef Dave Pasternack & Chef Jose Carles Dinner
  • 4th July BBQ Challenge People Choice
  • Wente Vineyards Wine Tasting Dinner by Erick Wente

Jose Carles

Chef Jose Carles Fabregas was born on Nov. 11, 1987 in the municipality of Guayama. Since a child, he practiced the sport of golf and was a member of the Puerto Rico National Golf Team for various years. In 2009, Chef Jose became a caddie at Royal Isabela where he began as a hobby to cook for the golf club members; it was there when he discovered his passion for the kitchen.

He decided to stop studying accounting and enrolled at the San Juan Hotel School, where he graduated from culinary arts with honors. In 2011, Chef Jose applied for a position at La Casa Restaurant at Royal Isabela resort where he soon after became Sous Chef. After the head chef at La Casa Restaurant resigned in 2012 and Chef Jose was appointed Executive Chef at Royal Isabela, which was recognized by Island Magazine as the Best Resort in Puerto Rico.

Every year, Chef Jose travels to New York to continue his culinary arts education with Chef Dave Pasternack from ESCA Restaurant, a two-time winner of the James Beard Award for Best New York Chef.

In 2013, Chef Jose was acknowledged by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the new promising chefs in Puerto Rico. That same year, his personal biography and four of his recipes were published in the book ‘Golf Club World Behind the Gates’ written by Diana de Lucia.

Chef Jose was honored by the San Juan Hotel School as a Distinguished Ex Alumni and has also won first place at the Culinary Cup Plaza del Caribe in the junior category. A year later in 2014, Chef Jose participated in the same event and took second place in the senior category. Chef Carles has participated in the Top Chef Porta del Sol competition where he finished in the top three position.

His ‘farm-to-table’ approach has distinguished Chef Jose in the kitchen since he visits organic farms every day to pick the freshest fruits and vegetables to prepare his dishes.


Christian Morales

From a very young age, Chef Christian felt the passion for cooking. He started very young helping out his parents in their catering service business.

In 2005 he began his studies in culinary arts, in the Interamerican University in Aguadilla. He was introduced in the culinary industry at the age of 18 years working in different restaurants in the West area; including Rincon Beach, Mayagüez Resort and Chef Roberto Restaurant.

By 2007 he took the initiative to open his own restaurant, in the foothills in Aguada on barrio Mamey. Then, in 2009 he decides to move to a larger location, in the same town due to the high volume of happy and recurring customers. In 2014 he created the first ever Hot Pirulis Fest, which had a successful reception. In 2015 he made the difficult decision to move to the town of Añasco, where they are located a top the beautiful mountains of West area of Puerto Rico.

For Chef Christian Morales, it is very important to be consistent in his plates; the taste and creativity that reaches each table, to meet and exceed customer expectations. His restaurant offers an extensive creative menu; unique plates created and by himself. For next year Hot Pirulis turns 10 years of service to customers.


Luis R. Piñeiro Pérez

Chef Luis R. Piñeiro Pérez, was born September 24, 1968 I the city of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico .

For 20 years he worked on the liquor and food services industry; where developed extensive knowledge and the passion for the culinary arts industry. This led him to study Culinary Arts and develop his Restaurant Piñeiro’s Latin Cuisine in his hometown Cabo Rojo.

His restaurant is one of the favorite spot of both locals and neighboring towns. One of the best recognized and prized plates is the Skirt Steak Stuffed Risotto and the great variety of fresh and local seafood. His food is known for the use of local products such as sea food and vegetables, from which he develops tasty Caribbean fusions.

On 2013, Chef Luis R. Piñeiro was recognized as the first ever Top Chef Porta del Sol, for the West Region of Puerto Rico; award that puts him at the top of the Culinary Industry all around Puerto Rico.


Damián Hernández

Born and raised in western coastal city of Añasco, Chef Damián comes from a long line of chefs. Son and grandchild to cooks, he discovers the culinary world helping out in his father’s kitchen. Firstly, tasked with cleaning the kitchen, to an avid observer on the prep station, to later helping out with the ingredient to then finally experimenting on dishes.

Chef Damian finishes his Culinary Arts preparation by 2001 on the UInteramerican University on Aguadilla. He begins his career in the Rincon Beach Resort in his native Añasco. Raising through the ranks beginning as a line cook to finaly Executive Chef of the 4-star Resort in just 2 years’ time. Making him the youngest Head Chef in any full service resort in PR.

He served as an instructor in the Culinary Arts on the Interamerican University in Aguadilla from 2006 to 2010. By 2008, the owners and administrators of the Verdanza Hotel in San Juan, tasked Chef Damian with the opportunity and the challenge to elevate the culinary offerings of the Restaurant Eighty 20 Bistro. Where thanks to his hard work, dedication, leadership and knowledge he took the challenge head with enthusiasm and was met with nothing but praise and admiration.

Currently you can find Chef Damián in his new venture, Jetblast Bar and Grill. With 13 years’ experience, Chef Damian presents his approach to merging his knowledge and culinary training with the freshest local ingredients resulting in creations both original and exquisite.

He has won several awards including the prestigious Restaurateur of the Year by the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association in 2011 at only 29 years old. He has also participated on the Wine Wild West BBQ Contest where he has been crowned champion in several categories: Sea Food (2007), Meats (2007) and Sauces (2005); and has finished in the top three in Presentation (2007), Seafood (2006) and Meats (2006).


Chefs

International chefs have also taken advantage of our blooming culinary scene by establishing restaurants here in Puerto Rico. Back in 2010, Chef Jean Georges Vongerichten debuted Fern, his latest signature restaurant at the St. Regis Bahía Beach Resort. The restaurant’s executive chef is Puerto Rican native Juan Peña. The menu features some of the chef’s most popular dishes from his restaurants from all over the world.

In 2013, Chef José Andrés opened his restaurant Mi Casa at the luxurious Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve. It is his first restaurant outside of the continental United States. At Mi Casa you can enjoy gourmet tapas and delicious main courses which combine both Spanish and local flavors.